“You’re so dumb!:” The Next Generation

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

The above complaint was from Socrates. St. Thomas Aquinas lamented that the world would be left to an ill-prepared and careless youth. A year after I was graduated from college, I read Steve Allen’s Dumbth which “humorously” recounted tales of how Generation X didn’t know how to think.

Thirty years later it’s the Millennial Generation’s turn with The Dumbest Generation label (and Generation Z not far behind). “According to recent reports from government agencies, foundations, survey firms, and scholarly institutions, most young people in the United States neither read literature (or fully know-how), work reliably (just ask employers), visit cultural institutions (of any sort), nor vote (most can’t even understand a simple ballot). They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount foundations of American history, or name any of their local political representatives. What do they happen to excel at is – each other. They spend unbelievable amounts of time electronically passing stories, pictures, tunes, and texts back and forth, savoring the thrill of peer attention and dwelling in a world of puerile banter and coarse images.”

The crux of the “dumb generation” argument is that their generation doesn’t have the knowledge that our generation has with the implication that our knowledge is inherently superior. It reminds me of summers that I spent at my grandparent’s farm where I was pitied because I didn’t know how to milk a cow, can vegetables, or could identify all the trees on the farm. “Didn’t I know anything?” they asked.

Then, I bought my grandparents a microwave oven, a VCR, and hooked their TV up to cable. Now I got to mutter under my breath, “didn’t my grandparents know anything?” As our workplaces become multi-generational, I am sure there is a lot of grumbling about the limitations of the different generations. And that is wrong.

Young girl walking with an old man.

The real issue is how to transform our organizations into learning organizations, so we capture the knowledge we already have and determine the knowledge we need. We produce new data and information at an astounding rate, and it is growing faster every year. The challenge is to determine what knowledge we need to keep, what knowledge we need to discard, and how to find the new knowledge we need. Like the way I cling to 1980s rock, knowledge we already have feels comforting and empowering, but we need to have the courage to let some of that go and embrace the new knowledge being produced. We also need to recognize that not all old knowledge is useless and should be discarded.

Others have written that the best learning is in our workplaces and with conversations with our colleagues. We can learn a lot from each other, and our organizations desperately need our efforts to keep the organizational memory growing and thriving. That means younger workers should not just immediately dismiss current practices and processes because that is how they used to do things. And older workers should not be defensive and dismissive when younger workers suggest new ways of doing the organization’s business.

Back when I worked at a state agency, I had a colleague who insisted on using Lotus 123 for his spreadsheets, although we had Microsoft Excel. He would bitterly complain when they tried to install Excel on his machine, and we would have to support Lotus 123 even though it was getting harder to do so every year. I then hit upon a strategy of having him teach me his spreadsheets. I would go over to his cubicle and learn the macros he created. I would recreate the macros in Excel and then show him how much more powerful they were and how the reports looked better with charting available to Excel. He was reluctant at first, but what sold him on upgrading is that he would not lose the original knowledge he had in his spreadsheets and macros but that they would be faster and more effective in a newer environment. Two years later, he relished his role as the “Excel Guru” who was the go-to guy about the intricacies of Excel spreadsheets.

So, maybe what is needed are fewer books about how stupid the other generations are and more books on how much we can learn from each other.

Minimal Viable Bureaucracy

I recently attended a conference where one speaker had a great phrase – “minimal viable bureaucracy” (MVB). Being in government for nearly twenty years, I love the idea of no more bureaucratic process than is necessary to achieve an objective. MVB reminds me of adaptive case management (ACM), which I have used in several agencies to build processes.

The idea behind ACM is to create a simple process and then evolve the process when encountering new cases. Instead of building a process designed to handle all eventualities (which never works), the process grows to handle exceptions and incorporates what is learned into building out the process. Learning is built into the system.

MVB is the approach I take to project management. I have seen too many project managers spend more time managing the project process, rather delivering on the project product. I remember working with one person who continually fiddled around with his Microsoft Project spreadsheets as if that would solve the project issue. I had him abandon his spreadsheets and focus on the project team and customers in front of him.

