Separating the dancer from the dance

Photograph by Soki

Photograph by Soki

Joshua Prager is a hemiplegic journalist. On a recent TED Talk in which he shares the story behind his accident, he revives a century-old discussion: how can we separate nature from nurture (the dancer from the dance)? And why does it matter?

Susan Cain is a former lawyer and she advocates for a better integration of introvert’s talents in our extraverted-biased society. In her work she separates and nuances another similar discussion, one that has antagonized psychologists for the past 50 years: Do personality traits exist? How can we separate the effects of the environment from our temperaments? Is there even a true self or are we just a sum of social masks we choose to wear ?

This animated debate launched by Freud and Jung gains momentum as the science of psychology evolves and as we peak into the neuron firings inside the human brain or the nucleobases that compound our genes. Underneath it all rests the unsettling question: How much free will do we really have?

“I don’t like to put people into boxes”

This is not an uncommon reaction to personality tests. In fact, what we mean when we say this is “I don’t like to be put in a box”.

We all prefer to believe in complete free will. We prefer to believe in our ability to master with the same ease as the next man any competence we set our minds to. The problem is that compelling evidence suggests just the opposite: our very personal inborn temperaments, genes, physiology, neuron wiring and current state affect our behaviours and ability to acquire new skills more than we wish to admit.

In order to respond to this complexity, we increase our efforts in studying human behaviours. We aim at discovering the perfect split between personality and environmental effects for each possible act. Just like salt is 23/58 Sodium and 35/58 Chlorine, it should also be the case for our tendency for introspection, caring or aggression, right? This knowledge would give us more insight where our efforts would yield better results. It would be the victory of pragmatism and performance!

The truth is, each one of us is neither a snow flake that is completely unpredictable nor a soulless collection of reactions to genes and external stimuli. All in all, both these extremist views are a diversion from encountering and tending to our true selves.

If any given personality test can indeed oversimplify the richness within us, combining several ones provides us with a rather insightful understanding of how we are in a large variety of situations. More important than that, it allows us to discover the other through different lens, to understand that we don’t see the same events the same way and understand the advantages and limitations of each of our life goggles.

The answer to the oversimplification of any psychometric approach is not abstinence but diversified exposure.

Intergenerational training

Intergenerational and intercultural seminars stimulate similar discussions.

“How can we simplify every individual behaviour to a birth period or to a national origin?” The answer is clearly “we can’t!” However, this does not mean that we should throw the baby with the bath water.

Serious studies on both fields provide us with a deeper understanding of cultural perspectives. The “dance” part of a person’s experience is a thug of war of several sociological and psychological influences: socio-economic conditions, family upbringing, culture of origin, environment, generation, amongst others. Generational approach is just another face of this large diamond of influences. Sometimes the light shines through that face, sometimes through another.

Another question I hear often is “Will Gen Y become like the previous generations as they age?” Again, the answer depends on another question: “In which aspect?”

Your experience (and reaction to life) is influenced by the moment in History in which you were born and grew up. Local and global events, especially during our formative years (that last up to 19 or 25 years-old), strongly affect our perception of the world: how we view and experience work, how we set priorities, how we communicate to each other and how we integrate technology to our lives. These are called generational factors.

On the other hand, since the dawn of mankind, the developmental order of the individual from infancy to maturity has been extremely constant and richly documented. Teenagers today rebel against their parents and still will do so in the years to come (the only thing that might change is the duration of each developmental stage as we live longer or the manner in which they do so). These are called age factors.

The challenge of a generational expert is to understand which behaviours are affected by generational factors, which are affected by age factors and which are affected by a mix of both. With time, generational factors tend to remain imprinted as deep-seated values, whereas age factors evolve.

The goal of diversity trainings should not be to predict future behaviour, “put people into boxes” or create dissent. The goal is to open us up to other ways of making meaning of ourselves and the world around. It gets us out of our heads and offers us the opportunity to experience other ways of thinking, feeling and expressing ourselves.

It is because we study separately the technique of the dancer and the rhythm of the dance that we’re able to marvel at the whole, without worrying so much as which gets the credit.

What are your views on intergenerational or intercultural trainings?

Generation Y, money and career orientation

Generation Y and education work satisfactionAt a moment when the youngest members of Generation Y graduate from high school, it would be interesting to address a somewhat common complaint about the young population starting their first job experience: “They only think about their salary”.

Far from me to engage in a polemic discussion about the correctness (or not) of this rather unalluring statement. It is my belief that in all generations, we’ll find people adopting this behaviour and its opposite, and any generalization would only fuel controversy. However, I invite you instead to join me in an empathic exercise on the root causes on why this statement is heard so often lately and add some nuance to the debate.

a)      The age effect

By definition, the end of adolescence is a period in which young individuals thrive to obtain both a place in an enlarged social group (by joining a company) and financial autonomy. The reason these goals are sought after is that they embody society’s representation of adulthood: social responsibility and autonomy.

