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?