Lost in Translation

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Jim Whitehurst: 20th century companies already hiring 21st century employees


Last night, Red Hat President and CEO Jim Whitehurst gave a talk to a group made up of mostly students and faculty at the NC State School of Engineering. Nice writeup of it in the student newspaper here. His ideas were very timely for me; just the other day, I wrote a post with some tips for companies with 20th century cultures trying to make the move into the 21st century.

Your future employee sez: I'm going to need a bit more collaoration and meritocracy up in here!

Your future employee sez: I'm going to need a bit more collaboration and meritocracy up in here! (photo by D Sharon Pruitt)

Jim Whitehurst is in a rather unique position¬† because he has managed both an icon of the 20th century corporation (Delta Airlines) and what we’d like to think is a good example of the 21st century corporation here at Red Hat.

Because of his experiences, Jim is able to clearly see and articulate the differences between the old model of corporate culture, based on classic Sloan-esque management principles, and the emerging model, based in many ways on the power of participation broadly (and in our case, the open source way specifically).

One very simple point Jim made that really struck me: Companies with 20th century business models need to realize that they are already hiring 21st century employees.

People coming out of school today have grown up in an age where the ability to participate and share broadly is all they’ve known. These folks have grown up with email accounts, the Internet, Facebook, and all of the other trappings of a connected world.

So when they graduate from school and take jobs working in old-style corporate cultures, where progressive principles like transparency, collaboration, and meritocracy lose out to the old world of control, power, and hierarchy, what happens?

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