Since this is a period of great confusion about one’s own singular identity and the disruption from the peer group can be sudden, young adults tend to cling to parental representations and projections for their future, while at the same time seeking physical separation from them.

b)      The context effect

It is precisely on these 2 last points where the current context has seen significant changes in the last decades.

From Traditionalists’ to Boomers’ time, though family expectations and social class limited the career choices, the easiness to acquire a job facilitated the expression of natural inclinations. There was a focus on career orientation that was first talent-based and then limited by social status. Back then, house mortgages were reasonable even on sprawling cities and young adults were able to leave their parent’s homes quickly and constitute family.

With the oil crisis and the massive lay-offs, we’ve entered the age of diploma “overbidding” to land a first job. Not long after that, city realstate prices skyrocketed and haven’t stopped since. These 2 factors combined were responsible for a delayed adolescence period and de-nesting process of Generation Y.

At the same period, corporate raiders changed the way the general population viewed the business world: from a community of engaged individuals with a common goal to a profit-based dehumanized structure. The speech given by Boomers and early-Xers parents, teachers and career counselors about the job market became quite different. Concerns about financial stability and social de-classification gave rise to a message of caution: “focus on market needs and on studies that pay well”. Career orientation became first financially driven and then socially driven. Vocation and meaning were to be pursued outside careers.

c)       The generational effect

Pressured by social demands of financial autonomy, most Yers followed this terrible advice and redirected their passion to family, friends and volunteering.

After gaining work experience and attaining the coveted financial independency, many Yers in their early 30s discovered themselves severely dissatisfied with a job or profession that never passed the personal alignment test.

What for previous generations is a cross to bear, for Generation Y it can’t be endured (as they grew up in a social environment in which the meaning of one’s life is determined by the individual). Some turn to psychotherapists and coachs to reconnect with their early passions and prepare meaningful job transitions. Less fortunate ones hop from a job to another in a vain hope of finding one that motivates them without knowing what values drive them in the first place. In either case, the impression they leave with those who stay at the company is one of “mercenaries”.

d)      The eye of the beholder effect

By now, you might have experienced not only the complexity but also the personal tragedy behind the origins of this loosely used statement. Empathizing with other generations is the first step to tackling the challenges of today’s world.

By looking more broadly into our societies and businesses for the kind of people we need and value, by realizing the most sought after professions didn’t exist 5 years ago, I hope that you might have realized that as a society we’ve failed in the meaning of work we’ve transmitted to Generation Y. Had the focus remained on vocation, self-discovery and meaning, the story might have been different.

In the midst of a new world crisis, we (parents, teachers and counselors) have the same question in front of us: “How do we prepare our children for entering the job market and adulthood?”  The way we answer this question will determine the way future generations will find personal fulfillment and put their real talents to the service of society.

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we should save our country.” Abraham Lincoln

How do you prepare your children for adulthood?

Charlie, Max and Harry: 3 unexpected generational heroes

Children literature (and cinema) is a very subtle art-form. The most powerful books of the genre are the ones that can only be read in wholeheartedness because they connect us to deep, pure and indescribable emotions: emotions unencumbered by the complexities of society and our mental programs.

The talent of a great children novelist (like Andersen, Saint-Exupéry, Carroll, Disney, Collodi, Sendak, Grimm, La Fontaine and Rowling) lies in their ability to transform the confusion of our times into fine lessons with which children can identify. Though the narrative can take paradoxical, nonsense, dark, or even gruesome tones, the end result is a powerful emotional insight that values children uniqueness while welcoming and approaching them to the world of adults. While the world of former is somewhat timeless and unbounded by cultural differences, the latter’s intensely determined by time and culture.

For that reason, it’s not surprising to find amongst big stories a generational bias.

Charlie Bucket and the Corporate Ladder:

Baby Boomers

Cover to first edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Published in 1964 by Roald Dahl and inspired in his experience of chocolate companies in his schooldays, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is the quintessential description of the Baby Boomer generation.

Boomer Charlie grows up in an overcrowded house, in an overcrowded world. Though extremely poor, he remains hopeful in a better future. In an immense stroke of luck, he obtains a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (a golden ticket), but luck is certainly not enough to guarantee success in his world. The golden ticket is just the entrance to a contest in which Charlie must win over the competition by remaining faithful to his character and obedient to the imposed rules (and the contract he signs). Conversely, the naughty children will be severely punished and, for their misdeeds, will remain deformed to everyone’s eyes. If he succeeds, Charlie will be rewarded with an unknown prize.

Charlie’s relations with the Traditionalist authority figures and social immobility are quite surprising in today’s world. He defers great respect towards his uncles and aunts and turns to them for guidance in figuring out the social conventions that rule his life. He understands the handicap of his social status and is willing to be twice as vigilant and well-behaved in order to access greater spheres. Most of all, Charlie believes in character and that previous generations know what’s best for him: all he has to do is “pay his dues” and society will give him back, and at the end explain him what he has done right.

