Towards a new World of We?

new world of we

Common interest versus personal interest

Have you noticed? There’s an evolution towards a “new world of we”. That’s a world where common interest comes before personal interest. Increasingly people are disapproving behaviours that go against the general interest. Even more, people are uniting to build new meaningful connections in which the general interest is dominant. Three examples illustrate this evolution. (1) The idea of the cooperative enterprise is back. (2) The past years have seen also collective action like the Indignados and Occupy Wall Street. But this has weakened. (3) And under public pressure governments are limiting certain practices that are at the origin of the 2008 financial crisis. These are interesting evolutions in a society that has focussed on individualism as basis for it organisation.

The old world of me

The new world of we is based on the (1) universal need to belong to something bigger and the need for togetherness and (2) on the increasing resentment of how the behaviour of some has changed the lives of many, for the worse.
Don’t be mistaken. The causes of the crisis lie also with the many, not only with the few. We as a society have taken many things for granted: cheap textile, cheap food, cheap consumer electronics, housing, two cars, consumption of social security benefits … Our entire society has been built on the idea of producing and consuming more and on earning more to be able to buy more stuff we don’t really need. We have come to define our happiness and even our identity on material expressions of ourselves instead of spiritual and social expressions. In the process we have lost connectivity and spirituality defined as belonging to a system, a community. Our society has become obsessed with growth instead of sustainable prosperity, possession instead of well-being, rights instead of duties. And there is this tremendous pressure to be successful, defined as being better and having more than the other. This competitive definition of identity is the core of the old world of me.
So my question is if this evolution towards a new world of we means that our behaviour is fundamentally changing. How many people are prepared to let go of some of the nice and comfortable (sedative?) characteristics of the old world of me? Does the new world of we mean that we are approaching a state of interdependence, in which ancient values of human kindness, compassion, ecological grounding, … will conquer greed?

The new world of we

The new world of we is not a world without differences. It’s one of equality. It’s not one of uniformity, but of diversity. It’s not a world of exclusion, but of inclusion. It’s not a world of anonymity, but of accountability. It’s not a world of indifference, but of tolerance and respect. It’s not a grey world, but a world full of colorful patterns. The new world of we is a world where people – citizens, employees, … – join in order to make things happen no one can do alone. It’s a world where people give before taking and cannot hide within a maze of public systems. It’s a world in which meaningfulness is the driving force.
The thought of coöperation and doing things that serve the general interest might be stronger than we think. It’s a matter of togetherness. Could it be a part of our natural reflexes?
If this is the case, how is it possible that the old world of me has become so strong? I guess we have been inspired by personal gains and not by collective gains. We have developed value systems that fostered egocentric behaviour. We have been idealizing personal success and independence above collective well-being, progress and prosperity. We might have underestimated the need for integration and inclusiveness and overestimated the cohesive capacity of society.

There is no society?

Margaret Thatcher allegedly said :

There is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.

This sentence has been taken out of context. She said also something else:

There is living tapestry of men and women and people and the beauty of that tapestry and the quality of our lives will depend upon how much each of us is prepared to take responsibility for ourselves and each of us prepared to turn round and help by our own efforts those who are unfortunate.

I agree with that quote as much as I disagree with many other things that she has said and done. And I disagree with the statement that society does not exist. What is lacking in her definition is the “togetherness”.
For generations we have not taken full accountability of the consequences of our behaviour and we have burdoned future generations in order to enjoy many current pleasures. Sloterdijk calls this “futurism”. But let’s not forget, this futurism has been the basis of the material prosperity of many. It has also allowed companies to attract funds needed for research and development, innovation. But we have created a society that focuses on immediate pleasure, to be obtained by individual and competitive action. Moreover this is combined with a focus on entitlement: my flexibility, my rights, my prerogatives, … The idea of personal obligation towards the other has waned. So we are in bad shape.

Differences

The new world of we still allows for individual initiative and success. It applauds people who take on endeavours that create value. The new world of we allows for differences between people, but not for unjust inequality. The new world of we defines justice as fairness, like John Rawls did. It has no tolerance for people who ruthlessly take advantage of others. And it has compassion for those who are weaker. It has no tolerance for those who abuse social care systems or who do not put their talent into action.
But I am skeptical. The current model of the world is not that of interdependency but of independency. Looking at what made the West into the example for so many nations and cultures, Niall Ferguson, defined six killer apps: competition, science, property, modern medicine, consumerism and work ethic. Some of these killer apps are now causing the western world to break up. Competition has been the basis for progress in science, innovation, … but it has led to very destructive behaviours as well. Consumerism has led to a certain kind of prosperity but it is based on growth and depletion of natural resources and ecological devastation. And the problem is, that we cannot easily stop.
The new world of we might be the answer to many of the problems that humanity is facing. But there is one issue. We have to step in that new world together. And there’s the challenge. If we cannot evolve together towards a state of interdependency, and if we continue to excessively value independency and competitiveness above the social aspect of humanity, we shall not make it. The new world of we will be based on coöperation and togetherness. But like the sociologist Richard Sennet says in his book Together, coöperation is a skill. It takes an effort. And not everyone has the talent for it. The superficial communities of the web are caricatures of what the new world of we could be.

Interdependent companies in the World of We

Companies suffer from the old world of me. In times of networking, co-creation and intertwined economic processes the behavior linked to this old world is potentially harmful. Companies can join the new world of we by

  • involving employees more than ever; by focussing on what connects people.
  • creating policies that foster inclusion of people, employability, …;
  • developing practices of corporate social responsibility that are more than mere ethical window dressing or social tourism;
  • getting involved in local communities;
  • sharing know-how with people through networking, buddy-systems, open systems;
  • offering chances to people who have maybe a less privileged background and a difficult access to work;
  • focussing on the long-term and sustainable development and not the short-term maximisation …;
  • joining networks that have a common purpose that exceeds the company’s interests;
  • focussing on the personal accountability in a collective context.

