Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The New Lost Generation?

I've noted before articles that I've seen that seem to predict an impending leadership takeover by Millennials. They are, as these articles say, more numerous, more entrepreneurial, and (evidently), just plain better than us crusty old Xers.

Imagine my surprise when someone called my attention to the cover story in a recent issue of Business Week, where they're beginning to worry that this economic downturn and the joblessness crisis that has accompanied it is turning those heir apparents into apparently nots.

For people just starting their careers, the damage may be deep and long-lasting, potentially creating a kind of "lost generation." Studies suggest that an extended period of youthful joblessness can significantly depress lifetime income as people get stuck in jobs that are beneath their capabilities, or come to be seen by employers as damaged goods.

But it's not just bad for them. It's bad for us, too.

Equally important, employers are likely to suffer from the scarring of a generation. The freshness and vitality young people bring to the workplace is missing. Tomorrow's would-be star employees are on the sidelines, deprived of experience and losing motivation.

It's an interesting twist in the generational leadership narrative. Perhaps the Millennials are not so unstoppable after all. But then I have to remember, for every Millennial who is kept off the bottom rung of the ladder by the bad economy, there is likely a Boomer who is isn't leaving the top rung for the same reason. And the Xers? Stuck in the middle again.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Association Leadership and Innovation

I recently accepted an invitation to join the Board of WSAE, my state society for association executives and staff. After 16 years of working with Boards as an association staff person, it will be my first experience being a Board member myself. I expect to learn something new (new to me, at least) about leadership in associations and the appropriate interplay between Boards and staffs. The WSAE Board and membership, like a lot of other societies these days, include a changing generational mix--Xers like me moving into prominence and positions of leadership. I expect to learn something from that angle as well. And I expect to blog about some of those experiences here on Hourglass. Stay tuned.

One thing I've already learned (or reinforced, since I sort of knew it already, but now the shoe is really on the other foot) is that one of the best ways to get a Board member engaged is to help them build a link between their personal/professional interests and the organizational objectives of the association.

In my current situation, that link proved to be the topic of innovation. I've been thinking about it a lot lately, looking for better ways to support a culture of innovation in my association, and finding inspiration in several examples from the for-profit world--examples where successful companies have incorporated an "innovation function" into their business model. This is dedicated, defined, and resourced function within the organization that works to generate innovative ideas and select the right ones to develop into innovative products. Ram Charan, our keynote speaker at our February 2009 Annual Conference, described it something like this:

I clearly remember sitting in that keynote session, scribbling down notes from Ram's presentation, knowing that I would use them to construct a flowchart like the one I've reproduced above, fascinated with the idea that this "corporate best practice" might have an application in the association world.

And that's where my link with WSAE comes in. I wanted to explore these concepts with a peer group of association CEOs, ones who, like me, are committed to this idea of creating an innovative culture for our associations, but are struggling to find a workable model. And WSAE wants to find ways to engage more association CEOs in their activities, leveraging their interests and experience to add more value to the whole profession of association management. That organizational objective, coupled with my professional interest, has resulted in something we're calling the WSAE Innovation Task Force.

Essentially, it's a group of WSAE members, weighted with association CEOs, who are willing to share information and meet on a regular basis to discuss innovative practices in their organizations. Before every meeting, we'll select one case study, from either the for-profit or non-profit world, to review, and then at the meeting we'll discuss:

1. Principles of innovation successfully employed by the organization profiled.
2. Strategies for applying those principles to the association environment in general.
3. Actions for individual participants to take in applying those principles in their organizations.

Future meetings will follow a similar agenda, but we plan to start each subsequent meeting by asking participants who made a commitment to action at the previous meeting to share their real experiences in implementing those actions in their organizations. Adjustments to a growing list of innovation principles and strategies for the association environment will be discussed based on these real experiences. Over time, our objective will be to develop an evidence-based model of innovation for the association community.

Knowing that there is a lot of expertise out there on the subject of innovation in associations, I'd love to engage interested readers of The Hourglass Blog in this process as well. Right now, the task force is planning to meet once every two months or so, and our first meeting has been scheduled for January 22, 2010. If you have any case studies or other information about organizations successfully creating an innovation function for themselves, please send them my way. If you all have enough interest, I'd be happy to post a record of our on-going discussions on this blog.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Social Media is Not a Generational Issue

I want to follow up on Eric's post last week about Social Media. I agree completely that there is not a one-size fits all answer when it comes to social media (not everyone has to do it right now), but I would also push back a little on the "our business model works so we don't need it" argument too, because EVERYONE's business model works--right up to the moment it doesn't. Changing your business model BEFORE it's obsolete is a lot easier than after, which is one of the arguments for at least experimenting with social media before you think it's absolutely necessary.

But the main point I want to make is related to his last point--that social media will happen when either Xers or Millennials take over leadership positions. I have a different view.

I don't think Social Media is based in one or two generations. It's not driven by a particular generation, and it's not best suited to a particular generation.

I think some of the confusion stems from the fact that the Millennial generation is currently being shaped by the social internet. Xers may be awed by the vast amounts of information that's on the internet, but Millennials grew up being able to connect and create things via the internet. I (and others) think that is shaping their generational values.

Fine. But that doesn't mean social media was designed exclusively by or for them. Old folks (Xers and Boomers) understand the concepts behind social media too, and have been applying them rampantly. I have seen lots of statistics about the fastest growing age groups in various social media platforms, and it's often the old folks.

Whether your organization uses social media effectively or not will not be based on the generational composition of your leadership positions. It will be based on the leadership composition of your leadership positions.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Social Media - Change or Die?

I've been seeing a lot of stories like this one, arguing that "smart" organizations that want to compete for the best talent in the Millennial generation had better start embracing social media and making it available to all their employees. This particular article talks about being "uber-connected," and even makes a case that younger workers with unrestricted access to social media websites (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) are more productive than those that aren't.

This seems a reaction to a lot of studies, like the one cited in the article, that confirms a majority of workplaces still prohibit or restrict access to these sites. Indeed, many organizations I know are struggling to find the business case for these technologies.

Ultimately, I think the debate over whether or not social media is a productive use of a person's time depends on the person, and that the debate over whether or not it makes good business sense depends on the business. For every person that thinks Twitter is a waste of time, there's another who's using it to keep in touch with family and friends scattered across the country. For every business that refuses to give employees access to Facebook for fear that they'll waste time and expose the organization to legal risks, there's another whose employees are using it to find new customers and deliver better customer service.

The reality that these "change now or become obsolete" articles always seem to miss is that there are organizations for whom social media is more of a risk than a benefit.

Trade associations seem especially reluctant to enter the fray and, in my own experience, those run by older professionals seem to skew towards the "we ran the idea by our legal counsel and they recommended against it" mindset. Will these trade associations stop being successful anytime soon? I doubt it. Their business model works and it doesn't require the grease of social media to keep its wheels turning.

But will these same organizations eventually incorporate social media into the fabric of what they do? Yes, I believe they will, but it won't happen because the Boomer who runs the organization or the Boomers who sit on its Board read an article about how much the young folks like using Twitter. It will happen when those young folks start to move into positions of leadership (in the staff and on the Board) and naturally bring some of their productive social media practices with them. Change, in other words, will happen from the bottom-up, not the top-down.

The only question I have is which set of young folks are we talking about--Millennials or Xers?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Big Idea: What if Associations Allowed CEOs to be Board Chairs?

I thought I'd get in on the action with December being declared Big Ideas Month over at the Acronym Blog.

This post from the Harvard Business Blog has been kicking around in my brain since I first read it in early November. In it, Bob Pozen asks if for-profit CEOs should be allowed to be Chair of their own Boards. In other words, are companies better run when a single person holds both the position of CEO and Board Chair, or when two different people--with different skill sets--each hold one of those positions and work together as a leadership team?

I'll admit, my first reaction was to think two. You've got to have two different people in those positions because they encompass two very different sets of responsibilities, and they are meant to complement and counterbalance each other.

