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Tag: Gen Y

Go students! But in solidarity

UK Uncut Demonstration 041210 by ucloccupation via FlickrThe ethics of Gen Y

I am puzzling over the ethics of our youth.  That’s not unusual, of course.  By an accident of history, I am a typical Gen Xer.  I drink water and carry a laptop. I’m highly independent and anyone not quite ‘up to it’ receives a glance of disapproval that is the hallmark of my generation.

Gen Y’ers elsewhere

I’ve also lived in a country where the Gen Y’ers clashed  magnificently with the old guard who reminded them constantly of history. “We fought for your privileges”, said the old guard.  “Toughs”, said the youngsters, “give us more. And NOW!”

Little emperors, indeed.

Student action in UK November 2010

The student action along Oxford Street of the moment are interesting.  So many students are not there.  We look around our universities and wonder.  Not even self-interest can get them out.

But self-interest has got some out.  Are they really ethical though?  Are they pouting because they have been excluding from the loot and pillage of the economy?  Or do they really care about a well run society and are they prepared to run society well in exchange for a fair and decent wage?

Solidarity is the ethical test of politicians

The test is in solidarity.  Let’s see what alliances are formed and let’s see how easily they are bought off.  How many of the leaders would join Top Shop tomorrow if given a graduate management position?

The test is in solidarity and I am hoping (against hope) that they will take the lead in mapping the issues that face the UK today.

But beware: Politics is about results not motives

But then an old politicial science professor said to me once: In politics motivation doesn’t matter.  Only results matter.

Unless students have a clear ethical position and  a map of the alliances they want to forge, they will find their energy quickly coopted to other causes.

It happened to other generations who were smug and complacent. It can happen to them too because that is politics.

We are waiting to see.  Hoping but waiting.  I hope their political science professors have taught them well.

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Does Google make us stupid?

Escher's Relativity in Lego by Andrew Simpsom from idigit_teddy via FlickrDoes the internet change our brain structure?

Nicholas Carr thinks so.  I must confess that I haven’t read his book.  I should but I imagine MRI scans could give us a definitive answeer.

I know a lot of people, such as appear on BBC Radio 4 would agree.

While we wait for hard neurophysiological evidence, I’ll suggest that this perception is an illusion.

  • Reading on the web is different.  Those who are very good at working with paper have had to go back to noobe status.  I can’t text (fast) either.  I type fast but I can’t text.  Learning anything takes time and of course, we protest when we have to go down a snake back to Go..  But the fact is our discomfort.  Our discomfort is not evidence that our brain will get scribbled.
  • I have become more impatient with long dense text.  Is that evidence that the internet shortens our attention span?  To this I answer, so?  Why should I wade through some wordy gobbley-gook.  Why not deliver the information more efficiently?  And for the information of those who have learned to wade through verbiage – this is not normal behavior!  We know attention wanders after 10 to 15 minutes.  We know managers have an average task time of 10 minutes.  (I didn’t say it ~ this is a classical result from Mintzberg). Doctors in Britain get 10 minutes from calling your name to returning you to reception.   If we realistically want to communicate with busy people we need to show them what they need in a flash.  Get over it!  We have the tools to communicate better.  Let’s try them.

The internet gives us better manners (well sometimes)

I am writing this post though to quite deliberately link to Dan Erwin who makes an important point.  The internet helps us understand that truth is not certain.

You have your opinion and I have mine.  Not because we cannot communicate but because see the world from slightly different places.  When we take both views into account, we have a fuller picture.

Gen Y have learned to look at a more complete picture through using the internet.  As a result, they should be better leaders and managers and doctors and artists.

Actually, not all of them learn that many views matter.  Some seem to think that if there are many views, any view is truth.

That’s not the case.  Every view is part of the truth.  Every view is valid but only part of the story.

In social science, we call this social constructionism.  In social activism, we call this diversity.  In appreciative inquiry, or positive organizational scholarship, we look for multiple voices and see what picture we make when we listen to all the voices.

I like the way Dan Erwin makes the point and I wrote a whole post so that I don’t lose the link!


A personal view of the world is NOT the mark of a spoiled generation

new cell phone by grafitti with numbers via FlickrEssential intellectual skills of old

When I was an undergraduate, the hardest tasks were to format essays in Harvard or APA style, to write references out correctly, and to wade through incomprensible tomes.

We got good at all three tasks, of course ,and after two years of graduate school, I had developed good habits of checking references as a I read.  I was taking in

  • the words
  • the structure
  • the mental map of the people and history of a field

all at the same time.