Even with this new focus on the common, attention needs to be given to the person. By providing a context that enables people to experience professional and personal success, companies also contribute to the new world of we. Success must be meaningful. And what’s important: by focussing on togetherness and interdependence, companies will develop a sustainable competitive advantage.
Dialogue
In all this dialogue is crucial.  It’s a choice.
 
 
 
 
Reading
Fergusson, N (2012). The West and the Rest. London, Penguin Books.
Senett, R. (2012). Together. The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation. Yale, University Press.
Sloterdijk, P. (2012) interview in De Groene Amsterdammer.
Thatcher, M. (1987). http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=106689

Fear and faith, excellent Allies.

Fear and FaithTough social times

Belgium is going through tough social times. November and December have been particularly intense in terms of manifestations and strikes. And it may not be over yet.
Union leaders say that people are very worried and afraid for all the (possible) consequences of the government’s intentions. They say it was not really difficult to mobilize their members to strike. Union members are – according to the union leadership – very ready to strike.
I fully respect the worries and emotions of people but I doubt whether strike is the proper solution. We’re not going to solve that in a blog. But the aspect of fear occupied my mind this week.

Fear

Why are people afraid ? Is it fear that drives them into striking ? Why don’t they have faith ? Faith that using other ways (e.g. dialogue instead of strike) will lead to better solutions ?
And if there isn’t any faith or trust left between unions and government, how has it come that far ?
Many questions. No simple answers.
I use sometimes the “SCARF” framework, developed by Dr. David Rock in 2008.
It explains that when our Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness (SCARF) are at stake, our brain releases reactive energy. Our brain makes us use our energy in trying to defend and keep what we have. “Let’s not loose !”
 

Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework
Fear and faith moving us in the SCARF framework

Whenever the same aspects seem to be improved (the opposite of being at stake), also exactly the opposite happens: our brain releases proactive energy. Our brain makes us highly engaged and collaborative to adopt the change. “Let’s win !”
So we move away from the change in the first case. And move towards the change in the second case.
Any simple communication on change can be enough to start this movement. Our brain continuously screens for physical, social threats and rewards. It tries to decrease danger and maximize reward. It makes decisions about everything you interact with in the world.
This is important to understand:

  • Resistance may take various forms. One can fight (e.g. by striking) or flee or freeze. It is not a rational process. People react out of their emotional brain. They act threatened and feel being victims.
  • We use rational statements to articulate our preferences but tend to rely on our feelings when we actually make choices.

Fear drives us away from change. What is needed to drive us towards change ? Even if the change may impact our SCARF negatively ?

Faith

The faith of winning on the long-term, if we’re prepared to “loose” on the short-term ?
The faith that dialogue instead will bring us faster and more efficient in that future ?
The faith that together (unions and government) everybody wins more and faster than each one staying on their own SCARF ?
I get the impression this necessary faith or trust is no longer where it should be between parties. Have some people chosen for radical self-destruction ? I do not understand why the efforts to restart dialogue and trust building, have been so low on the priority list for such a long time

What is needed to reinstall this faith ?

  • Vulnerability

    So far we’ve seen very “macho” behavior: government versus unions and unions versus government. What is going on behind the macho-masks ? Fear at both sides ? The feeling of being powerless ? The conviction the “other side” needs to take the first step ? An honest and vulnerable declaration, like “please, let’s stop this, please let’s listen and talk to each other” may help. No matter from which side it’s coming. Let’s hope these things do happen behind the screens.

  • Empathy

    Does the one side really cares for the other ? And for the general benefit ? Is the government truly feeling the worries of people ?
    Are the unions truly worried about the economy on the long-term and about necessary efforts to be made ?
    We need both to survive: happy, engaged people, embracing change, and an economy to work in.

  • Listening

    In stead of yelling to and fighting with each other on the streets, one could consider to listen. Listen, not to reply, not to give solutions on the short-term, not to recommend, not to decide, and certainly not to judge. But listen, just to listen.
    And even if we do that, I think there is still a long way to go. But at least we will be going towards each other, and not away from each other.

Fear and Faith are Allies

Fear and faith could be excellent allies to make us move from the “away” side to the “towards” side. Vulnerability, empathy and listening are the keys for a successful marriage between fear and faith.
 
 
 
In this movie David Rock himself explains the SCARF framework.

CSR: Avoiding Ethical Exhibitionism.

CSR-pic

The Ethical Side of CSR

Talking about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is not so easy. It’s about ethics. It’s not that business and ethics are incompatible. They are. But ethics is innate. So if you talk about it, you risk to end up in existential discussions.
For a long time, genuine ethics had no place in business. Being ethical and integer often meant that you did whatever it took to make the company more successful. The ecological and the social cost were not taken into consideration. A long time ago, having smoking chimneys was a sign of progress and of success. Today we have come to an understanding that we live on a planet with finite resources. But it took acid rain, holes in the ozone layer and climate change to understand that.
In 1953 Howard Bowen published his book Social Responsibilities of the Business Man. He argued that companies have a large impact on citizens which requires a socially responsible approach. The term CSR was born and defined as “the obligations of businessmen to pursue those policies, to make those decisions, or to follow those lines of action which are desirable in terms of the goals and values of our society“.