But Pozen goes on to state that empirical studies show no statistically significant improvement in either a company's net income or its stock price when those positions are filled by two individuals versus one. Indeed, Pozen says, the only arrangement that seems to show consistently negative results is when a former CEO becomes the Board Chair of the same company. In the for-profit world then, having a separate CEO and Board Chair is not necessarily an advantage. Pozen says that only 37% of U.S. companies have that arrangement.

So that got me thinking about the association world. In my own experience, every association I've ever worked for has had separate Board Chairs and CEOs. And that's also true of every other association professional that I know. Is there anyone out there who actually serves both roles in a nonprofit association? Would such an arrangement even be legal? Given the amount of literature, educational programs, and hallway conversations that go on about how to keep the two jobs separate but closely aligned, I have to think the practice of having a single person fill both roles in an association is either rare or illegal.

But what if it wasn't? A Google search turns up a fair amount of debate on the subject in the for-profit world. More seem to think it's better to split, but those who think it's better to merge cite several advantages:

1. Once a Board commits to merging the two roles, they spend less time on a watchdog evaluation of the CEO and more time on making smart decisions for the organization.

2. A combined CEO/Board Chair is better able to withstand pressure from the Board and stick with a long-term strategy, especially when short-term changes don't immediately pay off.

3. A CEO who is not the Board Chair is the Board's hired hand. A CEO who is also Board Chair has far more influence over the other Board directors.

I personally have never wished to be both the CEO and the Board Chair of the associations I've worked for. And I'm not bucking for the job now. But I can imagine situations when such a structure would be advantageous.

So much time and energy is spent on getting the right leadership team in place--two individuals that understand their roles, clearly communicate with one another, and work in partnership to fulfill the association's mission. When it works, it works really well. But such successful synergies take time to develop, and too often they end before they even get started, because Board Chairs ultimately rotate out of the positions at the end of their terms. In the associations I've worked with that's usually after one year. I still remember what it felt like to "lose" the best Board Chair I ever worked with.

As association CEOs we know this turnover is inevitable. So, we develop all kinds of policies, procedures and resources to bring the new Board Chairs up to speed as quickly as possible. We know they are key to our organization's success, so we do things like groom them while they're in subordinate positions on the Board. We create committees made up of future Board Chairs to help determine long-term strategy, and we use the decisions of those committees to help shield our associations from the distractions that come with having to "turn the battleship" with each new Board Chair, or with needing to protect "legacy programs" of past Board Chairs. We spend copious amounts of our time on these activities, working hard simply to get our associations ready for effective governance.

Imagine what our associations could accomplish if more of that time was spent on actual governance itself.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Encore Careers

I've blogged before about signs in the for-profit marketplace that Boomers are transitioning to careers in the non-profit universe. Their retirement funds have been decimated by the recent financial implosion, and they're reaching the end of their careers, but still feel relevant and want to make a difference in society. What better time for Boomers to lend their considerable experience to running socially-conscious non-profits?

Well, now there's a term for that phenomenon--Encore Careers. And, evidently, a whole infrastructure springing up to help Boomers make it happen. Check out Civic Ventures and their companion website, Encore Careers.

Civic Ventures is a self-described non-profit think thank that is...

...leading the call to engage millions of baby boomers as a vital workforce for change. Through an inventive program portfolio, original research, strategic alliances, and the power of people's own life stories, Civic Ventures demonstrates the value of experience in solving serious social problems--from education to the environment and health care to homelessness. Founded in 1998 by social entrepreneur and author Marc Freedman, Civic Ventures works to define the second half of adult life as a time of individual and social renewal.

And they're getting such a big write-up from me because I find the whole concept fascinating. Among other things, Civic Ventures provides: — The growing network for people who want work that matters in the second half of life. provides news, resources and connections for individuals and organizations establishing encore careers that combine personal meaning, financial security and social contribution.

The Purpose Prize — $100,000 awards for social innovators over 60 creating new methods for solving the world´s biggest problems. The Purpose Prize is awarded to individuals who discover new opportunities, invent new programs and foster lasting social change.

Experience Corps — A national service program engaging adults over 55 as tutors and mentors for elementary school students struggling to learn. Today more than 2,000 Experience Corps members in 20 cities help 20,000 students learn the skills they´ll need to succeed in school and in life. Launched by Civic Ventures, Experience Corps is now an independent organization.

Encore Career Community College Grants — Grants for innovative community colleges preparing people 50+ for careers in education, health care and social services.

The Next Chapter — An initiative providing directions and connections for people who want to make a difference in the second half of life. Local Next Chapter projects in dozens of cities offer expertise and assistance to community groups working to help individuals set a course, connect with peers and get involved in significant service work.

BreakThrough Award — Awards for organizations that tap experienced employees to help solve serious social problems. Ten organizations were awarded MetLife Foundation/Civic Ventures Breakthrough Awards in 2007.

Now, that is some serious infrastructure. And there is evidently some real muscle behind it. Their website lists financial support from 30 or so major foundations, including the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the John Templeton Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The whole thing makes me long for an encore career!

But wait, there's hope for me yet. According to the survey they released (published June 2008), the cohort they've examined and are reaching out to are people between the ages of 44 and 70 (birth years 1938-64). That's a pretty wide definition for Boomers. Our friends Strauss & Howe say Boomers were born 1943-60. That means the folks in their cohort born 1938-42 are actually Silents, and those born 1961-64 are actually Xers.

And guess what else? The younger the individuals surveyed, the more interest there was entering encore careers. Using the survey's own terminology:
  • 50% of "trailing-edge boomers" (ages 44-50, birth years 1958-64) were interested in pursuing encore careers.
  • 46% of "leading-edge boomers" (ages 51-62, birth years 1946-57) were interested in pursuing encore careers.
  • 34% of "pre-boomers" (ages 63-70, birth years 1938-1945) were interested in pursuing encore careers.
Given how many Xers (or maybe Jonesers?) are in their "trailing-edge boomers" and how many Silents are in their "pre-boomers", I wonder how much of this for-profit move towards the non-profit world is really about Boomers wanting to give back, and how much of it is about people of multiple generations growing disillusioned with the for-profit environment.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Stimulating Work? What's That?

Recently caught this post from Sylvia Ann Hewitt. In it, she references some research she's doing for a new book, Top Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business Is Down. She says that the number one reason that talented people love their jobs--far outstripping compensation and recognition--is having stimulating and challenging assignments. To help prove her point, she adds:

This finding is backed up by our investigation into the commonalities between Boomer and Gen Y workers: Both groups--who together make up 148 million people, or nearly half of the U.S. population--overwhelmingly want their jobs to provide challenging and diverse opportunities to grow both personally and professionally.

I wonder what her research told her about GenX workers? Perhaps that we overwhelmingly want our jobs to provide simple and repetitive tasks so we can grow stagnant and ossify.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cross-Generational Leadership

The other thing I wanted to comment on from Jamie free e-book, Generational Diversity in the Workplace: Hype Won't Get You Results, is a point he makes near the end.

So what impact will Generation X have on leadership? It is not that simple any more. Part of what we need to rethink here is the notion of a linear progression of leadership models that each generation introduces, fighting the battle with the generation that preceded them. Today's leadership model will change (and that change will encounter resistance), but I expect the new model will beging to be developed more cross-generationally. The function of leadership does not exist solely at the top of the hierarchy, which means that leadership is, by definition, the responsibility of multiple generations. Conversations about new leadership models, therefore, are more likely to involve multiple generations than in years past.

This trend will be reinforced by the demographics as well. Generation X is a relatively small generation, sandwiched between the two largest generations in American history. It seems unlikely that they will take over leadership positions, or the spots on the Boards of Directors in a dominating way. The Boomers will likeky stay longer than in previous generations, and the Millennials will likely be moving more quickly into those positions. With three generations sharing leadership positions, it is certain that a new model will emerge--one that will likely challenge the vales and assumptions of all three generations.