Intellectual skills in the internet age

Reading on the internet is hard because even with two screens, we can’t flip back and forth between the text, contents and references quite so fast.  We also can’t take notes so easily or highlight text quite so physically and memorably.

Copy Gen Y

When I first started teaching Gen Y, I read around and saw references to their ability to organize information without a structure.  It didn’t take me long to realize that this observation was accurate.   They have their own skills born out of the internet age for checking the provenance of information and updating their mental maps.

More to the point, they don’t want structure and they don’t want “received opinions” from on high.  University lecturers brought up in another time are disconcerted by their apparently “personal” view of the world.

Publishing is the new literacy

What Gen Y are doing, without being told by us, is stepping in to the what Clay Shirky and others call the new literacy.

If reading and writing became common place after the invention of the printing press, publishing is common place today.  Everyone does it, more or less.

Just as being able to write well affects our performance in many subjects over and above English or whatever language we speak, publishing underlies our performance in every area too.  We are each responsible now for judging the quality and value of information and making it available to other people.  Just as we still have writers, we will still have publishers par excellence.  Just as we have people who “don’t write” and “don’t read”, we will have people who don’t publish either.  But publishing as a skill is now as commonplace as other activities that were once reserved  . . . like international travel for example.

When, and how, will Universities catch up?

Universities know and understand this.  At least, educational scholars do.  I saw a good presentation from someone at Open University on slideshare a few days ago.

But a fully ‘constructionist’ view of education is still seen as dippy or at best innovatory.  It is neither.  It is essential.  And we have many changes to make in the way we organize classes, assess assignments and understand what is knowledge.

The wheels are not just coming off the old industrial structures of banks and oil companies.  The time for decrying industrial age education is gone.  We are past that stage.  We are in the thick of building the education system of the new age.  We need to be part of it.  We need to publish to our own account.  That’s how we will learn, not just personally, but as a collective.

The point is that a “personal” view of the world is not a mark of a spoiled generation.  It is an essential skill and Gen Y has grasped its necessity, intuitively perhaps, but they have grasped it.  We have to catch up.


Is the best part of being 20 something discovering our own competence?

Gen Y or age?

There is so much talk about Gen Y (shortly to be displaced by Gen i).  Unless we are a 12 year old at TED, we rarely talk about age anymore.

What it means to be twenty something

Increasingly, I’ve found myself entertaining the idea that in our twenties, we particularly like solving task problems.  Sacha Chua in Canada posts a great account of sewing clothes.  I remember that!  The triumph!  (Great blog, btw. Subscribe!)

Task triumph palls!

I don’t like doing that anymore.  I just “want it to work”. I am tired of clothes shops without clothes that please at price that is sensible.  Just how many pounds a day should we spend on clothes?

I am tired of having to trawl through websites to find what I want.  That is the retailer’s job.  Yes, when I was younger beating the retailer was a thrill.  Doing a better job than them by finding what I wanted elsewhere always delivered a frisson of delight.  I felt competent. I probably felt that I was asserting my immortality.

Existential crisis or not?

It’s great to feel competent.  It’s great to feel agentic.  But I also feel tired.  Is it an existential crisis to want the person who pulls coffee to be able to make coffee?  Is it an existential crisis to want the people to run the bus to keep it clean and safe and come when they say (to the schedule if there is one and whenever they promise if there is not)?

Is the best part of being 20 something discovering our own competence?

Is not the case that 20 somethings, in our system, have a grand time proving they can work our system? Is there a age-thing working here, mixed in with a residual need to prove we are better than our teachers?

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Young people giving awful service

Little dogs who want to play ball

Over the weekend, I threw the ball for a friend’s dog   .   .  . I threw two balls for two dogs – one many times and one once.

We threw the first ball for the cooperative dog and then a second for the other dog.   He picked up the ball, raced around and refused to give it back.  He wants to play ball but can’t grasp the essential idea.

The other dog had fun.  We threw the ball. She fetched it and brought it back.  And so it went on until we were tired.  Then we took her ball away and waited patiently for the old boy to realize the game is over and to drop his too.

That’s how we dealt with the old dog.  We’ve stopped trying to teach him to play ball.  We just gave him a spare one and let him think he was part of the game.

Life is great when you have a great supply chain

In real life, are we so patient?

I used to say that we need a magic list of essential people : our plumber, our electrician, our mechanic, our hairdresser.  There are usually about 10 people who we depend upon more than we realize.  We can probably survive one of them being unreliable.  If more than one is unreliable, life becomes a hassle.