Max and the Wild Emotional World:

Generation X

Maurice Sendak’s original illustration

Published in 1963 by recently deceased Maurice Sendak and beautifully turned into a movie by Spike Jonze in 2009, “Where the wild things are” tells a very different story from Dahl’s novel.

Gen X Max lives in a lonely and wild world in which emotions are difficult to control and understand. He connects to the rebel within him and is punished not physically, but with the psychological parenting that was gaining popularity then: he’s sent to his room to figure out for himself the consequences of his misdeeds. Once there, he lets his creativity fly him to a world of scary figures and scary rules, but in which he manages to be crowned king. He gains respect from the wild things because he “stares longer” and discovers the possibility of leading those “above him” through dialogue and personalized attention (this part is only present in the movie). At the end, Max returns home to a better-managed emotional state and to the discovery of the unconditional love of his mother.

Max is the portrait of a generation of “latchkey kids” that have had the challenge of defining their own path.  Because they rebel against authority figures, Xers are in a quest of finding their own leadership: a leadership that is profoundly linked to the right expression and balance of their own conflicting emotions (the wild things within them).

Harry and the School of Unhelpful Adults:

Generation Y Harry Potter

Original poster to “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”

It’s hard to talk about J.K. Rowlings “Harry Potter” saga without thinking about Generation Y. There are so many connections that a book could easily be filled on the subject.

Gen Y Harry Potter is an orphan that is constantly reminded of his immense potential for change and how great he already is (“stars for everyone” culture). Ostracized by his uncles, that themselves behave as children, he sees in a specialized, independent education the opportunity to fulfill his unique destiny and entrusts a respected institution to develop his personal magic.

Much to his surprise, Harry quickly realizes that the institution itself is unequipped to provide him with the keys to fight the immediate threats around him: teachers are immersed in their egos and neurosis, important class programs are often changing direction (“protection against dark magic”) and gatekeepers are there to ensure the rules are respected no matter what (janitor and Dolores Umbridge).

Fortunately, Gen Y Harry believes in his smartness, resourcefulness, courage and ability to lead peers with complementary skills. Though the structure invites to competition between “houses”, he believes in the power of collaboration is unashamed to join the competition to accomplish small projects. Individualized mentoring and coaching (by Dumbledore) is also recognized as an important learning tool: the challenges and main elements of the framework are shared and explained first-hand, after which Harry determines his autonomy during execution. Together, those elements make the most important source of development: peer-to-peer, hands-on learning matters more than theoretical and top-down lectures.

Harry does not hold an overt position of authority defiance. His relationship with authority is determined by mutual respect and quite often the boundaries are blurred by transfer/counter-transfer processes (Dumbledore and Molly Weasley). Authority figures that do not deserve respect are fought off insistently or bypassed without culpability.

He’s however vocal in demanding for change and challenging the rules when they’re inappropriate, when extenuating consequences apply or when out-of-the-box thinking is required to solve a complex problem. Once the best strategy is decided in a peer group, he holds a clear position of “break the rules first, ask questions later”, a common characteristic of Yers individual expression.

Which other parallels can you draw between children stories and generational behaviour?

Top 5 Leadership X-Factors

Experiment made by NYU on Gen X’s self perception

In the HBR article “The Leaders we need now”, generational expert Tammy Erickson proposes a deeper look into some of the changes in work relations brought to light by Generation’s X refusal of an outdated management model and invites us to consider 5 Xers’ competencies that will help them lead organizations into the future.

Before we understand what changes Generation X brought about, we must describe the organizational model of Traditionalists’ and Boomers’ time. Boomers’ formative years were filled with hope for the future, belief in stability and desire to win. Winning in Boomer’s terms meant attaining success recognized by society and winning over the competition. This desire allowed them to build (or climb) immense pyramidal hierarchies all the way to the top, not without their blood, sweat and tears.

Leadership in those major corporations meant running a tight ship through a “command and control”, “divide and conquer” management model. The role of the leader was to control performance, set direction and provide the answers. The competencies most sought after for promotions were experience coupled with business-relevant knowledge (significant career changes were rare back then), vision, discretion, decisiveness and command.

As they grew into middle management positions, Xers started applying a different model inside their own sphere of power.

First, through their pragmatic result-focus, Xers started to prefer a meritocracy model over seniority for employee promotion. Then, to support their family centric values they’ve humanized work relations and designed the first work-life balance programs. Inspired by a proclivity of leadership literature, they’ve flattened organizations, encouraged project-based teams, destroyed interdepartmental walls and transformed cubicles into open spaces for collaborative work.

Alone those feats are impressive, but the most impressive part is that Gen X was able to bring about them without holding C-suite positions or a demographic leverage. What allowed them to sell those changes to Boomers was their focus on results and belief in a humanized organizational model.

