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WISDOM REQUIRES LETTING GO

What do we lose by continually cramming more data into our brains? Most of us are doing that these days, and perhaps Gen Y/Millennials most of all since it is a hallmark of their education.

Let’s look at the contrarian view: How we gain by subtracting.

Matthew E. May, author of “The Law of Subtraction: 6 Simple Rules for Winning in the Age of Excess Everything,” quoted the teaching of 2,500 year old Chinese philosophy Lao Tsu. “To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day. Profit comes from what is there, usefulness from what is not there.”

In support Mays quoted management guru and author Jim Collins: “It is in the discipline to discard what does not fit – to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort – that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or, most important of all, a life.”

Mays’ advice as given in the New York Times Preoccupations column (1/20/13) in a nutshell is to:

  1. Create a prioritized list of your goals and your projects and tasks.
  2. Create a “to do” list referring to the first list and eliminate the bottom 20% of the items entirely – he says forwever.
  3. Ask all the stakeholders in your life that matter to you what they would like you to stop doing.

Mays says when you remove the right things in the right way “good things happen.”

To really simplify and achieve this you need the stakeholders’ perspective. It’s best not to rely only on your own assumptions. It’s hard for us to let go of ideas, “bright shiny objects” that distract us ,and no longer useful to us activities and involvements. I confess to being guilty of that hardship.

Does this approach feel like a relief or threat to you?  Please comment and also share your experiences with trying to subtract from your work and life.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot   www.pdcounsel.com

A GENERATION’S WORLDVIEW FROM THE CAMPUS

A new book based on surveys from 2006-2011 of undergraduates and student affairs officials on 270 U.S. college campuses, “Generation on a Tightrope: A Portrait of Today’s College Student,” fills in some new details and reinforces the presence of attributes we have recognized for a while regarding Gen Y/Millennials. Given the years cited, the data focuses on the younger half of this generation.

The book was written by Arthur Levine, former president of Columbia Teachers’ College and now president of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, with Diane R. Deane. Dr. Levine related key findings of the surveys in an interview in the New York Times Book Review (November 4, 2012).

He mentioned the 4 most key events in this cohort’s lives in order of significance, some of which were surprising to him:

  1. The advent of digital culture
  2. The economy
  3. 9/11
  4. The election of President Obama

About the pervasive integration of digital culture, one student said, “It is only technology if it happened after you were born.”  But I think it’s important to note that it’s not a matter or tremendous tech savvy. Generation Y has been raised with technology and its members are referred to as “digital natives” or “tech dependant” (which is different from “tech-savvy”. Gen Y is not necessarily tech-savvy, as they tend to want their technology to be as simple and straightforward as possible). They want to integrate technology into all aspects of their lives, including work.

Here are the Gen Y/Millennial attributes Dr. Levine cites from the surveys.

  • Pragmatic – They view the primary purpose of education as “to get a good job and make money” rather than following their passion or Milton Eisenhower’s (former president of Johns Hopkins) advice that an undergraduate major teaches you how to learn, and that’s most important.
  • Diversity mindset – They strongly favor diversity, and they tend to favor the same celebrities and public figures as a group.
  • Optimistic about themselves, but pessimistic about the future of the U.S. They were always told they were great and expect grade inflation and praise.
  • A great fear of failure. They haven’t been taught to expect to fail, and resilience is lacking. They feel the pressure of expectations that they will succeed.
  • In constant touch with their parents, and they call on parents to help with any difficulties and questions. Parents are heroes to many of them – and that would seem to put pressure on parents to overdo attention.
  • Don’t know how to have intimate relationships or crucial personal conversations. Social life tends to be either in groups or a series of hook-ups.

Dr. Levine gives Gen Yers’ strengths as: digital skills; interest in global issues; and dealing better with diversity than generations before them.

In my follow up post, I will give some thoughts and questions on what this all means.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com 

 

A NEW GENERATIONAL LABEL: “THE HESITATION GENERATION”

 In his June 21, 2012 HBR blog post Daniel Gulati dubs the approximately 25-34 year old cohort the “hesitation generation,” an expanding class of talented individuals who inadvertently are training themselves to be systematically indecisive.” He says they’ve been taught “to carefully weigh alternatives and pick the path with the highest expected utility.”

As Barry Schwartz explained in his book The Paradox of Choice the more choices the more stressful and difficult to make a decision and the less satisfied with the choice. Social media multiplies the problem because we are able to compare endlessly, solicit numerous opinions and second-guess our choices.