Web 2.0 is full of inexperienced suppliers

With web2.0, we have many conversations with many people and we interact with people who have no idea of what the people they serve want.  They seem blissfully unaware of their own narcissism and muddle.  Indeed they seem to regard their own narcissism as social status.  Some even take the view that they click away from services that they don’t like and you should too.

They think they are the energetic little dog racing around.  Actually they are the old fellow who won’t give back the ball.  Sadly, they are going to play alone.

How do we help a youngster who isn’t up to the to-and-fro of Web2.0?

All my instincts are to help a young person.  I feel bad at giving them a ball and letting them waste their time.   The trouble is that if they are engrossed in their narcissism, there is not a lot we can do.

How do they learn to answer the questions that the customer is trying to ask?  When do they learn that we aren’t interested in the answers they know?  When do they have the epiphany and realize we aren’t even interested in the answers to the questions we ask?

We want the answer to the question we are trying to ask.  As experts in their field (or so they claim), they need to educate us.

When we throw them the ball, they must bring it back so we can throw it to them again.  They must help us play our part in their game.  We won’t have a game without some effort on their part.  Pretending to play doesn’t quite do it.

Our moral obligation to the young

Of course, when I am their supplier, and I include being a boss or teacher in the category of supplier, it is my job to understand the question they are trying to ask.  It is fatal to answer the one asked because in their inexperience they may have left out a detail essential to understanding the situation.

When someone has a question, it is my job to ask more questions to understand their situation.  It is through my questions, that they learn what to look for and an orderly way to approach the same issue in the future.

Indeed, once I have highlighted the important features of the situation, it is very likely, they will be see the way forward themselves.  Even if they are still overwhelmed, they will implement more confidently knowing what salient features they should be observing and knowing that I am there for them.

The foolishness of putting young people on the front line

Why oh why do we put inexperienced people on to dealing with the public?  It is so daft.

I suppose I cannot give up on them.  It is immoral to give up on the young. But they cannot be my preferred supplier either.

Preferred suppliers answer the questions I should ask

My essential suppliers must know their business.  And that means knowing the questions I need to ask.

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Gen Y managers and leaders or leading and managing in the age of Gen Y?

Gen Y may be effective workers but are they good leaders and managers?

The weakness of Gen Y managers has bothered me, and I remained bothered until I had made up my mind about the future of management.

The future of management

I think management is going to exist pretty much unchanged except for three features.

  • We will work globally with people all over the world
  • We will work through the internet and need internet-type IT skills
  • Management will no longer be hierarchical

Managers of tomorrow will be puppet masters who specialize in the

  • Design of systems
  • Management of communities
  • Identification of collective opportunities

Collective will be their thing.

Managers won’t come through the ranks

Managers won’t be promoted up the ranks simply because there will be fewer ranks. Specialists will be happy to stay in their own specialities because there will be no advantage to promotion.  Managers may have no technical skills but they will be adept at getting people to work together.  They will be no more important than any one else though.  They’ll ask for support rather than demand performance.

Managers will exist in just the same way as skilled coders exist and skilled writers exist.

Managers who don’t have people or technical skills may need to find some skills

Many of the people whose skills I found woeful wanted to be managers. They were very bad listeners though.

Such people may find themselves dislocated if they are poor with people and have no technical skills either. But presumably they can learn management skills if given opportunities early enough.

If management is a career route, then presumably we will take in people to do management work at a very young age ~ and encourage them to acquire management skills at school and in community groups.

Not everyone wants to be a manager though. I know plenty of young people who don’t.

The future of management in the age of Gen Y

Matter resolved for me ~ for you?  This is my take as of November 2009.

  • Gen Y have no particularly predisposition to manage and perhaps a slight disposition not to manage
  • Management in this day is more coordination – on a daily base, via intricate internet skills and by recognizing opportunity within a network
  • Gen Y will learn the skills of management quite young by taking on projects
  • We can improve Gen Y skills by giving them projects to design, lead and manage at a young age.

What’s your view?

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Succession Planning: Goodbye Baby Boomers, Hello Gen Y

Weak succession planning has led to weakness in the management chain

I was sitting in the office of a thirties-something – a young, dynamic and intelligent man.

We noted that in many firms there is a horrible gap between the Baby Boomers and the next level. Sometimes there is a gap of 20 to 30 years.  Do you see that gap in your company? Grey hair – a long gap – slightly inexperienced manager?