The Role of Externalities

And as societal norms evolve, so did CSR. 60 years ago there was a limited definition. Today it encompasses many themes of business and society. Today companies give more attention to social responsibility. What was the trigger for that? It was probably externalities. Companies did not pay for the ecological costs linked to their activities. These costs are so-called externalities: real costs but not paid for by who causes them. Who pays? Society.
But there were also social externalities.  We are wearing cheap T-shirts, eating cheap food, and we get this thanks to low-cost production. Production of these commodities is done in low-cost countries with a low cost of living. When a factory in Bangladesh collapsed in 2013, there was a public outcry. Employees have to work long hours in dire circumstances. If you would apply western laws, you would have to close down the facilities immediately. And some voices say you should not apply western law. Some voices say that it’s normal in the phase of development of certain countries to allow child or youth labour, to have a different view on health and safety. A century ago it was “normal” in Europe as well. So should we wait a century for things to come up to our level of civilization? Or should we act? Some manufacturers do check the working conditions of their suppliers in third world countries. But these suppliers use subcontractors which are not under direct contract with the manufacturer.
This is what happened recently to H&M a couple of days ago. This is an interesting case. You can find a full description of its view on CSR here. They take CSR really seriously. But a recent report by SOMO under the name flawed fabric is very critical about the South Indian textile Industry, allegedly working for H&M. The conditions in the spinning mills are apparently atrocious. H&M will break the contract with the suppliers but it remains difficult to check the suppliers of the suppliers.
What is important: manufacturers have to deal with ecological and social externalities, increasingly because of public opinion that has no mercy with irresponsible manufacturers. In all cases it’s still about costs.

ISO 26000

There’s an ISO 26000 norm that offers guidance to companies who want to improve and organize their CSR record. It’s a norm that guides and that is not audited (cfr graph).
csr
However, increasingly there is a profit generating model behind CSR: audits, implementation, evaluation. This is what I read about the reasons why a company should involve in CSR.

  • Creating Competitive advantage
  • Reputation
  • Ability to attract and keep workers or members, customers, clients or users
  • Maintenance of employees‘ morale, commitment and productivity
  • View of investors, owners, donors, sponsors and the financial community
  • Relationship with companies, governments, the media, suppliers, peers, customers and the community in which it operates.

I think this is blah blah. If a company starts CSR for the above reasons, there might be something wrong. When the PR aspect of CSR overshadows the ethical dimension we are in trouble. I do realize that many companies start a CSR approach because e.g. the financial analysts are increasingly looking at that. And they are looking at that because the investors and the financial and consumer markets are looking at that. But maybe one should start CSR just because you think it’s the right think to do. Because you want to decrease your footprint or you want to give back to the society in which you’re active. It’s nothing more than decency.

Social tourism and Ethical Exhibitionism

But there’s an angle to this. As an individual person you can silence your conscience by giving a percentage of your income to charity and social initiatives. But this doesn’t mean anything if you do not adapt your lifestyle to the purposes you give your money to. Maybe you’d better give a bit of your life (time) to the purposes you give money to.
A company that does CSR could easily find itself in a scheme of social tourism (hit-and-run) or ethical exhibitionism. The target of CSR should not be to show to world how good and decent the company is. The purpose is to change the way a company operates. A company that has a glossy CSR report, but does not offer decent work in its supply chain will find itself confronted with contradiction. So it might be better to get the act together before going public.
The focus is on sustainability. This means that there is a long-term perspective. Sustainability should become a value, something that is expected of everyone in the company. And the goal is finding a balance between financial, social and environmental considerations.

Let’s Be Modest

And let’s be modest. You cannot change the company let alone the world in one day. Incremental steps are much more sustainable than big bangs. And you will have to deal with paradoxes. Can you go for ecology and still have a car fleet? What about the tobacco industry? Or the weapon manufacturing industry? What about delocalization which creates unemployment? Can you go for cheap labour but forget about decent work? These are big considerations for a company and if you start thinking about it, you might end up in paralysis. There are solutions that each company can find to these paradoxes, if it wants to. And at the end, apart from ethical considerations, the most compelling arguments will be the effect on costs or revenues.
So there is indeed an interest in being consistent and trying to do the right thing. It’s better to be pro-active and genuine than to be foney and reactive. It all depends on the intentions and the time perspective. Some companies are game changers whilst others start of as window-dressers. What type is your company?
csr typology
 

Panic in the streets of Belgium. Working longer.

working longer

The Problem of working longer

There is panic in the streets of Belgium. The new government wants people in Belgium to work longer. Until the age of 67. The legal retirement has been 65 but hardly anyone works until that age. As a matter of fact the average retirement age is still below 60. That is an amazingly low age. Careers in Belgium are also among the shortest in Europe: 32 years. But with the increasing life expectancy, people live longer on their (state) pension. From a budgetary perspective alone, this is not sustainable.
The new retirement age is not the most important aspect of the reform. People will have to work longer and the question is how they will do that. The other question is how organizations will create the context for people to work longer. To some readers of hrchitects.net this might sound weird. Why do people stop working so early? Why would it be difficult to work until the age of 67? How come some countries do not have this problem.
The problem is not that we have to work longer. The problem is that we do not work long enough.

Social Unrest expected

I expect protests in Belgium. In 2005 there was a minimal reform of the early retirement schemes. The country was struck by a wave of strikes and union actions. This reform is much more fundamental and within hours after the the decision, there was protest. Some people think the idea of working longer is simply outrageous. These are some of the arguments:

  • Working longer will exacerbate the problem of youth unemployment;
  • People are unable to work longer given the high levels of stress;
  • There are too many difficult jobs that do not allow for a long career;
  • The government does not respect the social bargaining process;
  • It’s unfair to ask people to work longer because they they have a right to to ending their career at 55, 58, 60, 62, … Many people have done this before them. It’s almost a generational injustice.