The 25-34 year olds from top-tier schools and work experience Gulati interviewed for his new book Passion & Purpose ranked as the #1 reason for choosing a job, intellectual stimulation. That was a requirement they sought and easily switched employers to find. Many just defer making career decisions. Gulati says generating options can quickly become an end in itself. As a result, “Some of the most talented individuals in the world find themselves stuck in an unending holding pattern, a professional gray zone housing those who have the most options of all and have failed to convert any of them for fear of missing out on all others,” wrote Gulati.

By his own admission, Gulati drew these conclusions from a sample of dozens, hardly a scientific sample or a significant size pool. Apparently he saw some patterns he considers significant.

Add the broader statistics regarding young people returning to their parents’ home in their 20s and delaying marriage and parenting, and perhaps the “Hesitation Generation” label has some validity for some of the Gen Y/Millennials cohort. They have been told to do what they are passionate about. Many may be searching for passion, but not everyone feels passion early on or sometimes, ever.  Or is a desire for options and more learning to keep ourselves marketable a reaction to the times? Desire for options and flexibility has been a typical attribute of Generation X since they entered the world of work in another bad recession and having witnessed the historical employer-employee social contract being ripped to sheds.

Feeling purpose in one’s work, feeling one has a purpose, is very important to career and personal satisfaction. (The young orphan in the recent film “Hugo” talks of everything and everyone having a purpose.) But it may not necessarily go hand in hand with passion or perfection.

My personal experience with people in the 25-34 age group (many in a similar privileged category as Gulati’s interviewees and many not) has been largely positive, but I do recognize some of the symptoms that Gulati talks about and have read much about it.

What are your thoughts on this? Is the “hesitation generation” simply a manifestation of the new life stage between adolescence and adulthood called “enduring adolescence” or “emerging adulthood”? Or is it something else?

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

 

ARE WE FLEEING FROM CONVERSATION? Is it generational?

The Flight from Conversation” by Sherry Turkle, her opinion piece in the New York Times Sunday Review, suggests that our connectedness to and by electronic gadgets have changed “not only what we do, but who we are.” I had the privilege of meeting and hearing Turkle speak at the Renaissance Weekend in Charleston, SC in December 2011 on this and related subjects. She claims that people are alone together. “We have gotten used to the idea of being in a tribe of one.”

Some examples from Turkle you may relate to:

“We want to go to a meeting but pay attention only to what interests us.”

“Young people who have grown up fearing conversation show up on the job wearing earphones.” Turkle told of a partner at a Boston law firm who described a scene of associates in his office who come in and lay out their “suite of technologies: laptops, iPads and multiple phones. Next they proceed to put on a pair of large earphones. It’s like pilots in their cockpits. There is a silence that suggests they don’t want to be disturbed.

It’s not just enjoying the use of tech toys. Social media, e-mail and texting enable us to present ourselves as we would like to be, which may not be how we are, observes Turkle. We can edit, create avatars, perfect photos. We can clean up messy and demanding human relationships with technology.

Turkle says “sips” of online connection (all of which have their place) don’t add up to a big gulp of real conversation and don’t add up to really knowing each other. Nuance is missing. It’s dumbed down, like watching only cable news headlines. And lack of conversation translates to missing development of self-reflection skills, so we are cheating ourselves as well.

Turkle gave some examples of how some people are seemingly desperate for someone to listen to them but seek out Siri (on Apple’s iPhone) or some other surrogate for the person they really should be conversing with because it’s more comfortable. “We expect more from technology and less from one another and seem increasingly drawn to technologies that provide the illusion of companionship without the demands of relationship,” wrote Turkle.

“I am a partisan of conversation,” she wrote. “To make room for it I see some first deliberate steps.”  She goes on to suggest ways to create device-free rules, times and spaces at home, work and vacation. “Most of all, we need to remember to listen to each other, even the boring bits, because it is often in unedited moments, moments in which we hesitate and stutter and go silent, that we reveal ourselves to one another,” Turkle stated.

We tend to associate constant electronic communication and being tethered to those gadgets with the youngest generations. Is that actually true? Haven’t older workers caught the fever too? Are they fleeing from real conversation?

Clearly I sympathize with Turkle’s view since the Cross-Generational Conversation group I started and moderate on Linkedin is one conscious attempt to get people of different generations conversing and sharing their perspectives. (Do check it out!)

