A Letter to the “Bookends” (GenY & Boomers): Three Messages To Ponder

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There’s a lot of talk and writing about the inter-generational challenges and opportunities we are knee-deep in at this point in our world with the amazing “bookend generations” – The Baby Boomers and The Millennials.  Two huge generations… two interesting viewpoints… two sets of assumptions and beliefs (if one could truly broad-brush such large groups for discussion purposes)… and two groups simultaneously inside the working and community development world.

Now for a guy like me, who is based inside the ever-so-sadly-named GenX group, we sometimes feel like that kid waiting to be picked in gym for the kickball teams… waiting and waiting.. and waiting to be called.

If you follow the stereotype, however, we would probably be more accurately described as that kid who skipped gym (because it was kickball day) and decided to hang with the guys behind the gym, listening to Mother Love Bone and Nirvana while complaining with full-on angst over the state of the economy.

But here’s the thing: none of this is totally accurate.

Oh yeah, and it’s all 100% accurate too.

It is convenient, dare I say needed, to be doing these kinds of things: Defining generations, what makes them “tick” and how they differentiate themselves. It is natural. It makes sense to organize ourselves with these categories, and it helps us determine the many ways to work with one another. But it also boxes us into corners – and that’s a big no-no for me.

So, allow me to suggest a couple of things here that I feel can help us all along this long and winding road that is our community and our community development when it comes to the collective “us.”

1.  There Is No Spoon.

Like in “The Matrix” movie, once we realize what we have – and what we don’t have – we might all be better off understanding the rules of the game (or how we can toss off the rules and reset the game itself).  It is crazy to think of such huge groups we these broad-brushed viewpoints alone; however, these are good starting points of emphasis. They can be good landmarks to help guide you as you progress in your life, especially you professional life.

Millennials, you are the largest generation made up of people who have a built-in sense of community-service while also looking for work that is fulfilling, flexible, adaptable to the work/life balance often hoped for, and many other things.

Baby Boomers, you are the second largest generation made up of people who saw the struggle of your parents (coming home from WWII for many) and decided that your course of action was inherently to reset the board – with a little bit of “dropping out” splashed into the mix. At the same time your generation ran up debts needed to be covered by future generations, but it was justified and enabled a stronger, fuller quality of life that sparked a new sense of pride in the individual and the community at large.

These sound familiar?

How about we recognize these things are statements in layers of accuracy, but not full and complete stories. Working with a Millennial doesn’t necessarily mean someone who doesn’t want to work “as hard” as a Baby Boomer. And collaborating with a Baby Boomer doesn’t mean the reduction of technology or tech-savvy options to challenges. These might be true. They might not.

But here’s what it will definitely mean: it WILL require time to assess the INDIVIDUAL based on (1) what you think you know of him/her; coupled with (2) what you LEARN about him/her by giving yourself time.

Spoon? What spoon? Get to know the person holding the spoon. Don’t worry about what the spoon is…or isn’t.

2.  Community is Jazz

No. I don’t think everyone needs to go out and download a bunch of jazz music to get along, but I do think everyone in the world should own “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis and “A Love Supreme” by John Coltrane – and that it would be some of the best tribe-connecting tonic around the block. That aside,  I do think we need to start thinking like those jazz greats and many others who stood up and played with fellow musicians on this utterly American-created art form.

Jazz is communication and negotiation at its best.

There is form, but it is (by design) also somewhat form-less; rather, it is framed. Inside the framing, there are numerous conversations that can happen. The challenge is to make these conversations relevant, make sense, allow each other to be heard, and be understood.

That’s where the art really comes into play. Being able to negotiate between musicians for the benefit of the common good – the common piece of music. There is no right or wrong way to create jazz, but there are sign posts (like key signatures) and markers (chords and notes) that help plot courses and direction.

It is our job, as the musicians, to be able to read these, and react to them (as in when to play, when not to). Jazz doesn’t make all the rules – rather,  just enough rules to say to us collectively, “OK… now build something here.”

This is how community is made. By listening, negotiating, and playing alongside others.

What seems like the “best practice” is often just a slick way of saying “this is how it is always been and it seems to be working.” I say, recognize how good (and different) our players are in this band, and let’s just jam!

3.  I Like To Buy the World A Coke (But Really, Maybe We Shouldn’t)

This commercial was the touchy-feely feel good brand of the seventies. Connecting the world through song was giving those who experienced it the sense of togetherness. Regardless of our differences, we all were collectively as one – the human race.

While I like the sentiment, what I find tough to swallow about this point is when it goes far beyond “unity” and moves into “conformity.”

There is no One-Size-Fits-All in just about anything we have in terms of our community development. One man’s blight is another man’s art. So I don’t look to find ways to utterly unify at the risk of exploration of other ideas and ways of thinking. We are now on this path of the “Battle of the Work/Life Balance” connected to our roles as managers, co-workers, companies, and other systems.

Here’s the thing about this: it very often aspires us to look to the extremes – either total conformity (a rigid culture of “this is what we are and that is all we are”) or total “PC” where our quest for diversity and multi-culturalism turns us into personal self-help book libraries or conference-badge collectors, just itching to learn that next “best approach to culture building.”

Our strength as a culture, and probably more appropriately defined as would be “as an incubator culture,” is our belief that with hard work, dedication, passion and drive, you can move mountains… or at the very least, scale them for your success

We all don’t rise at the same level, with the same purpose, with the same speed, or even along the same mountain ridge… but the sense of “rise” is what’s key. The Rising (as Springsteen said) is about “How far I’ve gone / How high I’ve climbed.”

When we are at our best, we invite, challenge, encourage, and inspire for that rising. We don’t care as much about the conformity or the climb, or the need to diversify the climb. We allow for those things to fold into our purpose – The Rising.