Apologies for quoting such a long segment, but I think it neatly summarizes a lot of what we've been talking about here on Hourglass. Much of the blogosphere seems convinced that, when it comes to generations and leadership, there is only one narrative worth following:

The Boomers, given their changing financial needs brought on by the Great Recession and their natural tendency to actualize themselves through a tireless devotion to their work, will hang on to their existing leadership positions longer than most previous generations, and will even move into new leadership positions in the nonprofit world in order to better satisfy their legacy needs. When they are ready to hand over the reins, it will be to the Millennials, who are being dubbed "The Crucible Generation" by such luminaries as Warren Bennis, for their entrepreneurial vision and commitment to social responsibility.

I like Jamie's vision better. Leadership is not a mantle that is passed from one generation to the next like a baton. It is a system that exists within an organization that needs to find ways to self-perpetuate itself in order to ensure that the values and goals of the organization--which are larger than any one generation--continue to be held and advance.

I'm fascinated by the idea of the three generations--Boomers, Xers and Millennials--working together to fashion a new system of leadership for the organizations that need to be preserved, especially through the great financial crisis we are all facing. As I explored in last week's post, don't they all have something to contribute to that system, something unique that will make it stronger and more sustainable than any system based on any one generation's ideals, or any system based on the outdated idea of passing the baton from one generation to the next?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Generational Diversity in Ten Minutes

That was my challenge on Monday as I spoke to the American Hotel and Lodging Association. I was part of a round table session and I had to do a ten minute presentation on generational diversity for each table.

I gave them all a copy of my ebook as a handout, so I knew I could refer to that for the more detailed information, but it was still a challenge to come up with points that I could make in about five or six minutes (so they’d have a few minutes to ask questions). Here’s what I came up with.

1. Beware the Hype

I think this is getting better, but there’s a lot of hype on this topic ( a few years ago it was really bad). Hype takes generalizations and uses them in the service of ostracizing a particular group. It belittles them and makes them the problem. If you’re speaking to a group of Gen Xers you might get hype about how Boomers are self indulgent or made you sing kumbaya at the staff retreat. If you’re talking to Boomers, you’ll hear about how Gen X are disrespectful slackers or Millennials are helpless and need their meat cut for them. This stuff doesn’t help.

2. Learn the Theory

Sorry, but you need some theory to combat the hype. There are four generations in the workplace today, but they were formed by significant, long-term, social, political, and economic trends (not just the random dates that the researcher picked). It pays to understand those big picture trends, because then you can distinguish the difference between a real generational difference versus a life-stage difference. The best source for theory is Strauss and Howe’s book in my opinion.

3. We are guessing about Millennials.

It’s interesting that the generation that I am most often asked to speak about (Millennials, Gen Y, the net-generation, etc.) is the one we know the least about. We are writing articles about them and how they act and why they act that way, and I just have to emphasize to everyone that these are complete guesses about what drives this generation. You can’t come to a firm conclusion until you see them across a couple of different life stages. That doesn’t mean we should stop guessing of course—the conversation is useful—but take all that conversation with a grain of salt. My guess? I see four trends as having the biggest impact on this generation as they are coming of age: the social internet, abundance, diversity, and child-focus.

4. So What?

Whatever you learn about generational differences, always add the “so what?” question at the end. Applying knowledge of generational differences is very tricky. It hardly ever gives you clear answers about what to do, but it can be a useful guide to your conversations with your stakeholders about what you all should do. So be disciplined as you move forward on this topic and don’t fall into the traps of hype or oversimplification.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Generational Fuzziness

Jamie recently made his e-book, Generational Diversity in the Workplace: Hype Won’t Get You Results, free for the asking. Well, I finally got around to reading it, and I have to say, had I known it was such an interesting read, I would’ve bought it when it was available for sale. Jamie, tell you what, if we ever meet in person, I’ll buy you dinner. (I owe you for a few other things, anyway.)

Jamie hits a couple of core themes that we’ve referred to before on Hourglass and probably will again. The first is the fuzziness of the generations themselves.

Some generational theorists have hard definitions for when the generations begin and end—based on population trends that appear in birth records. They say Baby Boomers are Baby Boomers because they were born during the baby boom after the GIs returned from World War II. Therefore, Baby Boomers started being born in 1946. No exceptions.

Well, Jamie disagrees. And so do his muses, William Strauss and Neil Howe. They all say the generations are defined by the broad social context that exists while individuals in that group “come of age,” and set their values. Growing up during the 1960s was a much different experience than growing up during the 1980s, and that’s why Boomers and Xers are different, not because they were born in different years.

The other fuzzy factor Jamie wants us to keep in mind is the concept of life stage. Not only are the generations different because of what was going on in the world while they were coming of age, those same events impact each generation differently because they are all at different stages of life when they occur. A generation, in other words, isn’t carved in stone after its formative experiences. Their values may be sort of baked into them by the social context of their coming of age, but they will evolve and react differently to each successive generation’s social context as they progress through the natural stages of life.

Jamie says he doesn’t like charts that summarize the generations because they overly simplify the complex, and are often taken out of context, but when it comes to the impact of these life stages, I couldn’t fully wrap my head around the idea until I created this chart:
It’s rough and contains sweeping generalizations, but it helps me think about generations and leadership. Right now we have three generations in the workforce. Some say four and a few are saying we’ll soon see five, but let’s limit it to three for the time being.

I’ll go out on a limb and say that the “Great Recession” is one of those vast social contexts that will shape the generation currently coming of age. We don’t yet know who they are or what it’s going to do to them, but we can say a few things about the generations already in the workforce and how they may react to it based both on the social context that existed when they came of age and the current stage of life they find themselves at now.

(Hold on to your hats, folks. If I thought I was going out on a limb before, I’m really crawling out onto the skinny branches with this foray into armchair generational analysis!)

Formative social context
– The safety and conformity of great economic prosperity fuels a youthful rebellion that yearns to define the individual as transcendent to what is perceived as the autonomic and soulless culture.
Life stage now – Maturity. Ending their careers and looking forward to retirement.
Leadership perspective for dealing with the aftermath of the Great Recession – “We’re doomed! How can I deal with this thing and still actualize myself? Do I need to start a social movement?”

Formative social context
– The rise of the individual over the collective needs of society gives way to social unrest, cults of false personality, and character corruption in leadership, breeding a deep cynicism in the power of the individual to affect real change.
Life stage now – Middle age. Seeking to define themselves as leaders.
Leadership perspective for dealing with the aftermath of the Great Recession – “Well, they screwed it up again. Guess I need to keep watching out for myself. But wait a minute, as long as the pieces need to be put back together, can’t we do it in ways that make more sense? Is anyone listening?”

Formative social context
– A tired cynicism turns cantankerous and gives way to a resurgence of individual empowerment, fueled by expanding social technologies that connect people and ideas.
Life stage now – Young adulthood. Entering the workforce.
Leadership perspective for dealing with the aftermath of the Great Recession – “WTF? I can’t get anyone to hire me. Oh, well. I still matter to all my friends on Facebook. Anyone want to start a socially conscious company with me?”

Three generations formed by three different social contexts. But in predicting how they each will choose to lead in our current environment, you have to take into account their stage of life. It’s part of what makes this discipline so fuzzy and difficult to pin down.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Xers Can't Just Quit

Neil Howe's Lifecourse Blog has recently been pointing out items in the blogosphere that seem to be predicting the end of our world. Check out:

Death of 'Soul of Capitalism', where Paul B. Farrell of Marketwatch details 20 reasons why America has lost its soul and its collapse is now inevitable. Or:

American Pie and the Seasons of History, where Jim Quinn of The Burning Platform shows how our unavoidable downfall is eeriely foretold in the lyrics of Don McLean's cryptic classic, American Pie.

Like Howe, I've also been stumbling into more items that seem to be carrying the same water, most recently The US in GM, where Tom Davenport on the Harvard Business Publishing blog sees the same bitter demise for the United States that has befallen General Motors, and for many of the same reasons.