The new government plans are unacceptable for the unions (there are 3 ideologically inspired unions: liberal, socialist and christian). Back in 2005 they took to the streets because the government at that time launched a “generational pact”, slightly altering the labour market. The unions took to the streets in a disproportional display of power. Now, the changes are more fundamental so they have to act, even if it were only to show their members that they defend them. But my question is: what’s the alternative? Can we go on and allow people to live on a pension during 30 years? Is it defendable to send people home in a  passive state and consume scarce government budgets? Is it fair to the generations of the future who have to carry the weight for ever-increasing numbers of people that are not active and benefit from a pension ? I don’t think so.  These questions are not always relevant in a context of social bargaining, but they are the right ones.

Societal Change

The reason for that unrest is that we are facing a societal change. During decades people told us that working longer is a problem. That we have the right to stop to enjoy our lives. The view of career was sequential: we invest through studies, then we work for a living, and retirement comes as a reward or a relief. This is fundamentally wrong. And now it’s time to change that mentality and wake up to reality (no pun intended). And this is threatening to many.
People who think nothing should ever change are sedated by satisfaction, paralyzed by fear or frozen by “entitlementitis”. To think that nothing has to change is a serious form of ostracism. The debate about working longer is not new. It has been around for at least two decades. But we have failed to act. We knew years ago that there would be a budgetary problem. We knew two decades ago that the middle generation of that time would be the new “lost” generation of today if we did nothing. And we did nothing. Or if we did something, we did not enough.

People who think nothing should ever change are sedated by satisfaction, paralyzed by fear or frozen by “entitlementitis”

Focus on Employability

The question is if working longer is good for us. We will get into that in a later blog post. But it’s not that people are in general unable to work longer. Or that working longer is per se unhealthy. We need to look beyond the limitations of our imagination and education and check what is happening in other countries (like Sweden) and in certain companies. Moreover we need to focus on the right variable, which is not related to age. That variable is (sustainable) employability.

  • Employability, and not employment should be the focus. If we focus on employment we glue people to their chairs. If we focus on employability, we make sure that they are mobile, agile, eager to learn and move on. A job becomes a source of employability instead of a source of only income.
  • Countries where people work longer do not have higher levels of youth unemployment. There is no causal effect. The capacity to create jobs is probably more determining for labour market participation. But in countries who do not have enough jobs available, there is an almost logical yet perverse shift of employment from the more expensive older workforce towards the cheaper younger workforce. This expulsion of older workers was justified because it allegedly favored the employment of the younger. This mechanism is not a law of nature. A company has the choice to go for rejuvenation programs (a euphemism for labor cost reduction) or to find ways to integrate the older workforce.
  • The model of flexicurity offers a model of how a labour-market can work without creating too much dependencies. This model has been under debate in countries like Belgium but there has not been much enthusiasm for it.
  • People should learn at early ages to manage their career (and their life). They should develop career competencies. One of the most important career competencies is the ability to learn. People should focus not on a status-quo but on continuous learning. Learning new things within a job or changing jobs increases the chances one has in the future. People that are a one-trick-pony with no learning skills are at peril.
  • We need to understand the importance of job quality for sustainable employability. Repetitive work should be avoided. Work without autonomy, social support and a too high workload is not a goog idea. But although workers report satisfaction with their job, they report a low quality of work. This paradox indicates that people are willing to accept a low quality job in exchange for other, more extrinsic things like convenience, income, job security.

Difficulties ahead

Unions could save themselves the trouble of taking to the streets. I do understand that these manifestations are used as a way to take away the pressure and to canalize anger. It’s a ritual. But, we should sit together and work out a structural way to move on together. I have pleaded several times for a kind of pact that aims at restoring our competitiveness as a country and improves our chances to win in a very global and competitive market. Working longer is part of that pact. It’s not by being complacent and by focussing on what has been possible in the past that we will move forward. Changing this will take a lot of effort and courage. But I believe it’s the only way. And yes, there are difficulties ahead. Cultural, budgetary and technical issues will make it hard to get there (and to stay there). But if it’s really a pact we will start from what our country needs, and not from what we want. Like a sunflower that adapts to the sunlight, we need to adapt. Let’s get rid of the paralysis, the sedation or the frozenness. And let’s overcome the difficulties of working longer together.
 

Vision is what you need. Not eyes.

Vision

Reverence

I love music. I often find inspiration in the lyrics. Sometimes a song provides inspiration, a last missing piece of a puzzle.Take “Reverence” by Faithless. One phrase really took my attention. “You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kb49W1u7QaY

“You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision”

A while ago I finished a three-day teaching assignment in Algeria. I took part in an MBA-program, organized by the “Business School Netherlands”. The participants and I went through some co-creative sessions. Topics were Strategic HR, Leadership and Coaching. We had great conversation. Sometimes we were totally aligned. But some moments I saw doubts and surprise in their eyes. At other moments the surprise was all mine.
Once we had a fantastic experience of flow. We were talking about our ideal corporate environment and culture. And about the gap between the current reality and that ideal situation. To close this gap we tend to introduce HR and Leadership strategies. These look surprisingly simple at first sight. All we need is vision. Then the rest will follow.
I was not too sure about that. I wanted to go much more in detail. I wanted to explore the link between vision and strategy, between strategy and policy. I also wanted to analyse the role of leadership. But during the breaks it became clear to me why they kept on talking (only) about vision. They started telling me about the situation in Algeria. Algeria is a country in full development. There’s a gigantic need for education, management, leadership, vision and many other things.