In order to face tomorrow’s challenges, there are 5 leadership attitudes that Gen X can bring to the table:

1) Increase collaborative capacity

Xers are outstanding networkers. They’re the ones with books filled with business cards and often start their morning by shaking colleagues’ hands and making happy birthday phone calls. The experience of being “latchkey kids” has thought them the importance of friends for companionship and support.

As opposed to Boomers’ ideas of safeguarding intelligence, Xers truly believe that intelligence should be mobilized and shared to foster innovation. As they were digital migrants early in their careers, we can be sure they’ll support the adoption of newer communication tools for as long as they support the development of effective networks.

2) Ask compelling questions

Xers’ scepticism and ability to isolate practical truths and discern trends early on are important catalysts of change.

In the 2020 workplace, Xers will help direct Yers’ energy and their tendency to dispersion into focused, action-driven solutions. Xers’ main competencies are those of great business coaches: questioning basic assumptions, reframing challenges in ways that are intriguing and memorable, posing questions that are ambitious and novel and encouraging personal autonomy and accountability.

3) Shape corporate identity

The biggest problem with our businesses is that we’re living in a meaning-less era.

The primary reason Generation Y job hops is because meaning does not come by in every corner of our businesses. Thanks to their deep belief in collaborative work, family values and their ability to ask compelling questions, Xers are in the best position to lead organizations into common objectives that are both ambitious and rich with meaning.

4) Embrace complexity and welcome disruptive information

While Boomers believed the boss had all the answers, Xers mistrust of institutions has helped them develop a certain wariness that anticipates a future full of change. The result is an acceptance of ambiguity, an inclination towards alternatives and back-up plans and a certainty that there are no bulletproof solutions.

Although Xers and Yers share this same skill, the way this competency is translated in each case is significantly different. The world as Yers know it has always been immersed in constant, ever-increasing change and therefore they welcome, encourage and demand organizational transformation. Their requests can be however incoherent and unfounded sometimes, based more on an individual need than a business imperative.

Xers on the other hand have experienced profound disruptive social changes. They’ve seen a world of “then” and “now” and their adaptation is rather a survival skill than an unquenchable thirst. Xers are therefore more apt to embrace complexity and disruption while keeping a constant eye on long-term vision and common objectives. More importantly, because they share this skill with Yers, they’re more apt (than Boomers) to teach and persuade Yers to sticking with the old ways when they’re proven effective.

5) Appreciate diversity

The complex interconnected world of today requires leaders open to diversity. More than tolerating, not offending nor harassing those with different perspectives, our organizations need everyone’s points of views, contributions and personal experiences in order to arrive at a full understanding of complex issues and connect profoundly with the 7 billion unique individuals they serve today.

Xers logical and realistic approach to life has taught them there’s no reason any one viewpoint should be given special significance over another. As opposed to Boomers zero-sum game and Yers all-or-nothing world, they provide organizations with a much needed lesson on flexibility and cultural openness.


As Boomers retire, the air is filled with anticipation of what will happen in the tug-of-war of our organizations: Will Generation X be finally recognized for their competencies and take up the reins? Or will Generation Y with their resourcefulness, their outspoken nature and their high self-esteem jump ahead in the chain of command? The question is interesting and understandably engaging for each individual involved. At the same time, it’s the wrong question!

It’s the wrong question because it works within the paradigm of the organizations built by the previous generations. The key factors of professional success in today’s world are leadership, connectivity and collaboration and they are not the product of a title, but of an attitude. Whether in the board rooms or energizing the open space, the leaders we need are a combination of the flawless execution of the Xers with the idealistic creativity of the Yers.

What other leadership skills we must all learn from Generation X?

An X-Ray of Generation X

 Generation X work life balance

From Douglas Coupland’s novel “Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture”, pg 142, that coined the term Generation X

If there’s one word that describes Generation X, it is “rupture”.

In my previous post, I’ve invited you to an empathic journey through the lives of this divided, paradoxical and rather unfortunate generation. Today we’ll further dive into the roots of their values and behaviours.

As you might recall, Boomers grew up in a world in which the common speech was “stability leads to progress” and the reality they’ve lived in was precisely this one. Yers, on the other hand, were born after the first ruptures in long-established institutions and received a different speech from their elders and media: one that stated “the world is chaos”. They’ve internalized this speech and adapted their behaviour to a world that was indeed in chaos.

Despite the fact those two worldviews are very different, they’re coherent. Generation X (the cohort born between 1965 and 1977) did not have this luxury. The speech they’ve heard from previous generations was that “stability leads to progress” but what they’ve encountered was “a world in chaos”: a world of unprecedented crisis, Aids and Chernobyl.

They’ve heard “family is sacred”, yet they’d be the first generation of “latchkey kids” to arrive from school to empty homes.

They’ve heard “a good education will land you a good job”, yet they’d be the first generation to experience massive unemployment of young graduates.