What's going on here? Howe says it's all part of something he calls The Fourth Turning, one of four natural and cyclical periods of history, driven by the interconnected waxing and waning of his four generational archtypes--Artists, Prophets, Nomads and Heroes. In The Fourth Turning:

A Crisis arises in response to sudden threats that previously would have been ignored or deferred, but which are now perceived as dire. Great worldly perils boil off the clutter and complexity of life, leaving behind one simple imperative: The society must prevail. This requires a solid public consensus, aggressive institutions, and personal sacrifice.

According to Howe, this has happened again and again in world history. We are now entering just the latest incarnation, where the old Artists are disappearing (Silents), Prophets are entering elderhood (Boomers), Nomads are entering midlife (Xers), Heroes are entering young adulthood (Millennials), and a new generation of Artists are being born (a generation, as yet, unnamed).

Essentially, the Boomers are freaking out because their world is changing in ways they don't understand, and rather than try to make sense of it, they're throwing up their hands and saying we're all doomed. In many ways, it reminds me of something I heard several Silents and Boomers say upon the election of Barack Obama--that they didn't feel like they were living in the same country they had grown up in.

A few of my recent posts (here and here) have dealt with the speculative issue of Xers "quitting"--giving up trying to lead organizations constructed out of Boomer building blocks and striking out on their own to create new organizations with a decidedly Xer vibe. But reading all this doom and gloom from the Boomers has me wondering if it isn't the Boomers who will be "quitting", leaving the Xers and the following generations behind to reassemble those blocks in better functioning ways.

As a point of comparison, check out these two items, which seem to deal with the same "fourth turning" issue, but from a distinctly Xer perspective.

The first is from Seth Godin, who sees opportunity in this world of crumbling institutions. The establishment doesn't like it when it can no longer tell who is and who isn't a journalist, or an entrepreneur, but Godin does.

The second is from Steven DeMaio, the blogger who inspired me to write my first post about Xers quitting. He describes the new era we're entering as one of permanent uncertainty, and has advice for how to deal with it.

The reaction of most people has been to ignore these realities, as they can be depressing to contemplate. A smaller but substantial number of folks are overreacting; I know several educated professionals, for example, who are buying guns, hoarding antibiotics, or stockpiling gold coins. I find both types of responses--denial on the one hand, paranoia on the other--to be chilling. But instead of merely dismissing them as immoderate, I'd rather figure out a way to bring both sides toward the middle.

The extreme responses of inaction and paranoia cannot be moderated for more than a very short time by frequent use of the word "hope" and calmly delivered advice not to panic, important as those elements are. A more practical approach is to acknowledge plainly and openly that crisis is here to stay and that living with it day in and day out need not feel like doom. The responsibility for initiating such conversations belongs, in part, to leaders in government, business, and elsewhere, but it also belongs to average folks--both are navigating these rough waters.

I agree. And who is more likely to start those conversations? The Boomers who see the sky falling on their heads, or the Xers whose job it will necessarily be to pick up the pieces and create some new constellations?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What's Your Apollo Program?

This recent post by Dan Pallotta is just too thought-provoking to let pass without comment. In it, he asks the disturbing question:

What good is it to have a bunch of nonprofits that are able to sustain themselves, if they are only large enough to address .001% of the problem?

In Pallotta's world the problems are homelessness, hunger and AIDS. He's frustrated that literally hundreds of nonprofits dedicated to solving these problems have so far been unable to do so--and he speculates that part of their collective failure is their fragmentation and their inability or unwillingness to streamline and consolidate. Dan pines for a kind of Apollo Program for the social problems he wants solved--a galvanizing vision and commitment of human attention like the one that followed President Kennedy's challenge of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.

It's an interesting read, made more so by the 17 comments that follow--many of which are dismissive of Pallotta's perceived idealism and naivete. My favorite commenter says this:

Mr Pallotta: You touch on topics near and dear to my heart. I believe what is somewhat eerily missing from the scene today is a broad based social movement of any kind. I don't want to sould like the old goat I am(!), but there used to be a Labor Movement. There used to [be] a Third Party Movement. There used to be an Anti-War Movement. There used to be militant Gay Activism. There used to be a community control movement. Just to name a few. The point is, the cutting edge of meaningful, provocative social change that is going to jolt the lethargy out of the status quo comes from dissent, protest, good analysis, crisp issues, smart organizing, and mobilization. Non-profits follow, they don't lead. They're a way of institutionalizing gains.


I'm bringing this to your attention because I want to ask two questions.

First--who do you think is right? Pallotta or the commenter? Can nonprofit organizations overcome their inherent focus on their own sustainability and work together to create substantive change and progress for big social problems? Or does that kind of change only come from militant opposition of the status quo, and the more appropriate role for nonprofits is to create and sustain programs that institutionalize those gains? If you think the latter, then don't bother reading any farther. But if you think the former, if you think nonprofits can and should aim higher than the delivery of programs, then here's my second question.

What's your Apollo Program?

We all work in a world where there is constant competition--for resources, for attention, for meaning and purpose. Whatever kind of nonprofit organization you run or work for, there are surely other organizations in your space that are trying to deliver the same or similar services and trying to achieve the same or similar objectives. What is the one overarching goal that all those organizations can and should be working together on and when was the last time you talked to any of those organizations about it?

At one time in our history, our nation was focused on putting a man on the moon and we made it happen. Pallotta would like to focus organizations in his space on ending homelessness, world hunger, and AIDS--and he believes they can similarly do it with the same kind of shared purpose. What could be achieved in your world if all its players stopped focusing on their own success and starting working together to achieve it?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Should Xers Just Quit?

Intrigued by the theme of my own post last week, I did a little more digging on the Harvard Publishing blog and came across this post from Tammy Erickson. It's from March 2008 and it's titled "10 Reasons Gen Xers Are Unhappy at Work." It reads like a manifesto for why Xers should stop banging their heads against the Boomer-built wall of corporate America—a wall, it seems, with only a Millennial-sized door in it—and pursue their own entrepreneurial vision.

Erickson hopes this isn't the case. She states that corporations really need GenX to to serve as our primary corporate leaders over the next couple years. (Interesting phrasing there—evidently just a couple of years until those Millennials get enough of their own leadership cred.) And after her top ten reasons why Xers feel out-of-place and unwelcome in a traditional corporate culture, she concludes:

Is it time to jump off the corporate train? I hope not—at least not for most of you. Corporations really need your leadership. But I understand that we need to create corporate environments that are more conducive to your needs and preferences.

Regular Hourglass readers will see several common themes in Erickson's top ten list. But what I want to focus on is her use of the word "we" in her concluding thought. "We" need to create corporate environments that are more conducive to your needs and preferences.

Who is "we"?

Is it Boomers? Is it the established leaders of today and yesterday who will be creating these new enviorments conducive to the leadership style of their GenX successors? Will they even see the need to champion such a re-engineering of their institutions? With the Millennials coming up so fast and so large behind GenX—and being so much more like the Boomers—isn't it more likely that many will convince themselves not to fix what ain't broken?

Or is it Xers? Is it the emerging leaders of today and tomorrow who will be creating these new enviroments for themselves? Can such a thing be done within the framework laid down by their Boomer predecessors without the support of those Boomers and the support of the Millennials who will be comprising more and more of the workforce?

We all know that there is a tremendous amount of variability at the level of the individual in these discussions. As a result, a variety of corporate environments will undoubtedly evolve over the next decade. But if there are real generational forces at work here, to me they seem much more likely to result in Xers and not Millennials as the next unstoppable entrepreneurial class.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Will Xers Just Quit?

I recently stumbled across this post by Steven DeMaio on the Harvard Businss blog about ways to deal with a looming layoff. In it, he offers some interesting ideas on how to better demonstrate your value to an organization by taking some unorthodox steps to break yourself, and your performance, out of a routine. But what really struck me about the post was his opening line:

I've been surprised by the number of people I've met who, like I did, quit their jobs after the recession took hold last year.