A guided Tour through Algiers

My great participants also honoured me with a guided tour through Algiers. They told me not to look around too much. They said  the place is run-down and dilapidated. They kindly invited me to look at the potential of the place. To see that  there is a need for a vision for the future. They asked me to just close my eyes during taxi drives and to feel and listen to what was happening on the streets.
I saw some run-down buildings and streets. But still the people working in that neighborhood did not seem to be bothered or depressed by that. On the contrary. They seemed to work very hard. They seemed to have a mission in their mind. There’s the problem, my hosts told me. People work very hard, but they seem to have difficulties to see beyond just looking after their families. There is no vision on how to develop the country. No vision of  the future. No vision on how to contribute to that. No national identity.
People use their eyes to “see” the here and now. But they lack a vision. They don’t even need their eyes to do what they do. They can do their work and live their lives almost blindly.
But they do need vision to look further. And a vision can lead to true and lasting change in their country.
What do we need for building such a vision? Or maybe we should ask a different question. What keeps us from developing a vision? Often it’s about culture or habits. The conversations during the tour confirmed some research on Algeria. This brought me to the following 3 thoughts on managing change, the Algerian Way. And by looking at the Algerian way, one questions also the own approach.

  • How does a manager realize change?
  • How about the sense of time?
  • How do manager and team relate to each other?

1. Being a (Change) Manager in Algeria

“We can only dream about modern management”

“They are not managers, they act like family. But you already have family. One is enough.”

Being a manager in Algeria is a challenge. Or maybe not. Management is conservative and hierarchical. It’s defined by a strict definition of roles.

  • Conservative behaviour (e.g. dress codes and general conduct) is commendable.
  • You have to show and demand the proper respect for position, age and rank.

It is necessary to understand this hierarchical system. People believe their managers got their promotion because of their greater experience. It is not right to question any of his decisions. And managers should not even consult their employees before deciding. Managers are often paternalistic. Professional relationships between managers and employees usually overlap with personal relationships. They act like family.

This kind of leadership culture does not really stimulate change. Change is often seen as a threat to society and to the company. So managers are generally averse to change. Changes must be seen as positive for the ‘whole’, not just for the individual.

Of course change does happen. But managers in Algeria need to take into account that change will take longer than planned. And group effort will be the driving force behind it. The group will thoroughly assess the change and everyone needs to agree to it.

Let’s be honest.  I was not able to change the group’s conviction. Not one model I showed could change their mind. But at least now the participants are aware of other existing approaches. And that’s essential. Because now there is awareness and eventually a willingness to start a journey themselves. And through this awareness and willingness they could influence their colleagues, managers, companies and their society.

2. Approach to Time

“Patience is what you need to know about and practice”

Deadlines and time are fluid in Algeria. Patience is key. Essentially in a culture of relationships, you need to take the time to get to know someone. Don’t rush. If you do, you may jeopardise any future coöperation. It’s advisable to stress the importance of agreed deadlines and how not keeping them may affect the rest of the organization. However, it isn’t unusual for a manager in Algeria to avoid confrontation over a missed deadline. The main purpose is to maintain a positive atmosphere within the team.

Some managers who have experienced global and intercultural environments, may have a different appreciation of the need of timing and deadlines. They will more likely try to meet them.

3. ‘Boss’ or Team Player?

“We don’t play, we respect and try not to be embarrassed”

Due to the hierarchical setup, it is important that the manager maintains his/her role as ‘boss’. In this way (s)he instills the necessary respect. When the manager needs to work collectively with his/her team however, it is important that he states this need and encourages the team to cooperate openly.
If an individual contributes sub-optimally, the manager needs to deal with this carefully. It is essential that the employee does not feel embarrassed in front of the colleagues. The rest of the group needs to feel able to continue to take part.

Is Europe so much different here ?
Also in my culture, corrective and even positive feedback about the performance of an individual employee is not appreciated when given in front of a whole group.

Change as compromise.

Any successful change will necessarily come from the inside. Even if it’s triggered by the world outside. Successful change will always be a compromise between necessity and urgency, and the respect for these three cultural features. Unless of course a radical event would take place.
Again I asked myself if Europe is so much different ?
Do we like change that much? Isn’t change for us often a matter of compromise as well.  Do we not accept compromise against better judgement?  Will change not pass easier if it happens in respect of our habits and values ? It is like that unless some dramatic event would take place. In that case change simply occurs. Period.

How are we doing in Europe ?

I left with the impression that Algeria still has a (long) way to go in becoming a so-called “modern” place of business. My group asked a confronting question: how are we doing in Europe ?
I would hope better. But alas. We know our own depressing corporate architectures. As we know our own conservative reflexes.
We may perhaps not want to see them because we think we have a good and solid vision. But then again, You don’t need eyes to see, you need vision.

Greedom or freed?

greedom
 

Where have they gone?

Where have they gone? The so-called Indignado’s took to the streets to protest against a system that they saw as disruptive and kept alive by massive financial injections. People were on the streets in Brussels, Madrid, New York and other cities in protest. So were they just rabble, anarchists, a minority, melancholic communists? Were these people protesting because they were unable to integrate in a ubiquitous societal system ?
Or was there something more to it? Were people rejecting the system?

The driver of the system

Naomi Klein asked the question why it took so long before people took to the streets. The answer is simple: it took so long because people indeed have benefitted from the system. The system appeals to one of the main drivers of human behaviour : greed.
Three psychological mechanisms are behind greed. The first mechanism is adaptation. We adapt to new situations. So if we reach a new and higher level of comfort we adapt to it and more we do not appreciate it. Once there, we assume that this level is acquired for ever. A second mechanism is social comparison. People compare their situation with the situation of relevant others. Those relevant others are usually people that are perceived to be better off. The third mechanism is the mechanism of choice. We can choose whom we compare with. We can choose to aspire other things. We can choose what to do and what not to do.

Choices

John Whitmore describes three choices: you can live in a state of need, a state of greed or a state of freedom. These three levels are also called dependence, independence and interdependence. When we make choices based on dependence, we are not taking any responsibility for what happens to us. If we base our choices on independence we are focussing on personal interest and personal interest only. Finally in interdependence we try to reconcile both the personal interests and the interests of the other. Few people are on the third level. But we know that people who can function on that level usually experience a high level of meaningfulness and happiness in life.

