My take-away.

18 Oct

“What was your biggest take-away today?” was the question he asked me.

We were at the happy hour following Public Media Camp on Saturday, and I was talking to @digiphile about the day behind us. I have a propensity to answer questions with either brevity, bluntness and clarity of thought that can be shockingly specific, or to wend my way through terrain that you’d never think would lead back to an answer; yet it does. For Alex/@digiphile, I chose the latter. Essentially, it’s this —

The first session I attended at the camp was about the relationship between traditional public media (the NPRs and PBS-es of America, for example) and new media: the bloggers, twitterers, YouTube content generators, and so forth. I arrived while the session was in process and felt immediately that I was in the middle of a culture war. I know this battle. Lived it. Strategized in it. Been frustrated by it. Been vilified. Been exalted. The whole kit-n-caboodle. And, I know it deeply from a generational theory perspective as well.

Within minutes of being in the room, a woman a bit older than me and from the traditional media side of things said, (paraphrasing, I am), “Well, once WE set the standards of what we’ll accept from citizen journalists, then we can work with them.” A well-established blogger in DC, without skipping a beat and with passion in his heart, informed her, “We don’t want to volunteer for you. We want to be in partnership with you.”

And that’s when I had my ah-hah. My take-away, so to speak. See, GenXers (born 1961-1981) have been the junior gen to Boomers (born 1943-1960) since the day they arrived. Boomers– while they typically don’t see this in themselves or their gen — are turf squatters, and believe that if they’ve sat long enough on turf, it’s theirs, dammit. GenXers (the Nomad generation in archetypal language) grows up and moves through young adulthood deeply understanding that there just isn’t any room for them at the table. So, the skill set most GenXers develop is to find ways around obstacles, fortresses, dysfunctional systems, calcified processes.

As social media has ascended, and more GenXers than any other generation have embraced the tools (there’s a reason for this, but that’s another convo), the GenXers have been banging on Boomer doors (traditional media, in this case), saying, “Hey! Hey, listen, there’s some really interesting stuff happening over here.” But most Boomers/traditional institution leaders have continued to treat GenXers as they’ve known them as young adults: the temp worker/slacker/lackeys to whom they pushed off the onerous tasks of dealing with complexities and icky details. They (the Boomers) continue to see themselves as King of the Hill, even while things are changing radically.

** I’m intentionally being big and — even gross — with my generalizations for story-telling here, k? **

When the PubCamp blogger said emphatically to the well-paid, entrenched traditional media lady — who was assuming that a blogger would want to volunteer under her organization’s terms of providing content, “We don’t want to volunteer for you. We want to be in partnership with you,” I knew then that the tides had shifted.

The shift is a subtle one. And it’s bigger than most entrenched leaders in traditional media, corporate America or government organizations probably understand. The shift is that GenXers have moved away from asking for attention and respect, vis-a-vis their ideas/visions/Web 2.0 activity and problem-solving and are moving on, with or without the institutions. Like I said, it’s a subtle shift. But mark my words, it’s happened.  (The subtle but huge things are what I tend to notice.) GenXers are offering Boomers a last chance for partnership and the opportunity to be involved and engaged. Boomers who continue to think as though they still are in control (even if they are by title), and who think that from that titular control they will set the rules without treating GenXers as partners, well … they will be marginalized. Not because GenXers want to marginalize Boomers, but because the time is now to collaborate and to allow new leadership and perspectives to have equal, if not greater, sway in going forward.

So, my take-away: the shift has occurred. Now, it’s only a matter of observing it. It’s not personal. It’s not violent or aggressive. It’s a natural order of change and development. GenXers across America will do well to step into the leadership that is right and particular to them. Boomers will do well to release their grip and their assumption that because they’ve sat on turf for decades it is theirs in perpetuity. As GenXers transform from being isolated and alienated and as Boomers transform from wanting the first and last say on operational details, the rate of change and development is going to accelerate even faster than things have been moving for the last several years.

