Reich pushes for change insurgency

HERSHEY, Pa. — Leaders in business and government must be "change insurgents," former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich told the Industry Advisory Council's Executive Leadership Conference.

Reich, who served in former President Clinton's cabinet, kicked off the event here yesterday with a crowd-pleasing speech that addressed the growing role of technology and America's changing labor force. He dispensed with the term "change agent" and argued that leaders in business and government must be "change insurgents" instead.

"It's critical that the private sector and public sector work together," said Reich, now a professor at Harvard University. "Everything is changing much too fast."

Automation has largely supplanted labor in manufacturing and other traditional jobs, and now people find work in service, face-to-face jobs in retail or other settings that can't be outsourced overseas or done by computers, Reich said. The same factors affect the kind of work that needs to be done in government, which requires agencies and the industries that serve them to change their thought processes, he said.

Reich listed three barriers to change that federal agencies must avoid, including:

* Past success, ironically, can impede growth. "When times get tough, there always people who say 'Let's just go back to basics,'" he said. "You can't go back."

* Incrementalism can keep an effort to change from getting anywhere, he said. Slow, cautious steps can prevent real progress.

* Denial also often poses problems, he said. Leaders who are unable to accept that the world is changing around them won't feel any sense of urgency to change their ways to match.

Reich peppered the talk with jokes, including one about the artificial hips he had implanted to correct an inherited arthritic condition. He began the confirmation process for his cabinet appointment shortly thereafter, and decided to find out if the hips were made in America.

"I found out they were engineered in Germany and designed in France," he said. "I have French designer hips. Or I should say, freedom hips."

The conference concludes Tuesday.

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