Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Change is the friend of the new

I was listening to the Longform podcast interview with Janet Reitman.

In the interview, Reitman talks about how in the world of journalism, there are journalists that everyone knows are past their prime. Yet because of their popularity and reputation, they continue to get the plum assignments and (unintentionally) block the path of the young journalists behind them.

This accounts for some of what we often view as gender bias in the workplace--the old boy's club is full of old boys, because that's who was allowed in during the 1950s.

There's a valuable lesson to be learned--if you want to advance, and you don't qualify for the old boy's club (perhaps because you're not a boy!), find a field where change is happening.

When change upends an industry, it creates an opportunity for new winners to emerge, since the power of incumbency is reduced or even reversed.

This factor is behind Silicon Valley's belief that it is a meritocracy. The irony of course, is that any meritocracy in Silicon Valley springs from the pace of change, not the people who believe themselves unbiased.

Every generation of Silicon Valley believes in meritocracy, but then recruits people based on similarity. 30 years ago, it was young white men from Stanford. Today, it's young white and Asian men from Stanford.

But the constant change wrought by technological advance doesn't play favorites. It scrambles the playing field in ways that often penalize incumbents.

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