If there is any succession planning, it is certainly not evident.

Generational demographics

The breaks in the chain are largely a function of demographics – the number of babies who were born.

Baby Boomers, as the name suggests, are many. They are also used to dominating politics with their votes, and dictating taste with their purchasing power.

Gen X are few. Generally, while Boomers had 3 siblings, they had none. They are outnumbered by Boomers at least 2:1. Known as the latch-key kids, they are used to cleaning up the world after the Boomers have swanned-through. They are the unseen generation.

Gen Y are more numerous and are having more children than themselves.

Can we mend the breaks in the chain?

The gap between those in charge now, and those in charge tomorrow, is horrible. It even became an issue in the American Presidential election. “Obama is too young (47!) and has too little experience”, people cried. The gulf is much bigger in business.

How will the mantle of leadership be handed on from Boomers to Gen X or Gen Y?

I wanted to know how my young friend thought change would come about.

He smiled and said: “One day, one of them will go out to play golf. And his friends will follow.”

All over in day?

How will the mantle of leadership be passed from one generation to another in your industry? And what will be the consequences?

Chaos from lack of skill and exposure? A breath of fresh air?

What are the elements of succession planning with these unusual demographics before us?

How will the generation shift affect you?  Good or bad?  And if it is sudden, will it be in your favor, or not?

UPDATE:  Perhaps we can begin by not slagging off Gen Y, be reopening management training schools and having explicit policies to pass on the mantle of leadership?


Is my salvation yours?

And who sat next to me?

Many years ago, I was flying from Harare to Johannesburg and I sat, by providence, next to Dr Shahidul Alam, who I was to discover is a very well known photographer and activist from Bangladesh.  In those days, email newsletters were quite the rage, and overtime of course, we have updated to blogs and RSS feeds.

I use Pageflakes as my feedreeder and I have a page for the feeds I check first thing in the morning, a page for UK blogs linked to my profession, another page for non-UK links in my profession, a page for venture capital, etc.  And I have a page for Evening where I feed blogs like Shahidul’s from Drik Gallery in Dhaka. Whether you like to be informed about events around the world, or whether you just like good photography, I recommend it.

Today, I stumbled upon an article about the 1971 generation, Bangladeshi men and women who were disappointed by the outcomes of Bangladesh’s Independence.  Dashed hopes are sadly quite common when we have worked long and hard for change.

Is your liberation, also mine?

Today’s post began with a quotation from an Aboriginal activist group from Australia.

If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.

It is attributed variously to Lila Watson and the Aboriginal Activist’s Group Queensland 1970’s

This is a sentiment I learned growing up in southern Africa with all its inherited problems.

When we are sufficiently well off, we often approach a conflict as if we have nothing to gain from its resolution.  Our patronising attitude is very irritating to the other side.  We may be surprised to find that what we think is good will on our part is generating  considerable contempt.  We may be shocked to hear that we are regarded less positively than people who are downright aggressive.

The alternative takes a lot of courage.  Can we approach conflict resolution and negotiation without any preconditions, and in particular without commitment to being a senior partner?

It is amazing how often we refuse to engage if we are not guaranteed a superior position in advance.  It is also amazing how often we project this stance onto others when they are just calling us on our unwillingness to negotiate in good faith.

So many of the world’s intractable conflicts would be resolved in an instance if we could only get down from our high horse.  And this is true too, in business.

Examples in business

For example, think of the typical networking event when people introduce themselves.  There is little discussion of common goals.  I say what I do (hoping it sounds important).   Others listen, not for something they could do for me, but for something I can do for them, pretending all the while that they want to help me!  Such social contortions!

Imagine if the atmosphere were different and we could say openly, in the next year I want to achieve X?  How many of us would dare?  How many of us listen with and offer “I can help you from there to there” without trying to be important?  I have seen it done but it is so rare that it stands out!

Think too of the typical job advertisment looking for people who are ‘the best’.  And think of the tension that implies.  I want the best but I am recruiting from the open market.   I do not employ the best? Nor I am able to train them?  Ow!  I am really very dependent on the applicants for their skills but I cannot contenance admitting that!

Imagine again phrasing a job advertisment honestly.  This is what we want to achieve this year.  Who believes they can help us?  Please reply stating how we can help you in return.

So why do we get involved with this posturing?

The simple answer is that predicating everything on a pecking order is the central characteristic of  masculine cultures. Britain and most English-speaking countries are very masculine.  And when every one else is attending to the pecking order, to neglect it is dangerous.