And to any Boomers who have a hard time with this, let me clue you in: We have the pressure of Millennials behind us. We’re not just asking you to move over. We’re moving on with or without you because we have to. A generation is behind us, itching to move forward as well.

Rock on, beautiful people, rock on.


And, no, I didn’t proofread or fact check my article.


21 Responses to “My take-away.”

  1. Tom Bridge October 19, 2009 at 7:14 am #

    Rock on, Jessie. Some of this is a bit of a cultural misconnect between communities that have existed for a long time, and disruptive communities like ours at We Love DC. We do want partnerships, but the other big takeaway is we’re doing pretty well without them. That’s the benefit of being part of the disruption.

    Very nice to meet you and talk with you this weekend.

  2. John Boyle October 19, 2009 at 10:01 am #

    Sounds like it was an interesting program. What did they say about the idea of the trained reporter vs. the citizen journalist? Generational issues are a big deal, but to me, the journalism-as-a-profession issue goes hand in hand.

  3. Tish Grier October 19, 2009 at 10:27 am #

    I got here from a link on Facebook via my friend Andy Carvin….and all I can say is wow! you really *got* it!

    I’m one of those GenX’er early adopters who started as a “professional blogger” and now work as an independent social media strategist (in other words, I don’t work with a firm.) I’ve been part of that knocking on doors/finding a new way to do things, and have had the door slammed in my face a time or two by Boomers….only later to see Boomers turn to Millenials and look upon them as if they, barely out of college, will fix all the problems inherent in the total paradigm shift going on in today’s media.

    Overall, your observations are spot on…as the shift keeps going, the GenX’ers, who will have the experience of both the old ways and the new ways, will move things forward. We can promote understanding of new ways among Boomers, and help the Millenials understand some of those underlying cultural things of big business that will probably never change. And even though things are a struggle, they sure are exciting!

  4. @jmproffitt October 19, 2009 at 12:02 pm #

    I knew I’d like you the moment I found you on Twitter. 😉

    You’ve nailed it. For me, it’s clear the Boomers aren’t going to quit or die. They aren’t going to let GenX participate or share, except under Boomer “control.” But in the media space, control is no longer an option.

    I think what was interesting in my session on creating an online space for public media (new media / social media) tech nerds was the discussion about how, whatever we do, the project can’t be organized to NPR, PBS or any other major station or network — we have to create the space for ourselves; the space has to be hosted by and for the community itself. Sure, we may take Boomer money down the road (CPB, others), but first we have to set up our community on our terms, for the good of the community, not to hand power over to those that already have too much.

    (And I think I know who you’re talking about in that session, even though I didn’t attend that one. Nearly every word out of her mouth made me cringe — everything was about control, image, power, politics and top-down thinking. Classic.)

  5. Alex Howard October 19, 2009 at 12:22 pm #

    One of my favorite conversations all weekend.

  6. Brendan O'Connor October 19, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

    As one of the “millennials” behind you, I will just agree emphatically with your points here. We are unwilling to tolerate this mindset from people who fundamentally don’t understand the world in which we’ve been raised– and that applies in a variety of fields, including not just partnerships like you’re describing, but also more traditional employer-employee relationships. What’s the point of working for an employer that’s fundamentally dying from a lack of perspective?

  7. Cephas Bowles October 19, 2009 at 1:50 pm #

    Interesting post! As a baby boomer, who is trying to understand the changing world in which I live, I now understand Gen X’s frustrations with my generation. Most boomers aren’t ego-driven maniacs. We want to do the right thing and to be part of the rapidly-changing landscape. A boomer issue, however, is that we aren’t ready, or, in some cases, able, to leave the workplace or the positions of responsibility that we now hold. The challenge is to determine how to work with everyone within the current and future work force, develop the next generation of leadership and grow our respective enterprises for the good of society.

