"Wanted: a self-starter with a high level of creative and innovative thinking skills. Must be able to solve problems and participate on teams. We expect you to effectively and enthusiastically respond to new challenges, and help us stay ahead of our competitors."
Job criteria that are too broad and too challenging?

Not by some of today's standards. RLI CEO Gerald D. Stephens says his company requires all job applicants to have at least a "B" average in high school and college. "We hire only talented people. Productivity comes later. We'll build our structure around key people."

Caterpillar has always set very high standards for its managers and technicians, often requiring an advanced degree or high grades for employment consideration. It now requires potential factory workers to pass a tough math test prior to employment.

Both companies know that their success-their ability to compete with other companies around the world-depends on the people they hire.

As a once popular song said: "The times, they are a changin.'"

Futurist magazine reports that, by the year 2000, the body of knowledge will have doubled four times since 1988. Graduates that year will have been exposed to more knowledge than their grandparents encountered in a lifetime.

What does that mean for the workplace?

It means that physical work has been largely replaced by knowledge work. Those individuals with advanced verbal, mathematical or social skills will succeed. They'll bring the creativity and innovation necessary to grow in their jobs.

They'll be capable of change, and they'll cause their companies or organizations to change. They know that those who refuse to be flexible-who refuse to adapt to change-will become obsolete.

A hundred years or so ago, we were moving from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy. Those who ignored the revolution-who were more comfortable with the way things had been done-faded from view. For example, companies that ignored the productivity of an assembly line eventually shuttered their doors, unable to compete with those who embraced the new technologies.

History repeats itself. We have moved or are moving from an economy based on manufacturing to one based on information. The computer is the major driver of the Information Age. It has revolutionized our work life and our play. It has become central to our lives in almost every respect.

In offices, computers let us design, do complicated mathematical problems in a flash, fax, copy, phone, and do our work faster than ever. Computers have increased productivity, accuracy and speed.

The same is true in the factory. Just ask the average Caterpillar worker who not so long ago stood at a single machine all day long, drilling the same holes or cutting the same patterns. Now, more than likely, he or she works in a "cell" of machines, all connected and run by computers. Physical activity is limited to loading parts in a fixture, then pushing a button. Computers and machines do the rest. Manufacturing will not disappear in the Information Age, but it will be increasingly controlled by the information we possess.

Most of the companies of the future, though, will be smaller companies. Futurist again estimates that 90% of the labor force will work for companies that employ fewer than 200 people. And that can be a good thing. Small and medium-sized businesses have displayed an innovativeness and flexibility to respond to market changes with agility and speed not always possible from larger companies.

This entrepreneurial activity requires the ability to think for ourselves and to not rely always on the perceptions and opinions of others. And that means that a vital part of an individual's success in today's marketplace is self-esteem. According to psychologist Nathaniel Branden, author of Self-Esteem At Work, it takes a healthy self-esteem to compete at any level. An executive who fears decision-making can cause his business to fail. A negotiator with low self-esteem will often ask for too much or too little. People with low self-esteem are either over-controlling or combative, or timid and obsequious. Their focus tends to be on self-aggrandizement or self-protection. Bottom line-they fail, or their business fails, or both.

Each year, we celebrate our good fortune at having an abundance of people in central Illinois who-if called upon-could respond quite well to the want ad a few paragraphs up the page. Our 40 Leaders Under Forty are young people who have demonstrated that they already have the self-esteem, the creative and innovative thought processes, and the enthusiasm to lead their companies through this Information Age. In a world that seems to shrink every time a foreign economy is threatened, that leadership may help us survive. IBI