The brutal facts

A couple of years ago I was in Barcelona and walked through the Catalunya Square where thousands of indignati were gathered and I noticed the multitude of themes they were addressing. Indeed, people have/had a feeling of Unbehagen (unease) about the world they live in, even when the spark that ignites the protests is unemployment and lack of personal perspectives. If you want to know more about youth unemployment, check out the ILO landing page on the matter.
So was this revolt an issue of Zeitgeist, a late fin-de-siècle, an apocalyptic feeling? Well let’s face the brutal facts and then we can only be worried. Putting your head in the sand and ignoring the signs will not get us anywhere.
But solving the problem is not simple if people live in states of dependence or independence. As long as we derive our identity from what we have and consume and not from what and who we really are (e.g. defined by the trace we leave on the planet, our legacy) there cannot be freedom. It will not work if we cling onto personal objectives. It will not work if we think that earning more, consuming more, … is a definition of success. Leaving all that behind is difficult, because we have been brought up that way. Nomadz.nu proves that it is possible. Their motto is “don’t be rich, live rich“.

Let’s not be passive

We should not be passive about what is happening around us. If there are changes ahead we should shape them. It’s not about shifting into the future, it’s about actively shaping it. Yes, there was protest, but we need real action. And action means that we need to work on changing paradigms and behaviour.
And all of the solutions are already available, at least in theory. On a personal level one could strive to be content with what is and not discontent with what is not. Suppressing greed is an act of balance. One could decide to compare oneself with those who are worse off than oneself and look at that other one with compassion instead of judgment. You could design your life based on health and sustainability.
Companies could work actively to install systems based on fairness (cfr Rawls’ Theory of Justice) and reducing the gap between the highest and lowest incomes. Companies could strive for policies that are based on the principle of freedom and interdependence. Shareholders could postpone immediate profit and invest in sustainable operations.
Unions could stop focussing on purchasing power increases and work on sustainable progress. They could focus on employability instead of on income in those countries and companies where decent work and salaries are a given. Producers could refrain from exploiting labour forces and ecosystems in other continents and build a sustainable supply chain.
Governments could regulate and discourage speculations that are in the interest of a few but against general interest. They can build systems that decrease the span between the highest and the lowest incomes. The redistributive function of taxation could be stressed. This requires courageous politicians that are willing and able to take the necessary action. The question is whether these politicians will get elected.

Greedom or freed

On different levels, many issues are possible. But to be honest, I am quite pessimistic that this change is likely to occur. People define the current state as freedom, but it is “greedom“. Our current feeling of being free is a false one. We are very much depending on a system that seems to be facing a meltdown and which is addictive. Current solutions are old school and departing from the current system. Billions of Euros and Dollars have been pumped into a leaking system, and it’s not bringing any change about. So we need some kind of freed, not greedom.
I’m sure if someone reads this blog, he or she might think this is a radical leftist opinion. It’s not. I ask not to judge on any ideological sysyem, but to look for answers to the huge problems of ecology, economy and society. Let’s put personal responsibility in the center of collective action. Let’s work towards a state of “freed” instead of “greedom”, that’s what those people on the streets wanted and that’s what people would benefit from. And that’s what our children en their children would benefit from.
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Klein, N. (2007). The Shock Doctrine, the rise of disaster capitalism. Alfred Knopf Editors.
Rawls, J. (1999). A Theory of Justice. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
Whitmore, J. (1997). Need, Greed or Freedom: Business Changes and Personal Choices. London, Element Books, pp. 224

Connecting the dots – present and future

Connecting the dots, looking backward.

When I watched Steve Jobs’ historic Commencement speech he gave in 2005 at Stanford University, I got truly impressed and inspired by the authenticity of his story. For those who don’t remember or who haven’t heard that speech yet, here it is.

One part touched me very deeply. When Steve Jobs talked about connecting the dots, he shared how certain events, choices and experiences in his life that seemed to have no meaning when they happened, turned to be of priceless value later on.
In his words:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn’t have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.

I have become a huge admirer and user of the approach of connecting the dots. It helps me to clearly observe and clarify some patterns in my own life. However I am not sure if I totally agree on what he says next:

Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

Connecting the dots

Connecting the dots, looking forward.

Is it impossible to connect the dots looking forward? The answer is obviously yes. Nobody can predict the upcoming dots the future may bring. And do I come out here as a very naive fool (in the best case)?
Maybe I do, but I’ve continued reading on and experimenting with using the approach of connecting dots when trying to look forward. Let me share my findings with you.
I read this blog by Subroto Bagchi commenting on Job’s words:

Here is a man I know who can connect the dots looking forward. Captain Gorur Gopinath came out of the Army and wanted to become an organic farmer – he actually did that. During his farming days, he happened to meet an old buddy, an ex-helicopter pilot, who had quit the army and unable to find any job on the civilian street, had become a manager in a courier company. DOT.
Then one day, Gopi was leading a delegation of farmers to China. On the way, he read about a young Vietnamese lady – she had fled the US occupation, migrated to overseas, grown up to become a helicopter pilot and one day, she came back to see her motherland, she cried upon seeing the devastation. She wanted to help rebuild. But what could she do? The only thing she knew how to do was fly a helicopter. But then a country like Vietnam needed infrastructure and access and there were hardly any airfields. So, she decided she would start a helicopter company there. DOT.
Gopi was very deeply stirred by the story and then it occurred to him that in many ways, India was no different than Vietnam – we had not been bombed but we had the same poor infrastructure and lack of access-ability; if Vietnam needed a helicopter company, so did India and you know what? His Army buddies, who had flown the choppers all their lives, were becoming managers in courier companies! DOT. Gopi connected them all and that is how Deccan Aviation was born.
One day, he was flying a chopper to Goa from Bangalore and asked the pilot to fly low so he could see the ground below. As the bird whirred over the vast land, Gopi saw something you and I easily miss. In every hamlet over which he flew, he saw television antennas.
Again, he was seeing the DOTs
It occurred to him that a billion Indians were not waiting to be fed and subsidized. A billion Indians could fly! The DOTS were connecting one more time, of economic liberalization, surging middle-class and the capacity of the ordinary Indian, even those from rural India, to fly a plane at least once in a life time.
When we do connect the dots looking forward, we build “memories of the future”. When we succeed, we actually live in them!