    • JessieX October 26, 2009 at 12:18 am #

      Thanks, Cephas. I totally agree with you that your generation wants to do the right thing. And that many of you aren’t ready/able to leave the workplace. However, that doesn’t mean you get to hold your leadership positions in a world that’s shifting. If anything, your GenX colleagues have been most likely imploring you to develop. (I’m using “you” as a representative of your generation, and don’t mean this particularly and exclusively to you as an individual.) Your GenX colleagues have been telling you and your Boomer colleagues that things they are-a-shifting. But, the Boomer clan in jobs, hasn’t wanted to move over. Guess what: that doesn’t mean the world stood still while you were holding on to the ownership of power. (Again, speaking to the gen, not you, per se.)

      But here’s where I will speak to you as an individual. I cringe when I hear Boomers talk about “developing the next generation of leadership.” Yo, all you have to do is open your eyes. There are 81 million GenXers, larger than any other gen. (Boomers come in at 64 mil.) We are, as a generation, 28-48 years old in 2009. Just open your eyes and move out of the way. Not “go away,” but move out of the way. There’s a difference. The leaders for this era and “these times” exist and are ready. They are your GenX colleagues and GenXers who’ve only been offered temp/contract work over the years while you got used to your salary. I doubt you think about GenXers much. That’s ok. We don’t expect it. But it’s myth and inaccurate to say we need to “develop the next gen of leadership.” That’s Boomer speak for screw-the-genxers-and-let’s give the big jobs to millennials. And you wonder why there’s generational angst. We know you don’t mean it or mean to be so dismissive. But the Boomer gen has had a nose-high-in-the-air attitude toward GenXers, and there just isn’t time anymore for our generation to wait for your generation to understand. It’s time for Boomers to get curious. To ask. To inquire. To listen. The solutions that will take us through The Crisis will come mostly from GenXers in this era. That’s the cycle, the rhythm, the way.

      • @jmproffitt October 26, 2009 at 12:31 am #

        I’ve mentioned I love you, right? 😉

        The leadership thing makes me cringe every time I hear it from Boomers.

        Every time I’ve taken initiative and developed my leadership skills and experience, I run into Boomer walls at every turn. Boomers have created elaborate hoops through which I’m expected to jump for what I can only assume is both their entertainment and their protection. For as long as I’m jumping through imaginary hoops, they can keep me out of leadership at their level.

        The worst Boomer sabotage I ever experienced was being handed a team of 11 people for whom I was the “team lead” but not the manager. I was handed all the responsibility of managing the team but none of the authority to take action or reach established goals. It was supremely frustrating and it took me several months to figure out just what was wrong: I’d been handed an impossible task. I was trusted to take blame, but not responsibility.

        So yeah — we’re already leaders. And the thing Boomers need to understand is that we will never — NEVER — be like them. We will behave differently, work differently and gravitate toward different rewards. That doesn’t mean we don’t lead. We just lead differently.

  8. Steve Fisher October 19, 2009 at 2:05 pm #

    You are awesome. I know if I was in the room I would have probably asked her when she was going to retire and her answer would have probably been…”never”.

    I know that my fellow Gen-X’ers are tired of getting squeezed out of things. It is why we transformed from slackers in the early 1990’s to creating the largest amount of wealth in history with commercializing the Internet.

    We are doing it again along with the Millenial generation in this newer “Social Web” era of the Internet.

    Don’t mandate to us. Either partner with us, work with us, hire us to succeed you or get the hell out of the way….

  9. andy carvin October 19, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

    Great post, Jessie; like others have said, I think you nailed it.

    Having said that, what I found most interesting about this debate was that this seemed to be the only place it played out in the entire camp – unless I was just lucky/unluck to miss it or blissfully ignorant in all the sessions I attended. Despite the fact I was co-organizing the camp, I was able to attend a session in every time slot, and my experience was one of extraordinary openness on the parts of both public media staff and the general public to work together. I wonder if the most vocal on this particular debate just happened to attract to that one session like a lightning rod.

    Did anyone else sense this tension elsewhere in Pubcamp, or did it only play out in this one session? Because if it was there more broadly, I totally missed it.

    • JessieX October 26, 2009 at 12:24 am #

      andy, the point i was aiming for is that there are deep generational patterns. public media is but one arena where this dynamic of shifting roles and generational leadership styles is happening. just one. i thought the camp was most awesome. thx again for all you do/done/did.