Other cultures though, and to some extent the culture we have bred in our midst, Gen Y, are less attached to the pecking order culture.  They are often amazed at our shenanigans and they find our collegial skills somewhat lacking.

Towards an unexpectedly prosperous 2009?

Are we able to abandon the premise that some people are more important than others?  Are we able to abandon the act, that I am safe and OK, and this negotiation affects only your position and not mine?  Do we have the courage to define our future collectively?

It may be important during 2009.

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We can’t run our banks or trains BUT we have raised a fair and decent GEN Y?

Life in the 21st century is a little grim

One of the pleasures of living in the UK is long commutes on overfull trains.  I am not talking overcrowding Mumbai-style (aka Bombay) to be sure. But there is a more than 50-50 chance in the UK that I will find myself standing for an hour, or finding a free wall and sitting on the carpet – damn the higher dry cleaning bills.

Two trips back, I plonked my teaching file down on the aisle carpet and sat on it, embarrassing the 50-something who had a seat next to me.  When I declined his kind offer to change places, he retorted, so you can tell your friends about how things used to be better!

But I think it has got better

Actually, I don’t think things have got worse.  I’ve been away from UK and because I pop in and out, I see change intermittently and I think have a less distorted view.  UK is cleaner and quicker than it was 10 years ago and much cleaner and quicker than it was 20 years ago.

And more optimistic

I also don’t think things have got worse for another reason.  I teach (college).  And teaching brings me into contact with Gen Y twice a week.

Gen Y may be many things.  What you can count on is that they want to do a good job.  They ask questions.  They are knowledgeable about what they have been in contact with.  They want to run fair and decent businesses.  They are intensely interested in any curriculum to do with being a good manager or a good leader.  I can hear a pin drop when I get onto topics like charismatic leadership.  It may be narcissism on their part (and mine), but I like to think differently.

So why have we done so well?

So lets pose  a question.  We see so much shocking leadership and management in today’s world.   Steve Roesler pointed to the obvious today.  Many of our workplaces seem to reward bad leadership.  The collapse of the financial system seems to be a case in point.  The post mortems will tell us eventually.

How is it that

We cannot provide decent commuting trains in the 6th richest country in the world, or fair mortgages in the 1st richest country,


We have raised our children to be intensely interested in being decent, fair and engaging?

Why did we do so well? I am asking sincerely.  What did we do to bring up such a pleasant, decent, energetic, and fair generation of youngsters?

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If you haven’t seen Mama Mia yet, don’t read this post!

Streep at the 61st Academy Awards.Image via Wikipedia

Celebration of baby boomers

Last week, someone kindly took me to see box office hit, Mama Mia. Meryl Streep and others were looking good, singing and dancing on a Greek Island.

I think the show is intended only as light hearted frivolity. It is a celebration, though, of baby boomer culture – bell bottoms, pop, and liberation.

The dilemma facing baby boomers

I found it interesting because it has sufficient of a story line to address the dilemma facing baby boomers.

  • What should boomers make of their past lives and decisions?
  • Where is the fine line between reminiscing and treasuring the past?
  • What is our role vis-a-viz Gen Y?

Mama Mia – an example of moving on

The movie does offer an example of moving on gracefully.

  • The sixties are shamelessly celebrated in a beautiful setting with beautiful people.
  • The past is brought into the present without apology or aggrandizement.
  • The parents resolve past misdeeds allowing them to “let go”, plan their own retirement and allow Gen Y to plot their own course.

I’ve posted Rainer Rilke‘s poem (translated by J. Mullen) before about the challenge of approaching old age.

Lord: it is time. The summer was great.
Lay your shadows onto the sundials
and let loose the winds upon the fields.

Command the last fruits to be full,
give them yet two more southern days,
urge them to perfection, and chase
the last sweetness into the heavy wine.

Who now has no house, builds no more.
Who is now alone, will long remain so,
will stay awake, read, write long letters
and will wander restlessly here and there
in the avenues, when the leaves drift.

“Who now has no house, builds no more” is a tough line to understand, possibly because it directs our attention to our disappointments.  Mama Mia is a great movie for someone to watch to “get it”.

What is the house that we built?   In what way was everything a rehearsal for this?

Accommodate boomer at work

We hear so much about accommodating Gen Y at work.  What do we need to do to accommodate boomers?

Do you know of any systems, formal or informal, that build in this reflection and draw out of strengths of older members of an organization?

Would empowering boomers impower Gen Y too as it did in the movie?

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