Thanks, everyone, for the really good comments you’ve been leaving on this blog. I particularly liked Lindy’s comment on my last post, about generations:
How do you view the generational terms as different from jargon? I’m drawn back to a post you did a few months ago about poet David Whyte. Isn’t this a topic that deserves
“larger language” that is “impervious to the jargon we have created to describe” everyday business life.
Am I missing context?
No, Lindy, you’re right on target. Although my first response to the comment was a classic “yes, but.” Yes, we need better language, but again, don’t blame the terms. Where we need more powerful language is in the conversations we have in our specific workplaces, about specific issues. In those conversations, the broad generalizations about generations become less meaningful anyway.
And while I agree with my own point (imagine!), I think LIndy is onto something in the big picture. In my speech on generations the other day, I referenced the fact that the Millennial generation (who has been raised on marketing messages from an early age) has been smart enough to make an effort to name themselves. They have resisted names like Generation Y or Netsters, which lack the more uplifiting feel of “Millennials.”
We in Generation X obviously didn’t figure that one out. But “Baby Boomer” and “Silent Generation” aren’t that great either. The truth is, the names we have for generations lack the “larger language” that Whyte talks about.
It reminded me of work in scenario planning in South Africa that I heard about years ago. Shortly after the transition from Apartheid, some famous scenario planners got a large group together in South Africa to discuss the future of economic policy there. They created four different scenarios, each with a short name and a meaningful story, and these scenarios were widely discussed throughout the country and credited with helping South Africa choose an effective path (I remember the “Icarus” scenario, where they try to do too much too fast and end up going down in flames, and the “flight of the flamingos” scenario, which referred to the way flamingos take flight by walking, then running and slowly taking off).
I heard about this work from Adam Kahane, who was one of the facilitators of the workshops in South Africa. Back when I did international conflict resolution work, the organization I worked for brought Kahane in to do some work with Greek and Turkish Cypriots. He has since written about some of this work in a great book called Solving Tough Problems: An Open Way of talking, Listening and Creating New Realities
So here’s a big “what if.” What if we could get people from all across the country to engage in work to create a more coherent and powerful story around the generations? We would at least get better names out of it! And I think it would combat the “oh, so that’s why I don’t like Generation X” syndrome that Lisa mentioned in the comments. Of course, it would be a huge undertaking, and I’m not sure it would be worth the effort (maybe it is best to focus our “larger language” efforts at the more micro level). But what about doing that around the more dangerous stereotypes, like race or gender?