That was the decade that was
(Fortune Magazine) -- This is the final report card for the '00s, a decade that promised much at its inception and, while not delivering on its potential, did perform with distinction in certain areas.
The subject at first seemed to be of average intelligence, although later behavior belied that assessment. While it appeared at the outset to be an honest, decent decade, by the end it presented us with more displays of cupidity, viciousness, and low moral character than any of us could have anticipated.
Courses and grades in the business disciplines follow.
While great heights were achieved during its freshman and sophomore years, the decade lost its grip because of personal issues and blew its junior and senior terms, wiping out the gains it had registered early on. Grade: C-, and that only because of extra-credit work done in 2009.
Nauseating excess, bad judgment, and inexcusable greed were demonstrated in scandals from Enron to Madoff. Equally unsatisfactory was the performance of the financial establishment, as it accumulated insupportable debt, showing willful stupidity rivaled only by that of the regulatory agencies charged with overseeing it. Grade: F-.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic.
The quality of work output has been adequate, with patches of brilliance both in print and online. Standards seem to have fallen with the onset of Reporting 2.0. In the fiduciary arts highly adept wizards, many arriving from academe, were able to create dazzling new tools by which fictional gains could produce nonfictional money for a few lucky Machiavellis. Grade: B+.
A sea change in the entire society was led by the creativity, ambition, and marketing skills of visionary members of the business community, most notably those in the employ of Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500), Research in Motion (RIMM), Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500), and Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), along with the firms that have democratized the digital camera, making it as ubiquitous as chewing gum was in the past. Life has been transformed into an interactive experience, and every individual is now a portion of a developing collective mind. Grade: A+.
Human resource management.
Because of the intrusion of electronic tools, personal privacy is a relic of the past, as is secure employment. The obsession with stock price, under the guise of "shareholder value," has abolished the concept of job security, actually leading to the censure of organizations that do not routinely excise headcount. People are scared, and not just of the international terrorists who ushered in the decade, either. Grade: D+.
For every Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Andy Grove, there were guys like the automobile executives who each took his own private jet to Washington to ask for a bailout. At times it seemed that the major contribution of the executive class in the '00s was to invent new ways to pay itself. Grade: C-.
Hard to ascertain. Reaction to the decade's many gaffes and lapses has produced credible efforts at repair, so that's good. In addition, advances in technology may yet yield benefits for investors in the fields of communications, science, medicine, and toys. Just yesterday we saw an apparatus in SkyMall that allows one to move a ball up and down in a little plastic tube half a room away, using a blast of air powered by one's own remote EEG signals conveyed through a tiny attractive hat. But then there's something like Bluetooth, which as far as we can see is utterly useless. Grade: Incomplete.
Looking at this equivocal record, we might be forgiven for contemplating the option of holding this subject back. But given our policy of mandated graduation at the end of the '09 calendar year, the decade must be allowed to move on, giving way to the next.
Good luck to us all!
Stanley Bing has recast his book "Executricks" for the paperback edition available everywhere; it is now titled "How to Relax Without Getting the Axe." For more Bing, unrelated to the Microsoft search engine, go to stanleybing.com.