So instead of buying everyone the same beverage and sing the same song.. let’s present the gift of climbing gear. A way to rise…. and a way to unify ourselves with the notion of ascension to high purpose and passion.

Like our best in music and sports, innovation comes from questioning standards. It comes from the willingness to fail, get up, dust off, and try again. It comes from the attitude of “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” at times, and for other moments it comes from getting that special “blessing” from those who have trekked before to go out and extend the creative palette forward.  All of these things are sometimes impossible to do. All of these things are absolutely achievable.

What’s the best way to wrap up this not-so-nicely wrapped gift of thought?

“Bookends” require books. Never stop learning. And never stop looking for more things to have in your library… but definitely get those jazz albums. They’ll change your life.

Douglas Knight (DK) is Chief Connector for Connect The Dots Movement, an impact organization dedicated to working with nonprofiteers, small biz rockstars, government leaders, and education institutions who see a need for new policy, practice and attitude in our community revitalization.. and that there’s a better way for our communities to connect the dots to all our city’s assets/resources in that development strategy. Consultant? Sure…but he prefers to be called a “community broker” – connecting assets and resources to impact community.

DK believes in The Connection Economy and loves nothing more than to travel to organizations, conferences, seminars, backyard BBQs, anywhere.. and share the story of how we can all, as a community, revitalize and restore our cities and towns by first re-tooling our systems and leaders… by kickin’ ass and finding our “why” (thanks Simon Sinek).

4 thoughts on “A Letter to the “Bookends” (GenY & Boomers): Three Messages To Ponder

  1. Jayme says:

    I’m not totally certain of your point above. Are you suggesting that communication is the key to intergenerational love? My most recent experience (I am at cusp of Boomer and GenX) with millennial is being dismissed. Informing a newly hired web designer we wanted to grow long term, had a lot of needs going forward, wanted to meet in person when I got to town, gave him a punch list to fix the stuff he still had to do, and then BAM. After 31 days, the email came and he was ready to resume my job. REALLY?

    What does that mean? Someone getting paid consistently, teamwork happening, and then nada. That still smarts. Another time, I actually, gasp, called my developer (different young guy) who just decided he was done with my needs and never emailed good bye or answered my phone call.

    So, is there a suggestion here? This behavior is unacceptable; should I just outright ask their age before I hire them?

    • DK says:

      Hey Jayme.. thanks for the email comments. Yes, what you describe is really at the crux of things, isn’t it? It feels like the generations just have so much difference in their “values” that it sometimes makes you wonder how in the world it can all work out.
      My thought is that for me it comes down to the upfront conversation about VALUES, but not from person to person… but business VALUE. What my organization BELIEVES in, and therefore what i want my partners, vendors, clients, employees etc. to associate when they connect up with my brand and biz.
      In the case of your vendors, they need to know that the value of your and your business includes a good, healthy dose of communication – and continual communication throughout a project. That getting the gig doesn’t mean to talking stops. I know that’s a simplistic answer it seems, but I see far too many groups not present their values immediate, and then feel like they are burnt or not connected properly to vendors or outside consultants. It’s often like we focus on “culture” (how it appears or feels or represents itself) but not its value (what makes it tick, its essence, its belief structure).. the great Simon Sinek speaks to hiring people who beleive what you believe, and that that is the goal of strong team building. I just suggest we allow ourselves to spend that time giving ourselves the answer to the question “What’s our WHY?” Thanks for the comments! ~DK

  2. Howie Goldfarb says:

    Great great post and very astute. I am a Gen-Xer and laughed at your Mother Love Bone mention.

    I want to just bring two other aspects of this to life because earlier in 2015 I was pretty vocal about what is Generational and what is Age related traits. I think community activism and being connected socially are age vs generational. In 1986 it was Free Mandela, end Apartheid, No Nukes etc. 15-25 year olds will always be the most social and connected.

    But you said something I disagree with about the Boomers related to massive debt build up. I don’t think racking up the debt ‘it was justified and enabled a stronger, fuller quality of life that sparked a new sense of pride in the individual and the community at large’. I think it was blatant thievery sold to the boomers by the powers that run this country….big corporations for greed and profits. Where again the powers that be won’t be alive when time to pay back what they stole…I mean borrowed.

    I feel it has done the opposite causing future generations to have lower living standards like we see now and they basically F-ked GenY and GenZ I am hoping I am dead before we default on our debts (we will they can never be repaid) causing a depression. But Gen Y and Z are stuck with them.

    I also wonder how many attributes given to GenY are actually created by the cottage industry that exists making money studying them.

    Great post Sir happy new year Star Dog Chamoion!

    • DK says:

      Hey Howie, thanks for the comment..and the liking of my Mother Love Bone shout-out!

      Yes, the comment I was associating to the Baby Boomers about racking up debt was meant to be a “typical response” and justification to what happened – but not meant to be taken as what I believed or what I thought was an okay thing that was done. (I actually agree with you that is was one of the killer things that we, as Gen Xers, then inherited and had to dig out from under.. so I agree with you on that one – I should have thrown some quotes around that or perhaps a [wink wink] in there)…

      And yes, the creation of “Generation [Insert your new cool moniker here]” is becoming by itself a whole new industry, but I think that is the life-cycle of generational attributes, isn’t it? One person’s “anti-establishment” stance one time later becomes another person’s “JCrew Catalog Deal of the Month” outfit later down the road. I think by seeing and recognize what is have as differences reminds us that eventually we become the “outdated” generation and the one “missing the boat.”

      Meet the New Boss… Same as the Old Boss. 😉

      Cheers to you and thanks for the comment! -DK

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