After a little digging, I discovered that DeMaio quit his job in the publishing industry over a year ago in order to pursue some of his long-neglected passions—and has been blogging about his experiences for Harvard Business ever since. His first post on the subject is well worth reading, and I look forward to reading the rest as I struggle to catch up on his journey. It strikes me as rich fodder for anyone who is interested in pursuing their passions—in their current job or in a new one.

And DeMaio is right about the number of people who have taken the same plunge he has. Just skim through the comments (170 at last count!) that followed his first post. You'll find person after person egging him on, telling him they did the same thing he did, that it was the best decision they ever made, and wishing him the best of luck.

Now, I don't know how old DeMaio is, but I'm going to peg him as an Xer based on his photo on the Harvard blog and based on his reference to a grandmother who came of age during the Great Depression. And I don't know how old the commenters are, but I'm going to peg some of them as Boomers, some as Xers, and a handful as Millennials, based on what some of they say about their own lifestages.

It seems clear to me that there are people in every generation who decide to strike out on their own, who figure out that the best fulfillment is the kind that comes with doing what they love, and reject the structured pathways of success that have been hammered out by the generation that preceded them.

The question I have is whether Xers will do this in greater numbers than the Boomers that came before or the Millennials that will come after.

We've all seen the literature about Boomers hanging on to leadership positions longer than previous generations, and about how Millennials are destined to take over all the leadership positions the Boomers do vacate. Squeezed in the middle of those two leadership trends, will Xers decide to take a middle path—rejecting the frenzied competition for the leadership positions in our existing organizations and striking out on their own, like DeMaio and his commenters, to create their own opportunities and institutions?

Wait a minute. Look around. Isn't GenX, in fact, already doing that? Maybe the better question to ask is if GenX will be successful in changing our cultural narrative by staying outside of it.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Texting in Church

I'm on the road this week and away from my usual sources of inspiration for this blog, but I wanted to give you something to chew on anyway. I'm attending a conference and one of the people I shared a table with today (a late Boomer) told this true story.

He was recently visiting his grown children in another city and went with them to a service at their church. It was a mostly young congregation (Millennials and Xers) with a young minister (no older than 25, according to the storyteller). At the beginning of the sermon, the minister put a phone number up on the church projection screen and encouraged the parishoners to text him any questions they had. At the end of the sermon, the minister took out his cell phone and went through the questions he had received via text message, answering each one in detail.

My tablemate was so impressed with this technique he tried it the next time he gave a presentation. This was in a business setting, and the participants (mostly Xers and other Boomers) had been told to turn off their cell phones out of courtesy to the presenters and the other partipants. When he took the podium, he told everyone to turn their cell phones back on and to text him any questions they had during the course of his presentation. When he was done, he had his share of questions to respond to—more, he said, than after any other presentation he had ever given.

What lesson can we draw from this story? Try as I might, I'm not sure I see anything more than this—by and large, people of all generations are too bashful to stand up and ask a question in a crowded room.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Xer Meme: Have I Sold Out?

Maddie Grant challenged me and several other GenX bloggers to respond to this question:

So go on, tell me, my fellow Xers – Have YOU sold out? Have YOU gone mainstream? Or are we still the guerrilla army, changing the world (only without telling anyone)?

If you haven't seen it already, go ahead and check out Maddie's full post. And then read those other bloggers who also got tagged and responded: Jamie Notter, Ben Martin, Maggie McGary, Elizabeth Weaver Engel, Shelly Alcorn and dozens more. Check out the links in the comments section on Maddie's post. They've all got something good to say.

As for me—Maddie, are you kidding? Sold out? Hey, I just got here. I'm just starting to build something worth selling, and when I turn it in, I want it to be for something much bigger than a company car and the corner office.

You see, I'm new to this whole blogging thing. This whole "standing up and saying what you mean and letting other people just deal with it" thing. I think a lot of us Xers are. We weren't happy with the way the world worked when we were 25, but we had no power and couldn't do anything about it, so we just griped a lot, and rolled our eyes when Forrest Gump won the Oscar instead of Pulp Fiction. Well, now we're 40, and guess what? We still don't like the way the world works—but we're beginning to move into positions where we can actually do something about it.

The larger question is—will we?

This is a true story, and it's going to sound sappy, but here goes. I got the idea for The Hourglass Blog on December 31, 2008, when I read Jamie's year-end blog post on his GetMeJamieNotter blog. In that post, Jamie talked about some of his goals for the new year. He wrote:

I want to speak more truth, push people more, stand up more, show up more. With all this "more," I'll need some less in there too. Less time wasted. Less waiting. Less fear, or at least less fear-based paralysis! Less yelling. Less worrying.

Those words inspired me. They still do. I decided to call him up (more or less out of the blue—to this day, Jamie and I have never met in person) and pitch him the idea behind Hourglass. And he said, yeah, let's go for it.

Have we sold out? Let's put that in the "less worrying" category. Can we make a difference? I'm standing up and saying yes.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Millennial Athlete

I read a recent post on Neil Howe's Lifecourse Blog about a possible shift in the ethics of sports brought on by a generational shift in athletes from Generation X to Millennials. Citing an inspiring story published in the New York Times about Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow and his focus on charity work instead of lucrative NFL contracts, and citing his own work with executives at sports companies, Howe argues that a change is coming.

In contrast to the young man profiled in this story, I believe that Generation X (born 1961-1981) athletes have celebrated a me-first, winning-is-everything attitude over the tenure of their athletically active years.

Howe credits Generation X with leading sports over the past twenty years into performance enhancing drugs and the innate desire to crush one's opponents. Millennials like Tebow, Howe seems to imply, are motivated by something other than winning, and seek to use their positions of athletic role models to refocus those around them on more altruistic pursuits.

I look forward with great interest to see where Millennial (born 1982-200?) take professional sports.

Okay. First, I have to admit, I don't know much about sports and sports figures. Prior to reading the article Howe pointed me to, I had never even heard of Tim Tebow. But I find Howe's hypothesis (and I think that's all we can fairly call it at this point) fascinating. It almost makes me want to start reading the sports page.

The Hourglass Blog is all about exploring generations and leadership in associations and society. My own area of interest is what I call the "leadership challenge of Generation X"—namely, will GenX step up to fill the oft-predicted leadership void left by retiring Boomers and, if so, how will their starkly different generational perspective reshape the organizations they lead and the society they serve.

If Howe is right, then professional sports teams may prove an interesting case study for what happens when one generation takes over the leadership reins from another—in this case Millennials from Xers instead of Xers from Boomers.

But is Howe right? Millennials will undoubtedly put their unique stamp on professional sports, the same way they'll put their stamp on everything else they decide to get involved with.

But did winning at all costs really start with Generation X? Wasn't it Vince Lombardi (born 1913) who famously told his 1959 Packers that "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing"? And according to this researcher, Lombardi might have gotten that idea from Henry ‘Red’ Sanders (born 1905) football coach at Vanderbilt and UCLA, who might have gotten it from University of Illinois coach Bob Zuppke (born 1879), who might have gotten it from University of Michigan football coach Fielding Yost (born 1871).

We hear a lot of hype (here and here, for example) about how Millennials are destined to take over the world earlier than any previous generation and reshape it in their own image and for the betterment of all humankind. Well, I say if Millennials are capable of making such fundamental changes like taking the pursuit of winning out of sports, then GenX really should just step aside and let them take over.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Millennials are Clueless...and How Can We Attract Them?

I attended another event sponsored by the Wisconsin Society of Association Executives (WSAE) yesterday and today. Click here for a report on my last trip to Madison for a WSAE event.

This time I wasn't part of any panel—just an attendee. Last night was more informal—a gathering of twenty or so members, some of whom had attended the latest ASAE meeting in Toronto, most of which hadn't. The networking topic was "What I Learned at ASAE" and it was a great opportunity to hear what those who could attend the national conference this year thought about it and took away from it.

Today it was a more formal session with an expert panel, an engaging facilitator, and a hundred or so attendees—"Future Trends and Forecasting in Hospitality."

Generations and social media got heavy emphasis in both sessions, and in a lot of the hallway conversation I had with my fellow attendees. (That seems to be the case, lately, doesn't it? Even in sessions not ostensibly about either, generations and social media just keep coming up again and again.)