We redesigned his project management process to be simpler and focused. Thankfully, we were on time and successfully delivered the project product without too much schedule delay and disruption to the customer. This incident and others taught me the wisdom of keeping it simple and focusing on outcomes.

The trick is that once you start with a simple process and grow it in complexity, how do you keep the process from becoming burdened with no-longer-needed routines? How does the process grow and shrink as needed? Something that I plan to explore in future postings.

Scenario Planning – An Essential Career Planning Skill

I am continuing to work on the career book which will be released on December 1st. Along with the book, I will be releasing an online course that teaches the job-seeking skills for the new job seeker.

A vital skill for future job seekers will include scenario planning. Scenario planning was developed by the Shell Corporation in the 1970s to help deal with economic uncertainties. One scenario, oil embargo by the OPEC nations, was considered too fanciful – until it happened. Thanks to scenario planning, Shell weathered the oil embargo successfully.

The job hunter will use scenario planning to help them plot the future of their career path. To create the scenarios, follow these steps:

Identify the driving forces – what are the significant shifts in technology, society, the customer base, and other factors in the industry.

Identify two of the most critical uncertainties – From the list of the driving forces, pick two that are most critical to your future career.

Create four scenarios – Using the two critical uncertainties as axis, develop four plausible scenarios. The best way to present the scenarios is as stories.

Person wearing VR goggles

For example, I created these scenarios when I first entered the federal government in 2009. This was when newly elected President Obama wanted to reinvent government technology. The critical factors were the new digital technologies and how effective the federal government would be in implementing the latest digital technologies.

First Scenario – SteamGov

This scenario borrows from the steampunk genre[iv] in describing a future where the government attempts to implement Gov 2.0, but the rest of the world has moved on to Web 3.0 or even Web 4.0.

Government IT is still a generation behind the current technology available to citizens, thus limiting the engagement offered by the agencies. Large, centralized IT architectures dominate the agencies and employees are continually frustrated by the underpowered workstations they have to deal with, especially when their own personal technology is much more powerful. There are small pockets of innovation and pilot projects, but organizational cultures prevent scaling up these innovations to the agency.

Second Scenario – Google.Gov

Following a Supreme Court ruling that narrows the definition of inherently governmental, most government functions are outsourced to the private and nonprofit sectors. A Google-like company consolidates most of the outsourcing contractors into one contracting firm that applies the latest technology and business practices to deliver a diverse range of government services. The Executive Branch now consists of the White House staff and a larger GAO. The new GAO administers the mega-contract that governs the quality and accountability of government services provided by the huge contracting firm.

Third Scenario – LabGov

Still suffering under crushing budget constraints and frustrated by the continuing number of programs forced onto the states by the Federal government, state governments see Gov 2.0 as the way out of their fiscal mess. Living up to Justice Brandeis’ metaphor as “laboratories of democracy,” the state governments experiment with the latest open-source technologies, agile project management, and any other IT or management innovations that promise greater efficiency at lower costs and higher citizen satisfaction.

Citizens respond with enthusiasm and petition to have more federal programs (and funds) transferred to the states because they can manage services better, faster, and cheaper than the federal government. States form into regional and programmatic associations that shift the federal-state balance-of-power from the national government to regional governmental organizations.

Fourth Scenario – InnoGov

In 2011 the civilian equivalent of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration was established. Its mandate is to be the project management office for Gov 2.0, and the office seeks innovative Gov 2.0 projects, funds the development of these projects, and helps other agencies to copy the innovations. New radical management techniques are introduced, and organizational cultures become more collaborative and innovative.

By 2014 the federal government is the leading innovator in IT and management practices and helps to revitalize the private and non-profit sectors with its technology/best practices transfer programs. Citizen engagement and trust in government rises while the cost-savings and greater efficiencies bring about an era of budget surpluses.

In the past ten years, I have used the scenarios to help me plan my federal career. In fact, the LabGov scenario drives my long-term plans to be a consultant to state and local governments.

My career book will help job seekers create guiding scenarios to map out their career futures.