Again I was deeply touched, because the phrase memories of the future matches exactly what I discovered in another great work: Otto Scharmers’ Theory U, that literally quotes leading from the emerging future.
It is not about leading towards the future as many of us try to do, but about leading from the future that is already partly present and emerging, in the present.
Let’s return to the dots. Some of the dots occurring in the present are indicators for other dots that will emerge later on. So how can you know which dots are relevant and to be connected with future ones, and which are not ?

Attending and presencing.

The key answer to this question lays in attention, Scharmer says.
What we pay attention to, and how we pay attention is key to what we create. What often prevents us from attending is our blind spot, the inner place from which each of us operates.
A very important part of the U-process lies in the realm of presencing. This term was coined by Scharmer that combines the present with sensing. Here we are able to clearly see our own blind spot and pay attention in a way that allows us to experience the opening of our mind, our heart, and our will. This holistic opening constitutes a shift in awareness that allows us to learn from the future as it emerges. It also allows us to realize that future in the world. It enables us to very consciously see the relevant dots when they appear, and not to waste any time with the irrelevant ones when they appear on their turn. It really enables to connect the present with the future and the future with the present in a very clear and conscious way.
Coming into that state of presencing requires going through the U process. One blog is of course not enough to explain this process and presencing in detail, but I strongly recommend you to read into Scharmers’ work.
Steve Jobs was probably right that the most obvious way of finding clear connections is by looking backward, but I think you can also see and create a glimpse of the future by clearly being present in the present. The future is already here in some kind of emerging form. You just need to see it.

Connecting dots

Decent Work. Decent Life.

The most important aspect of work is to have work. Of course the job has to be decent. The International Labour Organisation has a program me for decent work. This is how the ILO describes decent work:

Work is central to people’s well-being. In addition to providing income, work can pave the way for broader social and economic advancement, strengthening individuals, their families and communities. Such progress, however, hinges on work that is decent. Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives.
(ILO)

In itself this is a vague notion work decency. Decency is conformity to the prevailing standards of propriety and morality. So decent work is work that conforms to what we see as appropriate. But what is appropriate? Even today we it remains difficult to reach consensus about that.
Here’s an example to illustrate how difficult this is. There is consensus that child labour does not conform to standards. Clearly, child labour is not decent. But still we see that millions of children do hazardous work in dire circumstances. More, some families depend on the income that kids bring in. It is not that easy not to judge. Looking with our standards is easy. They are the result of more than a century of humanizing work. Even when we are appalled by working circumstances in some countries, a solution is not easy.

Decent Work as a fundamental Right

The decent work program starts from a consensus that decent work is important. The universal declaration of human rights (articles 22-25) is clear. Decent work is a fundamental right. But this right is still jeopardized. Unemployment rates have risen. The increased youth unemployment is a big concern in many countries. Countries and companies have difficulties creating jobs. This is a threat to social stability. Not having a decent job is not only an individual problem. It’s a societal problem.

Decent work and Development

When I browse through the ILO decent work program, I could not help but notice that the national programs seem to be restricted to states that are under development. These are the European countries that have such a program:

  • Albania (2012-2015)
  • Armenia (2007-2011)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (2012-2015)
  • The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (2010-2013)
  • Republic of Moldova (2012-2015)
  • Serbia (2013-2017)
  • Ukraine (2012-2015)

That made me wonder. What about the other countries? Don’t they have issues with work decency? Is it really about development cooperation? The Western World can indeed help countries to develop an approach for increasing decent work. Their history and their economic links with developing countries put them in that position.
After the collapse of a textile factory in Bangladesh, many people were outraged about the work conditions there. Politicians and consumers in the West can have an impact on the decency of work for people working in those countries.

Closer to home

But if we look closer to home, we see that there is still a lot of work in the so-called developed countries. The discussions about the minimum wage in Germany and the United States of America point out that there is still a big debate going on. In 2012 a German television show exposed certain unjust practices by Zalando and Amazon. Although developed countries have started to improve work conditions in the late 19th century, there are still employers that have a doubtful way of treating their employees.
Today 109 countries that have started or finalized a Decent Work Country Program, most of which developing countries. This is in itself an important fact. But when do you stop striving for decency? The West cannot be complacent about decency. Decency is about pay and working conditions. But also about well-being. There’s an increase of mental illness at least partly related to work. We see more refined ways of exploitation in Western countries. Work should be meaningful, a source of development and sustainable employability and a source of personal fulfillment. Work is important for people and their families and it is too important to be taken for granted. Even though working conditions in developing countries seem to demand work decency programs, I suggest we integrate decency of work again in the developed countries as well. Having a job is important. Having a decent job is a fundamental right. Having a decent life is a fundamental right.