  10. D.C. Hughes October 19, 2009 at 7:35 pm #

    Saavik: “Admiral, may I ask you a question?”
    Kirk: “What’s on your mind, Lieutenant?”
    Saavik: “The Kobayashi Maru, sir.”
    Kirk: “Are you asking me if we’re playing out that scenario now?”
    Saavik: “On the test, sir. Will you tell me what you did? I would really like to know.”
    McCoy: “Lieutenant, you are looking at the only Starfleet cadet who ever beat the no-win scenario.”
    Saavik: “How?”
    Kirk: “I reprogrammed the simulation so it was possible to rescue the ship.”
    Saavik: “What?”
    David Marcus: “He cheated.”
    Kirk: “I changed the conditions of the test. I got a commendation for original thinking. I don’t like to lose.”
    –Star Trek II: TWOK

  11. D.C. Hughes October 19, 2009 at 7:47 pm #

    “Mon centre cède, impossible de me mouvoir, situation excellente, j’attaque”
    –Ferdinand Foch, Marshall of France

  12. ecogordo October 19, 2009 at 9:51 pm #

    so Buddha and a monk went down to the river where an old women was asking for help to cross to the other side. and the monk said, oh no, a monk can not touch a woman. but Buddha put the woman on his back and carried her across the river. noticing that the monk was disturbed, Buddha asked the monk what was wrong. the monk responded, Buddha you know we have taken vows not to touch women. yes brother, Buddha responded, I took the woman across the river, then I put her down. you, however, are still carrying her. good on you, jess.

  13. Leslie Poston October 19, 2009 at 11:30 pm #

    You are ever insightful 🙂

  14. Lisa October 20, 2009 at 3:09 pm #

    Jessie — your point about the generational differences reminded me of a comment in a TED presentation by Majora Carter, a noted environmental justice activist.

    “I asked [Mr. Gore] how environmental activists were going to be included in his new marketing strategy [for his climate change work]. His response was a grant program. I don’t think he understood that I was asking for funding. I was making him an offer.”

    • vectorjess October 20, 2009 at 5:05 pm #

      Bummer about Gore. Supposedly, he considered at one point, Neil Howe & William Strauss’s book, Generations, to be:

      “Former Vice President Al Gore—who graduated from Harvard University with Mr. Strauss—called Generations the most stimulating book on American history he’d ever read. He even sent a copy to each member of Congress.”

      • Lisa October 21, 2009 at 8:59 am #

        Well, Majora did get to serve on Gore’s board so I think she made a deep impression on him. He was in the audience when she made the presentation, which is, btw, terrific. But the attitudinal chasm in their initial conversations was remarkable (he — offering top-down, we’ll give you money solutions; she offering to partner).

  15. Lisa October 20, 2009 at 3:10 pm #

    I wasn’t asking for funding…I mean 🙂

  16. Lorne October 27, 2009 at 12:13 am #

    I’m going to go against the grain here: I think the difference being discussed is not so much generational, as organizational. People will tend to develop the same attitudes when put into the same organizations; bureaucracies have their own natural laws and have evolved their own survival traits. Granted that less hierarchical, more nimble organizations may topple them from dominance, but once those nimble organizations grow, they have to deal with the same problems of scale as their predecessors, and the same organizational traits will emerge. I have yet to see a nimble organization survive as such over two business cycles, and I’d have to think, but maybe not even one.

    I understand that Boomers, GenX, etc. may be characterized on the whole by the kinds of traits developed in organizations dominant in those periods. But to me, generalizing things by temporal human generations is an improper focus. Better to look at the procession of the generations of organizations to get a predictive ability, instead of just a historical perspective.

    A friend and I some time ago developed an idea for a triptych of films, which could be described as The Startup, The Organization, and The Bureaucracy (we had snappier names…). They formed a closed loop, so you could start watching anywhere, and as one inevitably led to the next, eventually you’d get back to where you started.

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