They’ve heard “pay your dues”, yet they’d be the ones to witness and suffer the first major layoffs, as the Oil Crisis hit the world.

Under this light it is not surprising to observe that the most common traits of this generation are scepticism, self-reliance, pragmatism and realism (one that is even more visible in comparison to the other two generations of idealists).

Far from reaching the homogeneity of the other two generations, Xers are described in terms of the myriad of diverging reactions to the incoherence of their time. In this case, the determining factors for a clear X-ray of Generation X are even more dependent on age (early Xers tend to behave more like Boomers and late Xers more like Yers), geography and local events (their formative years varying dramatically from region to region) and individual personality (more specifically in the optimism-pessimism spectrum).

In the business world, Xers can also be roughly divided between the “resigned” who play it safe waiting for their turn and the “rebels” who take the initiative to break traditional values.

The “resigned” are the ones who have often chosen careers of expertise and have climbed the corporate ladder as far as the “Boomers’ old boys” politics would allow. As they approach midlife and contemplate next steps in their careers, they grow increasingly frustrated with the Boomers refusal to retire and ubiquitous presence. Moreover, due to Yers unashamed ventures outside the chain of command and the parent-child transfer/counter-transfer between Boomers and their N-2 Yer employees, these Xers perceive a (real) threat of being short-circuited in future promotions. The result is a work environment embedded in the “zero-sum game” proper of Boomer corporate culture; a workplace in a clear generational divide, filled by anger and resentments.

The “rebels” are the ones who have understood the changes in corporate loyalty and have opted out for careers with better work-life balance. They’ve enhanced their survival skills acquired over the years and used it to design their careers in a pragmatic, “what if?”, entrepreneurial way. They’ve replaced the “pay your dues” mantra for “be a leader”.

Though we tend to often praise Yers for their demands on severe changes in work relations, it’s thanks to those Xers that we’ve seen over the last decades a rise in soft-skills training programs and new leadership paradigms. They’re the precursors of a movement that wouldn’t be possible without their valuable contribution, the same way Generation Y has a vital role in creating conditions for Generation Z to flourish (we’ll go over this subject on another occasion). In my next post I’ll share with you the 5 main leadership skills these Xers can teach future generations and why we’re in desperate need of them today.

The main organizational challenge of the next decade will certainly be the transformation of the generational divide currently present in many organizations into a true intergenerational collaboration. The success of this venture will guarantee the survival of our businesses and the adaptation to a changing and unpredictable world (in which an outdated management model solidified by the Baby Boomers no longer has its place).

As long as fear for the future dominates the relations we have with Generation X, this venture will fail. Also, as long as Xers hold a simple “trainer” role for the future generations (as opposed to coach and mentor), this venture will fail.

It is only when the dreams of the idealistic and young Generation Y meet the pragmatic leadership of Generation X that true change will occur.

Which other terms and values would you use to describe Generation X?

Join the conversation

Lately I’ve been thinking about a different post to invite each one of you to join in the conversation. As the universe invariably conspires in favor of the attentive entrepreneur, I’ve just found this very interesting reflection from David Whyte

« The richest place in Galapagos is the Western part of Isabella Islands, where you’re looking off into the middle of the Pacific. In that place there’s an upwelling current from below that brings all of this astonishing richness, nutrients and oxygen from the depths, up to the warmth of the surface. But not only you get oxygen, rich nutrient and cold water meeting warm water, you also have all those elements meeting the air, the land and different gradations of salinity and temperature. Where all of those edges meet, you get this astonishing conversation and plethora of life.

It’s an interesting question to ask yourself as an individual or the organization you’re a part of, how many edges and conversations are actually meeting inside me? Or am I a mono-cultural idea, which I attempt to project upon reality? Because one of the essential ideas of the conversational nature of reality is whatever you as an individual would like to happen in the world will not happen exactly as you would like it. Equally, whatever the world, your society, your organization and the people you serve in life want you to do will also not occur. You will not comply exactly as they would like you to comply.

In order for an individual human being or organization to live out its life, it has to find that edge between its own particular signature and genius and what has been called into by its surrounding world. And the ability to live at that edge is one of the necessary disciplines of this time.

You actually change the world by meeting it. Simply by being present and simply by beginning a conversation.  

 “Why are you unhappy? Because 98.98% of everything you do and say is for yourself, and there isn’t one.”

There’s no self that will survive a real conversation. There’s no self that will survive a real meeting with something other than itself. There’s no organization that will keep its original identity if it’s in the conversation. And after a while you realize you don’t want to keep that old static identity. You want to move the pivot of your presence from this thing you think is “you” into this meeting with the future… And it’s in this self-forgetfulness where you meet something bigger than yourself that all these astonishing things happen.”