But is the situation quite as bad as she points out, and how far can we modify the current habits? Here are some questions that come to mind:

  • What would motivate people to adopt device-free actions that Turkle suggests? (in meetings, at home, on vacations, in cars)
  • Are electronic connections keeping us from connecting emotionally?
  • Are many of us avoiding the messiness of relationships and self-reflection in a delusionary effort to seek perfection?
  • Is Turkle’s view an over-reaction?
  • What other questions does this issue raise for you?

Please comment and share your thoughts.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

 

GENERATIONAL IMPLICATIONS OF “ACCORDION FAMILIES”

A new book, “The Accordion Family” by sociologist Katherine S. Newman of Johns Hopkins University, recently reviewed in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, tells us that a higher proportion of adult children now live with parents than at any other time since the 1950s. Why now? Obviously the debilitating economy’s affect on jobs for young workers – either unemployed or underemployed for their credentials – has something to do with it. And there is a socio-economic aspect too.  Newman writes that “working class kids do not boomerang back into the family home”…. “Like their Spanish or Italian counterparts,” it’s a part of their culture not to leave the family home until later in life.”  But those factors are not the whole story.

While young adults from the 1960s through the 1990s were eager to get out and live on their own, a significant number in the last decade or so see advantages to staying or returning to their parents’ home, and there is less of a stigma for doing so. This is a cultural change with implications for work, family and values in general.

Culturally, now Americans tend to see early adulthood as  “a process of self-discovery,” while Europeans see it as “a station defined by the way one relates to others.” In the U.S., parents and children of the Gen Y/Millennial generation and youngest Gen Xers have closer relationships than ever in past history. Newman cites a survey finding that 78% of American parents of 21 year olds say they feel close to their child; only about 25% of their own parents say the same.

And let’s not forget the financial pressure of student debt on young adults and parents.

Newman’s focus is not on implications for the workplace, but mine is. So what can we extrapolate for inter-generational relations at work?

  • First the bad news. “Helicopter parenting” may not soon fade away like a bad dream. Some parents may continue to try to influence job offers and performance evaluations.
  • Young adults will have greater latitude in working long hours and devoting time to professional development with parental support, so they can be continuing learners in their early careers.
  • Young adults may actually listen to parents’ career advice and regard them as mentors and coaches. This can be helpful if not overdone.
  • They may learn networking skills from parents who are active networkers.
  • Gen Y workers are likely to have greater respect for older workers’ knowledge and experience and empathy for them as the “sandwich generation” as they face the need to care for elderly parents.

Please comment and share your thoughts on the impact Gen Y/Millennials’ living with parents longer will have on the world of work.  I’d love to hear from you.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

 

 

FREEDMAN’S “THE BIG SHIFT”: MORE THAN BOOMER REINVENTION FANTASY

Marc Freedman, founder of Civic Ventures’ most recent book, “The Big Shift: Navigating the New Stage Beyond Midlife,” deals with the newly defined phase of life between midlife and old age. He calls it the encore phase, rejecting “young old” and “working retired” labels as unsatisfactory and inaccurate.

My side note: Interestingly, another phase of life has been identified in relatively recent years as well between adolescence and adulthood, but it is not referred to in the book. It is known either as emerging adulthood or enduring adolescence. I mention it because together the two phases illustrate how the lifecycle is stretching out not only in years, but also diversifying, presenting complexities, challenges and opportunities we all need to understand. The big shift is even shiftier than Marc Freedman contemplates.

But back to his focus on the post-midlife shift. Freedman does an excellent job of describing the oxymoronic nature of this stage in great detail: “A World Out of Whack,” as one of the chapters is titled…”individuals are thrown into an identity chasm”… “myth of Boomer reinvention.”  Freedman sees the “reinvention fantasy” as part of the problem. He sees the “obsolescence of much of what’s accepted as hard reality by many economists and demographers of today.”

Currently, social entrepreneur Freedman says,” the transition from midlife to this new encore stage is a do-it-yourself project with little guidance, few role models, and scarce resources.” Imagine the windfall of talent that could result, he says, helping carry us toward a new generation of solutions for growing problems in areas like education, the environment and health care.

Freedman advocates for a new map of life and how to navigate it. Boomers will not deal with their 60s and 70s as generations before, both given their fitness and their mindsets. He is optimistic that this encore stage can be characterized by “purpose, contribution, and commitment, particularly to the well being of future generations.” (I am sure the skeptical Gen Xers and Yers will be glad to see that happen.)

Freedman lays out 10 possibilities for translating opportunity to large-scale fruition. The missing piece is where the funding and institutional fortitude to make it a reality will come from. He is hoping his imaginative and inspirational ideas will attract the attention and resources.