Anyway, I'm blogging about it because I heard two distinct and I think strangely juxtaposed narratives about Millennials—very few of whom were in attendance. Allow me to paraphrase them:

1. Those Millennials sure are clueless, aren't they? Have they never had a job before? They sure don't act like it. It's like they're doing you the favor—coming to work for you. They expect outrageous compensation, benefits, and flexible hours, and refuse to do any work they consider beneath them. They blog, they Facebook, they tweet—and none of what they're doing online is appropriate for the workplace—or the professional image of my association. And they don't seem to care! You're just supposed to accept them as they are—their online as well as their offline selves. Don't they realize they're supposed to keep those things separate? I wouldn't hire any of them if I didn't have to.

2. Does anyone have any ideas on how we can connect with more Millennials? You know, it's starting to get a little scary. I look around and I see my association membership and my meeting attendees just getting older and older. The younger generation doesn't seem to be engaged and they don't respond when I try to reach out to them. What's wrong with them? Can they not see the value my association offers? Did they not read that brochure I sent them? Did they not get my email? I'm really starting to get worried. We've got to find a way get them engaged or someday I'm afraid we're going to be irrelevant. How are you supposed to get through to these knuckleheads? Don't they know what's at stake?

There was no one person at the WSAE event who actually said all of these words, but I could imagine some of them were thinking them based on the tenor of all the discussions I heard. Here's a quick word of advice to anyone who might be struggling with both these narratives. You're not going to solve the problems inherent in narrative #2 until you give up on narrative #1.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Most Bookends Are Identical, Aren't They?

Jamie warned us that we'd be seeing more articles like this one, and sure enough, he was right. Here's another one, written by the same person from the same organization on the same blog, fifteen days later. The thesis is the same:

Two dominant demographic cohorts--Gen Y and Baby Boomers--are redefining what it takes for a company to be an "employer of choice." The 78 million Boomers and 70 million Gen Ys crave flexibility, personal growth, connection, and opportunities to "give back." The Bookend Generations are remapping old ideals of success as they pursue a "Rewards Remix" that prizes meaning and choice over money.

What strikes me about this thesis, and about several paragraphs in the new article, is the way the author seems to EQUATE Boomers with Gen Yers. Together, they're 148 million strong, and they all evidently want the same thing.

Our study shows that Boomers, as much as their Gen Y children, yearn for a lifelong odyssey, a fluid journey in search of meaning, stretched by challenges, and stimulated by constant learning.


...overwhelmingly want modular work that is deeply flexible in terms of hours, location and even life stage.

This presents a real puzzle for GenX. I mean, here we are, stuck between two gigantic bookend generations, and now we discover that the bookends are identical, and that they're working in concert to reinvent the workplace so that it provides...get ready for it...flexible opportunities to continually learn, tackle new challenges, and find meaning.

Wait a minute. Whose ideas were those again?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Killing the Cliche

More from X Saves the World by Jeff Gordinier. This time a quote from the musician Beck:

I think my whole generation's mission is to kill the cliche. I don't know whether it's conscious all the time, but I think it's one of the reasons a lot of my generation are always on the fence about things. They're afraid to commit to anything for fear of seeming like a cliche. They're afraid to commit to their lives because they see so much of the word as a cliche.

Beck said this in 1997, when Xers like him were on average 26 years old (using Strauss and Howe's dates to define the generation). Now it's 2009, and Xers are on average 38, and have had a lot more life experience and more time to decide what to commit their lives to.

But is Beck's quote any less valid today? Don't we all know Xers who are still sitting on the sidelines, maybe commenting sarcastically on what's going on all around them, but not doing anything to try and make it better? Are you maybe one of them? I know I used to be.

I've speculated a number of times on this blog about the ideals of GenX, about its philosophy, and about its leadership potential---its impact on associations and society as its members move wholesale into leadership positions. I have to admit, when I wrote those posts, I was searching for something grand, something with lasting and positive impact on the world. But at the same time, there's something about this 12-year old Beck quote that resonates with my GenX sensibilities. If we're going to rally our generation around a cause, could there be a more universally acceptable one than killing our societies' cliches?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Generation Jones?

I have to admit, this Generation Jones thing is making me a little crazy. It started back in February when we first launched The Hourglass Blog. I was going to make a comment about the generational change in leadership in the Oval Office, so I went and looked up Barack Obama's birth year. I wanted to verify my hunch that he was our first post-Boomer president. And what did I discover? Well, yes, Obama is not a Boomer, but neither is he an Xer. According to everything Google returned to me, Obama is part of something called Generation Jones. Confused, I decided not to bring the subject up at all.

But then, ConnectingTheDots (whoever that is) makes a comment on Jamie's recent Bookends versus books post, that says by ignoring Generation Jones, The Hourglass Blog was missing an important part of the equation. CTD says Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X) has "gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report forecast the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009." CTD even provide a link to a webpage that recaps all this media interest. Much of this media interest seems to be driven by a marketing and political consultant named Jonathan Pontell, who, given the theme and links on his website, seems very much to be in the business of talking about Generation Jones.

So now I'm curious. What does Jamie's favorite generation experts William Strauss and Neil Howe have to say about the Jonesers, and where they fit in their cyclical theory of dominant and recessive generations? Having not (yet) read any of the Strauss and Howe books, I turn first to the Strauss & Howe entry on Wikipedia and Neil Howe's new blog—and I can't find any mention of Generation Jones on either. But Google helps me find this December 2008 Op-Ed in the Washington Post, in which Neil Howe calls Generation Jones "the dumbest generation" and nothing more than the first wave of Xers.

This is when I realize I'm in way over my head. When it comes to generational theory, I'm no more than an enthusiastic amateur, and I've found myself in the middle of a turf war between professionals, with the two sides battling for control of the narrative and the way the rest of us think about the generation we belong to. I decide to give up and go back to watching from the sidelines.

But I can't help but wonder. Pontell and the Jonesers say they're real because a lot of people born between 1954 and 1965 say they don't feel like Boomers and they don't feel like Xers. And when you think of all the bad press those generations have gotten, why would you want to be part of them if you didn't have to be? I mean, given the choice between narcissistic flower child and cynical loner, wouldn't you prefer to choose "none of the above." I was born in 1968. Can I be a Joneser, too?

Monday, August 24, 2009

Bookends versus books

Get ready for a bunch of articles like this one, that herald a new day brought to you by the two biggest generations in our history: Boomers and Millennials. The Center for Work-Life Policy just put out a report called "Bookend Generations: Leveraging Talent and Finding Common Ground" that talks about how these generations are shaping the workforce:

Two dominant demographic cohorts—Gen Y and Baby Boomers—are redefining what it takes for a company to be an "employer of choice." The 78 million Boomers and 70 million Gen Ys crave flexibility, personal growth, connection, and opportunities to "give back." The Bookend Generations are remapping old ideals of success as they pursue a "Rewards Remix" that prizes meaning and choice over money.

The report is $40, so I'll pass for now. I'll have to go check out the article in HBR. I agree that the size of the two generations is significant and that they are a major force in the workplace. But please remember that generational differences is a topic within the general field of DIVERSITY. Would you ignore 25% of the population if they weren't like you? I'm not convinced that it's only the "bookend generations" that are remapping old ideals of success. I don't think it's that simple. I'm thinking the books might be involved in that process too.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Having a Career is Like Fighting Cholesterol?

I found this article on ASAE's August 2009 Executive IdeaLink to be interesting. I think you might have to be an ASAE member to access the full article. In summary, it's an article by Peter Weddle, a recruiter and HR consultant, about "how to fight the cholesterol of careers." Here's how Weddle introduces his subject:

A recent CareerBuilder survey of more than 1,800 unemployed Americans found that a vast majority of the respondents are ignoring the health of their careers. They seem blissfully unconcerned that today's job market is the worst in almost a century and is likely to stay that way for years to come.

What are they doing?

