I’m going to sound like a cranky old guy today which may or may not be an apt description of how I’m feeling. Please don’t confuse the tone with the message. I have been thinking for quite a while about this and I guess it’s time to get it off my chest.
I’m sad for an entire group of young people. Without painting with too broad a brush stroke, there seems to be an entire generation of youngsters I’ve been encountering more and more often that I’ve come to call “Generation Whatever.” Let’s call them “GenW” for short. I’d characterize them as “along for the ride.” They do the work that’s asked of them and not much more. They seem way more interested in what’s happening on their phones than what’s going on in front of them. They’re generally not particularly proactive. This has nothing to do with their smarts – many of the GenW’s I’ve encountered are well-educated and pretty intelligent. No, this has to do with attitude.
One of the things about which I’m proud is that I’m a damn good teacher – references available on request. Over the years I’ve developed a lot of very fine executives and inherent in each of them was a willingness to learn and a desire to improve. Lately it seems that when I start down the development path with a number of GenW’s I get their stock answer as we discuss where things can get better.
You realize that inputting data that way will make it difficult to search and compile information later? Whatever.
You used a spell-check but didn’t read it yourself so this newsletter copy uses a homophone of the correct word. Whatever.
I’m not talking about slackers here. They’re generally not goofing off. They just don’t seem to have any sort of professional attitude. Perhaps for many of them it’s just their day job – what they do to earn the money that allows them to pursue what they love. Maybe they were indulged as children and never made to take responsibility. Maybe I’m just too damn old but I don’t think so. I’ve discussed my thinking with other professionals 20 years younger than I am and they share the feeling.
Maybe it comes from a world in which version 1.0 of anything is usually riddled with errors and gets continual updating (How do we test software? We release it!). Maybe much of the business world has fallen to lower standards so they don’t feel so out of touch. Maybe they are really perfectionists who are trying to protect themselves from embarrassment, criticism, anger and the withdrawal of love or approval. I’m not sure and I’m not sure I care. All is know is that it doesn’t bode particularly well for any of us in business.
Am I off base here? And PLEASE – any comments of “whatever” are really not appreciated!
Some of you know that my professional training was as an educator. Hopefully that shows on the screed from time to time. In fact, my wife and eldest child are also trained teachers and my youngest does education as part of her profession. Focusing on the skills people need is a big deal in our house and that got me thinking about what those skills might be.
I spend a ton of time in the tech world. There are new skills that my clients feel as if they need to acquire almost every day. What is the latest and greatest way to code? How do we employ the social media platform du jour in order to stand out and engage our customer base? What’s the best way to run an A/B test of landing or other pages to optimize conversion rates? Those are only a few of the components of the rapidly changing skill set business people might need these days. You probably won’t find me working with them on those initially.
Instead, I like to start with the skills that matter. First and foremost of these is critical thinking. How would I define that? This is from The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking, way back when in 1987 and I think it says it pretty well:
Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action. In its exemplary form, it is based on universal intellectual values that transcend subject matter divisions: clarity, accuracy, precision, consistency, relevance, sound evidence, good reasons, depth, breadth, and fairness.
That skill trumps the others. It’s the ability to figure out what data points matter and why. It’s understanding core business issues and not permitting the noise of the business world to clutter up that understanding. It’s what you use, having achieved that understanding, to choose the tools with which to carry out the business goals, strategies, and tactics. The point is this: the tools will change; the need to possess the ability to think critically won’t. Kids learning Word in the schools today may not use it in 10 years. I guarantee they will need to be able to figure out the world around them.
There are other key skills, of course. Writing and speaking clearly are the next in line for me since if you can’t explain your excellent thinking it does little good to the business. First things first, however. That’s how I see it. You?
This is the time of year when I have to make a mental adjustment to my timings. If you want to go anywhere around this town early in the morning or in the early afternoon, you need to add 10 minutes for the school buses. Never fails that when you’re in a hurry you wind up behind one!
My older daughter is a teacher and both my wife and I began our careers that way. It’s a big responsibility showing other people – young other people – the way to navigate themselves through a particular topic and, hopefully, the world in general. There’s also something teachers are required to do which is a great thought for those of us out in the business world. Continue reading