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.