22 percent are spending more time with family and friends
15 percent are fixing up their homes
14 percent are exercising more
11 percent are finally taking time to relax
8 percent are volunteering
7 percent are going back to school
6 percent are becoming more involved in their church community
4 percent are starting their own business
4 percent are taking up new hobbies
3 percent are traveling.

Most of these activities are clearly enjoyable. Who can complain about finally having a little time to relax, for example? For your career, however, these pursuits are enjoyable just like cream cheese and beefsteak. They're great going down, but then they wreck havoc on your occupational health. In fact, there's a very real chance they will lead to career cardiac arrest or what most of us call terminal unemployment.

Okay. Let's stop right here. If you read to the bottom of the article you discover that this is a plug for a session Weddle gave at the ASAE Annual Meeting this year (which I'm sorry I had to miss) and a plug for his new book, website, and personal career fitness system. I can accept all of that and wish Weddle much success in his endeavor.

But, excuse me? Volunteering, going back to school, becoming more involved in your community and starting your own business are bad for your career? And spending more time with your family, exercising, taking up new hobbies and (most shocking of all) actually relaxing will result in "terminal unemployment"?

I'm pretty sure even Weddle doesn't believe that. He's just using the CareerBuilder survey as a hook to promote his products. We get a glimpse of his career fitness tips later in the article, after all, and they include:

Pace yourself. A fulfilling and rewarding career depends upon your getting the rest and replenishment you need in order to do your best work every day you're on-the-job. Discipline yourself and your boss to set aside time to recharge your passion and capacity for work.

Good advice. Someone should tell Weddle that lots of people like to recharge their passion by spending time with their families, exercising, taking up new hobbies and, yes, actually relaxing.

But here's the question I have. How did that opening section of Weddle's article strike you? Am I the only one who read that list and immediately thought, without knowing where Weddle was going to take me in the rest of his article, that it was a list of things that are actually good for your career? That, in fact, these unemployed survey responders were not doing things to ignore their plight, but rather to help themselves reconnect with the things that matter most to them—and that's ultimately good for them and their careers?

What is a career anyway? Weddle makes it sound like it's something you have to do in order to enjoy the life you truly want to live. His analogy to exercise and heart health makes total sense in that context. It's like a doctor's prescription. But that's not a career. That's just a job. A career is a way of living, of merging the things you enjoy and the things you value with the way in which the world rewards you for your contributions. And if your career isn't that, don't you think it should be?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Changing the World, or Changing Your World?

Still working my way through X Saves the World by Jeff Gordinier, and I came across this snippet about Baby Boomers:

It was a generation that could, simply by virtue of its size and the gusher of affluence into which it was born, exert enormous influence over what the country was buying and wearing and listening to and talking about. Little more than a sneeze from a decent cross section of the boomers was enough to thrust just about anything—hula hoops, mood rings, Herman's Hermits—into the spotlight. This led boomers to the conclusion that they could change the world.

And it got me thinking. When someone or some group sets out to change the world, and meets with some level of success, how much of what they have accomplished is likely to be just changing their world, not the world? As I described partially in this post, after all, one generation's change can simply be the next generation's impediment.

And that got me thinking about one of Gordinier's central theses—that GenX wants to change the world, and thinks it may actually do so, but is skeptical of the very concept of "changing the world," and won't openly admit harboring that desire.

Over the years I've met plenty of my generational peers who have suffered no shortage of virtues like ambition, drive, boldness, self-sacrifice, and altruism, but I don't recall many of them talking explicitly about changing the world. They know that if they were to do that, they would set themselves up for a kind of karmic boomerang effect.

In other words, talking about changing the world tends to undermine your efforts, by alerting aspects of the world that may not want changing. In our context, that could mean other generations. If GenX is working to undo some of what the Boomers have done, does it make any sense to deny that the Millennials will some day be working to undo some of what GenX has done?

It order to change the world, and not just your world, it seems a broader generational perspective should be embraced. What necessary change is there that all generations can agree on?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

X Is a Philosophy, Not a Generation

I've started reading X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking by Jeff Gordinier. I first heard about Gordinier and his book from an excellent interview Jeff DeCagna did with him way back in February 2009. As usual, I'm going to post my thoughts here as I read it, especially those that relate to the leadership opportunity presenting itself to Generation X.

The first takeaway comes in Gordinier's introduction, where he admits he is writing a manifesto for a generation that's never had much use for manifestos. At one point he quotes a 1995 Details article by Douglas Coupland, in which Coupland says that marketers and journalists have never understood that X is a term that defines not a chronological age but a way of looking at the world.

It's a profound bit a wisdom, and one, I think, that can help us get past all the discussion and dispute about which years define which generations. The generalities that define each generation are much more indicative of a cultural mindset. This mindset tends to track with a generational group of individuals because their perceptions and opinions have all been shaped by a similar set of experiences. But not everyone in the chronological generation has had those same experiences, and everyone who has had those experiences is not necessarily in the chronological generation.

To me, this puts a whole new spin on the leadership opportunity facing "Generation" X. Gordinier writes:

The boomers got their money and blew it. We have a chance now, as yuppies, or just as adults, to cull whatever capital, influence, and media savvy we've amassed and to use it for good. That doesn't mean there is any point in trying to start a "movement," at least not one so visible and self-congratulatory that it curls up as soon as someone trains a camera on it.


Generation X can do better than that, and can do better precisely because we're cynical about a phrase like "change the world." One of the more memorable pieces of business jargon from the dot-com frenzy was the term stealth mode, which was used to describe a company that had masked itself in secrecy—sometimes even using tricks that seemed to come straight out of Espionage for Dummies—in order to fool and outmaneuver its competitors. While I concede that it's blatantly hypocritical for me to be saying this in a book, it needs nevertheless to be said: the way for Generation X to survive—as a philosophy, as an antidote to the Gumpian buffoonery of American culture—is to go into stealth mode. Maybe then we can get something done.

Based on what I've heard and read about X Saves the World, Gordinier is going to spend a lot of time in the pages ahead lambasting the "Gumpian buffoonery of American culture," and I'm sure I'll find that entertaining—but the larger point here is that the philosophy of X is all about getting good things done in our society without calling attention to it. I would argue that if that notion appeals to you, regardless of your age, you're an Xer.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A Fan of Generation X

If you're a follower of this blog and haven't seen the post on Harvard Business Blogs by Tammy Erickson about "Why Generation X Has the Leaders We Need Now," you really should. Unlike Bob Filipczak over at "Managing the Generations," Erickson feels GenX is uniquely poised to confront the leadership challenges facing our businesses and our society today. It's funny how for each "negative" charactistic Filipczak ascribes to GenX, Erickson has a positive counterbalance.

Filipczak says you're Nomads. Erickson says, "Your distrust of institutions grew as you witnessed the lay-offs of the '80s and has prompted you to value self-reliance. You have developed strong survival skills and the ability to handle whatever comes your way with resilience. X'ers instinctively maintain a well-nurtured portfolio of options and networks."

Filipczak says you're Rule Avoiders. Erickson says, "Your preference for 'alternative' and early experience in making your own way left you inclined to innovate. You tend to look for a different way forward. Your strongest arena of financial success as a generation has been your entrepreneurial achievements."

Filipczak says you're Pragmatic, too pragmatic to be visionary leaders. Erickson says, "Your pragmatism has given you practical and value-oriented sensibilities that, I believe, will help you serve as effective stewards of both today's organizations and tomorrow's world."

If you're an Xer trying to move into a leadership position, Erickson's post will warm your heart, and it warmed mine. But at the same time (being such a pragmatic Xer), I have to ask—if Erickson is right in quoting Strauss and Howe:

William Strauss and Neil Howe, coauthors of Generations, posit that each generation makes a unique bequest to those that follow and generally seeks to correct the excesses of the previous generation. They argue that the Boomer excess is ideology and that the Generation X reaction to that excess involves an emphasis on pragmatism and effectiveness.

then, isn't GenX naturally suited for leadership now the way every generation is naturally suited for leadership at the time the older generation is moving on? If each generation seeks to correct the excesses of the one preceding it, doesn't that create a natural evolution of leadership from one generation to the next? What's all the fuss about?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Generations Ebook is now free

In case you missed it on my other blog, I'm giving away my Generations Ebook for free now. Download the ebook from this page.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Millennials Are Unstoppable

More on the new narrative front for generations in the workplace. I predicted in a previous post that we'd start seeing more stories about how GenX better get out of the way of those Millennials when it comes to the leadership positions being slowly vacated by Boomers.