During the last 3 months, I’ve been immensely pleased by your positive reactions to the genYus project and the encouragements posted here and in other platforms. To me this is an important celebration to the initiative. Now the time has come to take another step…

As you might have noticed, at the end of each post you’ll find a question summarizing the intent behind it. Those questions are an invitation to speak your mind, confront with your perception and share your own experiences. This is my way to start the conversation with the reality of each one of you: leaving the realm of individual ideas and opinions to roam the conversational space that will change me, you and the world around us.

Moreover, your thoughts, perceptions and experiences in these issues will also enrich and help redirect the sails of genYus to sunnier beaches. You’re therefore invited to encourage, but also comment and suggest new content.

If you’d like to have a more familiar exchange or know HR professionals interested in intergenerational management, I’d love to further exchange our views on live or over a Skype meeting.

How do I post a comment in 2 easy steps?

1) Click on the balloon next to the title of the post you’d like to comment on

2) You’ll be redirected to a page that will look like this.

All you have to do is fill in your name and e-mail (or sign in to a WordPress, Twitter or Facebook account), write your comment and click on the “Post Comment” button.

Your email will not be made public and I will certainly not share it with anyone or spam you. See you in our next conversation!

genYus @work: Radiating Y Culture through dialogue

Gen X: An insight from a Brazilian author

Generation X

Born in 1936, Luis Fernando Verissimo is one of Brazil’s most acclaimed contemporary authors. He’s also a gifted cartoonist, playwright and musician, and for several years he has held daily columns in nation’s top newspapers and magazines. With over 60 titles and specialized in chronicles and satires, his light and humoristic texts of cultural and universal themes reach readers all over the world.

So far I’ve taken the time to introduce you in different ways to each of the five generations. To introduce Generation X (1965 to 1977), a paradoxical, divided and small generation placed in-between the two largest generations to date, Verissimo’s words provide us a unique opportunity to go on an empathic journey through the formative years and expectations for the future of this cohort. You’ll find here the original text.

Despite of their disillusions with the business world and society, Xers hold an extremely important role in tomorrow’s world and we’ll further discuss it in our next post.

All my life  (Luis Fernando Verissimo, translation by Eduardo Estellita)

Said the man: “I aged at the wrong time. All my life it has been like this. I’ve arrived to each life stage when they’ve had already lost their advantages. Or before they had acquired new ones. I’ve spent my life with the feeling of someone who enters a party when it’s over or leaves right before it gets better.

Look at my childhood for instance. There was a time when children from my social class were treated like princes and princesses. It’s true; they would be spanked a lot as well. But there were compensations. Normally a grandmother lived with them or nearby and comforted them with hugs and sweets.  And the mothers wouldn’t go to work, gym class or tsao-tse-something. They were at home, finding ways to spoil their children.

Have you ever had velvet clothes? Neither have I. I’m from the post-velvet, pre-jeans generation. Sometimes I stare at pictures from children back then, with those ridiculous clothes of lace and ruffles, and that makes me so jealous… This is how a child is supposed to be treated. I think that my generation ended up this way because they’ve never wore velvet clothes. Or curled hair.

Another thing: psychology. I was from the first generation raised on psychology. No punishment – let’s talk. He has drawn all over the wall? He’s trying to express something. And he has used his mother’s lipstick? Watch out, a spanking might cause an oedipal introjection and traumatize him forever.

I’m also from the first generation that, with the invention of pocket calculator, didn’t have to memorize the multiplication table. As a result I grew up without two very important notions: sin and mathematics.

I’ve arrived late to childhood and early to adolescence. The sexual revolution started exactly the day after my wedding, in times when marrying was the only way to get to sleep with a woman. Our wedding was on a Saturday and the sexual revolution started on Sunday. I’ve even tried to annul the marriage since it wasn’t necessary anymore, but then it had already been consummated.

My adolescence was a martyrdom. I remember it as an endless lesson on unhooking bras. They were closed behind in a thousand ways. Hooks, clip-ons, buttons, weld. One needed an engineering degree to open them. One of my girlfriends had a bra with a lock. With combination, like a safe, I swear. Seventeen to the left, five to the right, hurry because mother is coming! You, kid, might not even know what a bra is.

I thought I was going to be a serious young man, engaged in the noblest causes, maybe a political activist or a guerilla soldier. When I arrived to this age, young adults were taking care of their careers and stock portfolios. I was from the first generation that when we mentioned “going to the mountains” it meant “to the country house for the weekend”. And from the last one that still used the word “alienation”, but by then we didn’t know very well what it meant.

It’s ok, I thought. I’ll prepare for old age and its privileges, with my pension and grandchildren. But the government is broke and my pension is a joke, and every time my grandchildren look at me, it seems they’re taking my measures for the nursing home. And to top it off, it’s been half an hour I’m here bothering you with this talk and you haven’t yet offered me your seat.”

And the boy said: “Chill old man, this whole thing about offering your seat to the elders is outdated”

And the man sighed: “Haven’t I told you? I’ve even arrived late to old age”.