Marc Freedman is not only an important and articulate voice, he is a doer. And with a fortunate alignment of the stars and a great deal of effort, it might happen.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot       www.pdcounsel.com

 

 

TRANSITIONING & BEHAVIORAL ECONOMICS

I attended a fascinating presentation and discussion today on how we make decisions, particularly ones that affect us financially, sponsored by Citron Cooperman CPAs. The presenters were Delia Marshall and Yvette Wynn from BNY Mellon Wealth Management. Behavioral economics is growing in interest and credibility. Related are neuroeconomics and neuro-marketing based on scientific studies of brain function which have become possible with the medical technology existing today.

Marshall spoke about the studies which are revolutionizing our thinking and proving that decision-making is more emotional than rational, governed by the biological "fight or flight" response. Most people may be biologically wired not to want to delay gratification. Brain imaging results are being integrated into advertising.

This means we have to make extra efforts to be mindful and reflective before making decisions that may go against our best interests, especially financially. Emotions can be very good things, of course. In decision-making we need to be aware of the role of emotions and what we are feeling at the time so that we can make reasoned decisions.

Among the resources Marshall recommneded to learn more on these topics are: Jason Zweig's book "Your Money & Your Brain" (Simon & Shuster 2007) and "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler, and Cass Sunstein (Yale University Press 2008).

Accepting this brain science.and realizing what is going on in our brains we can choose to be purposefullyly reflective rather than reflexive at times that really matter - when it comes to retirement and transitioning planning, for example. Be aware of  ways the fear of loss of professional identity (in the "Personal Bucket") or no longer feeling as valued as before by colleagues is influencing decisions about transitioning clients to and mentoring younger colleagues.. Avoid having reflexive behavior hinder getting what is really important to you and your legacy.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot     www.pdcounsel.com

BE PREPARED: PERSONAL TRANSITIONING

Some of the most difficult transitions are personal ones, including confronting the inevitable. It is a generational transition as well. Planning way ahead maximizes the control you can exert and prevents and relieves a lot of stress on family. Yet, given the strong emotional factors involved, people put off planning , getting documents in order, consulting health, financial, legal and other advisers and communicating their most personal thoughts and wishes. Rationally, we know we are not immortal, but many of us act as if we are.

To the rescue, popular and highly respected New York Times Personal Health columnist Jane Brody has put all you need to think about and discuss into a heartfelt book, her latest, "Jane Brody's Guide to the Great Beyond" (Random House 2009). It is subtitled " A Practical Primer to Help You and Your Loved Ones Prepare Medically, Legally, and Emotionally for the End of Life." While this is clearly a serious subject, it is written with her light touch and includes several New Yorker cartoons.

Brody describes herself as "a staunch advocate of a healthy life filled with nutritious food and regular exercise designed to help people live life as fully as possible."  She explains and gives examples of how planning and preparing helps people live as well as possible and experience comfort and joy right up till the end. Thoroughly researched, there are so many options spelled out, many most of us would never have known about.

I highly recommnend you get your copy and digest and follow it as early as you can. Use it as a jumping off point for sensitive and honest communications with your adult children and with your parents, depending on where you fall on the generational spectrum.

We never know what is around the corner for us whether regarding work or personal matters. "Be prepared" is not just for Boy Scouts. When we have done and communicated all we can, we can rest easier for possibly many decades to come.

Phyllis Weiss Haserot    www.pdcounsel.com

RELATED RESOURCES

Here are a few website/blogs and books you may want to check out on Baby Boomers and non-traditional retirement planning:

http://www.nabbw.com National Association of Baby Boomer Women

http://www.thenewretirement.net  “The New Retirement”   - book

REINVENTION: STRUCTURE, STIMULATION, WORK THAT MATTERS

The forecast that many Baby Boomers will be living into their 90s is good news (except for maybe the need for financial planning to support us until age 90 or more) if we can continue to thrive with personally meaningful and enjoyable pursuits and "work." This "work that matters" can be similar to or different from one's major career or current work; ideally, as Jane Brody points out in her New York Times Personal Health column (July 8, 2008) "In Act 2 of Life, Doing Work That Matters," it should fulfill personal desires such as long-postponed activities, provide better work/life "balance" and enable you to make money while doing something you love.

Brody cites two books:

Continue reading "REINVENTION: STRUCTURE, STIMULATION, WORK THAT MATTERS" »

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