Here's another, from the blog, entitled innocently enough, "Are Gen Y Workers Good for Business?" It's a mini review of a new book by Michael S. Malone. After reading the first three paragraphs, you might think the answer is, no, Gen Y workers are not good for business. But wait. Let's take another look at those youngsters:

The caveat, though, in Malone's mind, is that Gen Y's fierce independence will accelerate the nation's evolution from a corporate economy of worker bees to an entrepreneurial one of innovative thinkers and rapid change, one where a majority of the Gen Y workforce is self-employed or even part of an ever-widening proprietary class.

"This cohort, many with parents who have always worked at home, has little interest in ever taking an office job, or working for a business that doesn't change," he writes. The Gen Y group will be fiercely start-up oriented, and "by 2013, perhaps two-thirds of all adult Americans will be classified as entrepreneurial."

Get out of the way GenX. Those Millennials have some serious destiny to fulfill. By 2013—four years from now—they are going to comprise a new entrepreneurial class that is twice as large as all the other adults in the country.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Succession Planning

Thanks, Eric, for pointing me to Bob Filipczak's horrendous post about the crappy leaders that all of us Gen Xers are turning out to be(!). That one sets me off. It's interesting, too, because the book that Filipczak wrote (with Raines and Zemke), Generations At Work, is one that I like. I'll have to go back and see if what they wrote about Generation X fits with what he's saying now, because I find his generalizations to be a bit off (and in the Blog post, he doesn't particularly cite data or sources for his conclusions). And while I can tell I have a full-fledged rant coming together inside me about that post, I'm going to hold off and write about just one of the topics he mentioned: succession planning.

He said it's the hot topic right now, citing a conversation he had with a senior military official who is dealing with a major shortage of middle manager level personnel. We knew this was coming--Generation X is a small generation, much smaller than the Boomers. So if we try to fill all of those mid-level manager slots that Boomers filled with Xers, we'll fall short.

Filipczak's advice? Suck it up. Stay in your job longer than two years, embrace office politics even though it sucks, and work on our people skills (apparently we're bad at that and we don't have networks).

I tend to disagree with his generalizations about Xers, but even if he has data to back them up, I'm most upset with his conclusion about what to do next. He's still telling us how to be more like Baby Boomers. That WE have to change in order to make the current structure work. He says that we have a crisis because we have all these middle management positions to fill and not enough people. Isn't that backwards? We have tons and tons of people. Has it occurred to Filipczak that the answer might be MORE in restructuring the way the work gets done, as opposed to making Xers change the way they do things to fit the structure the Boomers created?

It's easier to think of succession planning as filling slots, and as long as the population is growing, that works. But when things shift, so must our thinking. Succession planning is really just ongoing leadership adaptation. How do we need to change the capacity within our systems to shape the future, given the demographic make up of our system? The demographic and generational shifts that are happening right now are real, and they pose a serious challenge to leadership and to management, but I think we'll do better by actually innovating management (see Gary Hamel), rather than sending all the Xers back to charm school so they can be "proper" middle managers like their Boomer predecessors.

Okay, I guess that was a bit of a rant.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Generation X Unfit for Management?

I think I found a new narrative out there in the "Generations in the Workplace" wilderness. For some time I've been saying that when it comes to generations in the workplace, all the stories I ever seem to find are on one of two topics:

1. Are those crazy Boomers ever going to let go and retire?
2. How are we going to manage those crazy Millennials coming into the workforce?

The Hourglass Blog got started because we wanted to start a new conversation. We recognize that Gen X is and will continue to move into leadership positions in our organizations and in society, and we wanted to explore what their new generational perspective will do to the way organizations are managed and the collective goals they may be directed towards.

Well, thanks to Dave Sohigan and his "The Gen X Files" blog for pointing me to this blog post from the "Managing the Generations" blog about how awful life is going to be under Gen X's leadership.

It's a pretty scathing indictment of GenX's inability to lead—written by Xer Bob Filipczak. He takes a look at Gen X's "core characteristics" and shows how none of them translate into effective management techniques. And guess what one of his predictions is.

At an executive leadership level, most “silo-thinking” Xers will be hard-pressed to succeed when managing large departments or even teams of more than a dozen people. Only those who can look beyond their own inclinations will rise through the ranks, especially in large companies. And because Millennials are so good at big teams, you could see the younger generation leapfrogging into executive leadership positions with tribes of Generation X managers reporting to them.

Yep. That's the new narrative. When will those GenXers get out of the way so those team-player Millennials can run the show?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Which Generation is the Most Authentic?

My fellow Hourglass blogger Jamie Notter had this great post on his Get Me Jamie Notter blog about a month ago. (Okay, yeah, I know. I've been busy). It's about the risks associated with authenticity and about how social media is forcing some of us to tear down the barriers between the different roles we play.

It got me thinking about the generations and their ways of dealing with the issue. It seems to me that the problem may be uniquely GenX.

Millennials live online (or so we've been told). They are who they are, online or off, and their response to people who may question them (like parents or employers) is, "What's the big deal? This is who I am. Get used to it."

Boomers who use social media are by and large late adopters. They are more established in their careers (or retired) by the time they find social media. They see no point in not being your true self online. Those who have something horrible to hide are probably not using social media. Those who don't want the online world to see them for who they are. They say, "Look at me and all I've done. Isn't that great?"

Xers, on the other hand, are caught in the middle. We were raised in the pre-social media days, so I think we're naturally skeptical of all this new technology. We see the advanatges, but we also see the risks. We're also old enough that we find ourselves needing to manage more disparate roles that our younger and older colleagues. Jamie refers to the balancing act that goes with being a co-worker, boss, friend, parent, and child all at the same time. We're stuggling with what that means in the real world, and have managed by adopting different roles to deal with different relationships. When we try to bring those separate personas into the world of social media, we get nervous about the natural connectivity tearing down all those carefully constructed walls. We haven't put our whole selves out there, so we fear the thought of someone judging us by only a portion of who we are—and, depending on the eyeballs that are viewing us, we may feel that it is the "wrong" portion to be judging us by.

Am I nuts? If you're a Millennial or a Boomer, go and read Jamie's post and let me know if you can relate. I suspect you can't. Not the way the GenXers can.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What's the Point of Your Exercise?

I found this great article put out by Harvard Business Publishing on things business schools should be teaching their graduates to help avoid another financial meltdown.

At least once per decade for the last 30 years we've seen American business go seriously off the rails. The reengineering fad, Mike Milken and junk bonds, the savings and loan crisis, the dotcom boom and bust, the Long Term Capital Management panic--only a partial, abbreviated history of business disasters--suggest that something systemic is wrong with the way business goes about business. An individual with this track record of crises would be a candidate for an intervention, a time out in a recovery center, and life-long participation in the 12-step program of their choice. Something is wrong--and it's time to face it.

The author then provides some advice for correcting the problem, beginning with teaching would-be executives to ask the last question first: what is the point of the exercise?

Jack Welch famously said it was to maximize shareholder value--a terrible answer in retrospect. Peter Drucker famously said it was to make and keep a customer. What is the answer that fits our situation in 2009, and beyond? Today, business schools need to teach students to ask the last question first--or risk taking their company down the old dead-end path.

I'm no MBA, but I find the question compelling. Do association execs ask themselves often enough what the point of their exercise is? Are they challenging themselves to make sure they are leading something they can believe in? I think we all know some who do and some who don't. But how will those answers change as fewer and fewer Boomers and more and more Xers find themselves in the positions to be asking the questions?