What texts, songs and paintings remind you of a certain generation?

Present lost: iPhones and Yoga

Hyperconnectivity and Gen Y identityBy now, you’ve seen me writing about the wonders of technology and the shifts in education possible through gamification and mobile technology. I confess: I’m a fan of technology. I’m however even more fan of human connections.

In a very touching talk, psychologist and sociologist Sherry Turkle confronts us with the dangerous comfort of hyperconnectivity.

The reason hyperconnectivity and delayed communication is comfortable is that they distract us from ourselves (from our hopes and fears) and from others (by selecting when, how and with whom we want to communicate and focus our attention on).  None of this is new though: television has been numbing our emotions since its invention and letters have been a delayed form of communication for centuries.

The new aspect about hyperconnectivity is not what it invites us to do, it’s the ubiquity of the offer. The problem is therefore not so much in the act of present-evasion or bore-avoidance, it’s in the obsessive retreat to this behaviour. Meden Agan (“Nothing in excess”) is the Delphi lesson we fail to follow when we disconnect from the present and the living around us to exist in virtual bite-sized conversations.

Sherry’s concern about the habit of hyperconnectivity is very real: as we succumb to it and pass on to our children a great discomfort with solitude and human connection, we do them (and society at large) an extreme disservice.

Throughout my life, the best moments were without doubt the ones I was entirely connected to the present, to the best of myself and the best of other human beings. These memories remain in my mind (and will so until the day I die) as representative of entire relationships: they were the intimate and vulnerable conversations with parents and friends, a class or a training in which some invisible understanding was reached or the white nights filled with the complicity of a lover. I’m sure that each and every one of you has lived such moments and recalls them with the same clarity.

There’s hope though!

As sales of smart phones skyrocket, so does the interest in practices inspired in Eastern philosophies: Yoga, mindfulness and meditation. When the shackles of hyperconnectivity threaten our freedom to choose fulfilled lives, we can also rediscover the wonder in live art, sports, spirituality and beauty, if only we give ourselves the permission to slow down and the courage to meet who we are.

Mixing art appreciation, mindfulness and the benefits of technology (audio CD), French psychiatrist Christophe André invites the readers of his new bestseller “Méditer, jour après jour” to indulge in a profound and an unusual encounter with themselves.

In my case, the desire for more profound and authentic human connections in my professional life is the main reason I’ve decided to become a coach, and I’m convinced that it is in an ongoing training to exist in the “here and now” that lies life’s greatest gifts.


Do you allow yourself to disconnect in order to create true connection?

10 forces changing our workplace (III): Society

Participation society and corporate social responsability

7.       Participation Society

Organizations can leverage significantly their competitive advantage if they focus their attention in the power of social media, as opposed (or in addition) to traditional marketing techniques. Since the YouTube revolution, consumers and employees have become extremely generous in their feedback about marketing and product development. As a matter of fact, they expect businesses to create forums for idea exchange that echo with their personalities and passions, and see it as an opportunity to obtain more value out of their favourite brands. In 2007, MSN explained this trend in one of their publicity spots.

8.       Social Learning

Tradition says that learning happens best in a top-down, ex cathedra fashion, in a classroom environment and with a very clear focus on abstraction and planning. This has been the case until the arrival of Learning 2.0 (the e-learning revolution of the 90s), when the presence of the knowledge-holder and the location of the students were challenged. Until the second half of the last decade Learning 2.0 was indeed all the buzz, but then a second evolutionary step in learning took place.

Social media, Wikipedia and gamification appealed to an entire generation (Gen Y) as a more engaging, mnemonic and empathic way to learn than the traditional ways. Social learning (or Learning 3.0) consists of resorting to social media, blog comments, gaming, real-time feedback, simulations and hands-on group work.

It appeals not only because it changes the format into which learning takes place, but also its content (from an abstract towards an experiential approach). It gains adepts not only in the student community, but also in the teacher and business community and it generates profound learning experiences across generations, because it creates a common language.

Businesses that have revised their L&D model have not been disappointed. They’ve discovered the benefits in productivity of blending learning into work and increasing its availability. They’ve used social learning occasions to brainstorm ideas, reframe problems, engage in lateral thinking, conduct research and, most importantly draw meaning out of experiences.

On the internet, one can find hundreds of social learning exercises that can be applied tomorrow in your companies. One such example is the marshmallow problem:

9.       Corporate Social Responsibility

Until Generation Y became a consumer force, multinationals’ social programs were in most cases limited to leveraging local politics through lobbying, investing in Ivy League universities for talent pool and spending massive budgets in green marketing campaigns. Thanks to the healthy scepticism of the digital natives and their anti-publicity filters, they’ve been able to detect the inconsistencies in those programs.

