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Pre-Boomers at Work: Tools and Trends

While you can’t deny that Jon Hamm is easy on the eyes, a lot of the time it’s the lackeys of Mad Men who command the most attention.

By the time Pre-Boomers like Peggy Olson and Pete Campbell  started entering the workforce, the world had largely recovered from World War II and was experiencing an economic boom. The combination of newfound independence and fiscal health was often disorienting for this generation, as it was raised in a fog of hardship, heavy compliance and conformity. For them, much of becoming a working adult was about the struggle to both accept and achieve personal liberation in all aspects of their lives.

Meet the Trends

Appropriate of a time well known for finding definition through artistic aptitude (Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Jackson Pollock and Jack Kerouac all rose to fame during this era) many of the tools that surfaced during the ’50s and early ’60s were those that considered both functionality and aesthetic quality:

Enhanced Telephony

The technological developments of the mid-century telephone marked significant changes in communication and decor. While regular homes could finally enjoy a phone that came in an actual color (up until then they’d only been available in black), offices streamlined connection with those that could act on behalf of different phone numbers.

For example, someone would call a receptionist. She would then call her boss on another line to announce the caller. If her boss decided to take the call, the receptionist then would connect them through a keyset, just like an operator. These phones also had multiple lines on the receiving end so that workers could switch extensions depending upon the urgency of the call.

Spherical Printing

In 1961, the IBM Selectric Typewriter made its big debut and subsequently transformed the speed and accuracy with which people could generate text. Instead of the traditional basket of individual typebars, the Selectric contained one spherical element that rotated to the correct position before striking. The element was completely removable, and could also be swapped out so as to print different fonts within the same document. The Selectric helped pave the way for the use of typewriter keyboards as the primary method for humans to interact with computers. The design eliminated the bane of rapid typing: jammed type bars. And with no bars to jam, typists’ speed and productivity soared.

Copy Cats 

The crowds went absolutely wild 1959 when Xerox introduced the Xerox 914, the first ever plain paper photocopier. The device could make 100,000 copies per month (one copy every 26.4 seconds, or ~136 copies per hour) and was so well received that by the end of 1961, Xerox had almost $60 million in revenue. By 1965, it was over $500 million. Fortune magazine would later describe the machine as “the most successful product ever marketed in America.”

Pretty. Prompt. Proper.

Reflected in the tools they utilized was the Pre-Boomer mission to define themselves by a balance of who they were as individuals (the aesthetic side) and how they wanted to operate (the functional side). It was a tough job and in the end I’d say they won, but not without retaining many of the lessons and beliefs from their childhood. In the next part of this series, we’ll look at how some of these have caused friction in the workplace.

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