In one way or another, global businesses realized that corporate philanthropy is much more believable and sustainable if it’s rooted in “win-win” situations for both the communities and the businesses: it was the beginning of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Effective CSR programs are deeply rooted in strategic business goals while integrated into social, ethical and environmental agendas: IBM, Nespresso, Ernst&Young and Pfizer are just some of those examples.

In IBM’s Corporate Service Corps, 100 highly talented employees are sent each year to gain work experience in a country targeted for growth. The projects vary from helping entrepreneurs access microloans to designing learning labs and training teachers in the most effective IT tools. Throughout the six-month program, the selected employees draw their regular salaries, allowing them to participate in meaningful change without incurring into personal financial risks.

The benefits for the company are threefold:

a) Increase their social and cultural intelligence in future markets, understand complex policy environments and develop relationship with local communities.

b) Prepare and test top talent into future global leadership positions, with hands-on experience and the development of important soft-skills, such as humility, cultural openness, adaptability, assertiveness and flexibility.

c) Attract, develop and engage high-potential, especially from a Generation Y that is particularly sensitive to those programs.

 10.       Arrival of Generation Y

The reason Generation Y is at the bottom of this list of changes is the same as why I’ve chosen this trend (and not any other) as the subject of my study.

Generation Y nurtures as many debates as refusals of its existence, and attracts as much admiration as rejection because it’s not a change per se, but a mirror to ourselves as society and as human beings.

The power of Generation Y is present not so much in the qualities they bring to the table, but in the subtle or deep connections they thread with each one of the previously mentioned changes (whether we admit them to take place or not): from the brute force of their demographics to their fine dreams of a better world. They are a mirror because they reflect back to us our fears about ourselves, our parenting and our future.

If we allow ourselves to join in the discussion about the reflections we receive from them, Generation Y will eventually be able to fulfill their role (just like every generation that came before and will come afterwards): cease to be a mirror to become the lenses through which we’ll build a better and renewed future.

Which social changes are you ready to admit and adopt in your life?

10 forces changing our workplace (II) Technology

4.       Digital workplace

Information is being produced, transformed and shared at incredible speed and acceleration rates. The democratization of content production has shifted from the “enlightened few” and research centers to 7 billion authors. The mere existence of universities is being disputed by the newer generations.

For instance, YouTube is currently growing at a rate of 18 Terabytes per month and this figure is doubling every year (currently its content is four times bigger than the largest physical library in the world). Social networking sites are generating each day 250.000 new users, in short, more than 1% of the world’s population on a yearly basis.

The challenges for organizations is to create digital content environments and sharing platforms that can be deployed, managed and cleaned up in order to ensure accuracy, appropriateness and productivity. Most organizations are struggling with IT: as they discover the obsolescence delay of their platforms to be faster than their deployment, as they’re faced with the impossible choice between the business flexibility of multiple platforms and the productivity gains of centralized systems, and as they’re able to generate performance indicators faster and in greater quantity than they can analyse them.

For the first time in History, we’ve reached the threshold of information: we produce faster than we can digest it.

5.       Mobile technology

In 1987, phone companies signed an agreement to build a mobile network. After its implementation, it took 12 years for the first billion subscriptions to be reached, but only less than 3 more years to reach 3.5 billion. Now, there are more than 4.5 billion subscriptions in a world of 7 billion people (64% of users are in the developing world). The ubiquity of mobile technology will ascertain that, in less than 5 years, mobiles will be the primary way to access the Internet.

In business, mobile technology changes the paradigm of where learning takes place. Through mobile apps, some innovative organizations are providing their employees with sales and compliance trainings, product knowledge and online support.

The main novelty of this technology is the app culture it encourages, for it provides instant acknowledgement and solution to individual’s immediate wants and needs. App culture bite-sizes problems and über customizes our lives: the psychological and social implications of such powerful changes remain to be seen in younger generations (Gen Y and Z).

6.       Hyperconnectivity

In many ways, Hyperconnectivity is the dark side of a positive value from Generation Y: work-life integration. Whereas work-life integration resides in the quest to obtain a passionate connection between the personal and the professional spheres, hyperconnectivity is the compulsive habit of being constantly plugged in. Paradoxically, the choice of being constantly connected and welcoming of technological disruptions disconnects individuals from the present moment, others and themselves. In fact, hyperconnectivity is 21st century’s new form of workaholic behaviour.

Currently, hyperconnected professional make up 16% of the workforce and this figure is estimated to increase up to 40% in the next few years. They’re found in every population segment, but more heavily present in urban areas, in Latin America and Asia-Pacific; in IT, banking and high-tech industries; in management positions and within Generation Y.

Businesses that understand the hyperconnectivity trend and invest in social media tools to connect with employees, customer and partners are reaping the benefits of higher productivity, collaboration and employee engagement. By the same token, businesses that reward employees for the contributions they make to the organizational knowledge (in addition to job performance) will gain a significant competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent.

Where should we focus our attention with regards to technology in order to maintain our humanity?