We become our Parents: the Myth of Generations

I don’t believe it
Type in “Generation Y” in the google search engine and you will end up with nearly 3,000,000 references. It’s the topic of the moment and it has been taken up by marketeers, management professors and trend watchers. In the past there have been studies about intergenerational differences and trends, but never before one generation has received so much attention long before it even has left a significant trace in world history.
Socrates
So this article might be sacriligious to many as it shows that there most likely is no such thing as Generation Y . I for one do not believe in it. I think something else is going on, but it’s something that has been going on for centuries.
It’s totally natural that generations that live side to side make comments about one another. Socrates was not very positive about the generation that came after him. The Romans thought that their youngsters were heading for disaster. The anti-authoritarian movement of the 60ies that culminated in may 68 in Paris and other places in Europe is another example of how one generation reacts to its older generation. It is of all times. But if you want to see how the revolutionaries of those days evolved, you can ask yourself how revolutionary that revolution really was. Many of the leaders of those days have now embraced what they have fought against, all those years ago.
We invent stories about generations
The transition into adulthood is changing in the sense that it takes longer than it used to. Childhood and adolescence are taking up a larger chunk of the lives of people in number of years (even though relatively it might be that due to our longevity it is taking up the same relative part of our lives). That’s a fact.
Also, every generation has its views on how to consider childhood. In a sense we invent stories about the generations. Probably we need those stories to create our own identity. Imagine that a child never disagrees with its parents? It has to, because otherwise it cannot become more of itself. So I am convinced that Generation Y is just a story (a kind of branding of a generation) and that the similarities between generations are more important than the differences. What undoubtedly has changed is the way children and youngsters are treated (educated) and that has of course a an effect on how youngsters behave and how they develop into what they at a certain time most dread: their parents.
Going back in history
Let’s go back in history. The classical notion of childhood was one of development: children had to become adults as fast as possible. Inspite of the image of Romans being civilised and having a lot of attention for the schooling of their children, conditions for many children were hard. There is even some evidence that infanticide and child abuse was much more common than we would (like to) think.
In the middle ages it was still that classical notion of childhood that dominated. There was not much understanding of the importance of the early age for the development of the child. Children were treated as “small adults” that were somehow innocent but incomplete. There was love, but emotional ties were influenced by the views of the church and by the high infant mortality.
For the church the most important issue was to baptise young children to redeem their souls. That’s why children were baptised immediately after birth, a habit which yours truelly was also the subject of in 1969. This shows that these practices survived well into the twentieth century.
The education of children in the middle ages is to be seen in its context. Society in itself was organised differently. First of all one needed to accept that societal organisation was a product of God’s will and was not to be questioned. Children learned what had to be learned without being taught the capacity to criticize. Catechism was the most important intellectual input they received and this consisted out of a list of questions and answers that you had to learn by heart. My parents underwent this in the 30ies and 40ies of the twentieth century, but it was in fact a medieval practice.
The Church was the main source of education but the education was used to indoctrinate youngsters with ideas (and fears) that perpetuated the societal structure. The product of this education was ignorance and thus the church stopped deliberately the development of youngsters. The Education was a way to control. Let’s not forget that this remained very true until Vatican II. And let’s not forget that this is a proven tactic of authoritarian regimes. If you control the youth, you control the future.
Confronted with other views, the catholic church turned to repression. Heresy was used as an excuse to get rid of religious opponents. The inquisition is an example of that. The index of forbidden books is another. So for centuries deviant thoughts were considered to be dangerous. Not only the church used this approach, the monarchs ruled as well with iron hand and did not tolerate any thoughts that might have destabilized their authoritarian rule. Intolerance is a weapon. So as far as children were concerned, they were brought up in a sense of societal stability and continuity, with a totally different perspective of the meaning of life. Let’s also not forget that life expectancy was only 30. Only 50% of royal children lived until their 20ies. So there was not much time to think about emancipation.
The Enlightenment
During the Enlightenment new ideas came up also about how to raise a child. Whereas in the medieval times it was the clergy that determined the vision on education, during the enlightenment it was philosophy. Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought that the child’s curiosity should be the driver behind its development. He thought that the environment of the child should be rich and stimulating so that the child is to discover many things and ask questions about it. This is a romantic idea that still exists today and is found in many nature-nurture discussions. But nothing much had changed for children. The philosophers talked mainly about educating the upper class. Most children were brought up just to be productive. At the height of that we see the child labour during the industrialisation.
20th century
And then came the 20th century. During the 20th century the child was finally “discovered”. New educational theories came up and developmental psychologists finally determined the importance of childhood for the development of people. Laws were voted that banned child labour and installed the obligation for learning and schooling. Child labour was progressively forbidden in the West. So childhood was reinvented and extended in time. Children were allowed to play and they were given space to be a child. Parents became their mentor.
Related to that there was also the notion of social mobility and democratization of education . Where children in the early twentieth century used their extra time to learn a profession or a trade, they were increasingly stimulated to expand their horizon and to focus on a more general education. Higher education became increasingly accessible in the West and especially in Europe and the numbers of people signing up for higher education has increased since the 60ies of the past century. In the past a university degree was something for the happy few, today it has become a right for everyone. Let’s take a look at Germany. In 1994 1,8 million youngsters started continued education (after secondary school). In 2010 this number had increased to 2,2 million. This number is unseen in history both in absolute and in relative terms.
Casa mama
And now? Youngsters seem to be postponing their adulthood. This is called the psychological moratorium. In Italy it’s called “casa mama”. Youngsters do not need to take on responsibilities until their mid or later twenties. They prolong their studies. The Italians seem to be at the top of the chart. Even those who go to work early, have the chance to remain under parental “custody” for a much longer time than we have known in history.
What are the mechanics ? Adolescents are taking more time to make the transition to adult life. There are 5 elements in that transition : finalizing studies, leaving the parental home, finding employment, marrying and having children. So do we think that young people have become lazy, that it is their fault ? Looking at Italy it is for youngsters impossible to leave their parental homes because of a huge gap between their income level and the cost of living.
One of the reasons for delaying the transition into adulthood is that the financial situation or certainty of youngsters has deteriorated in comparison to that of the babyboomers who rushed into marriage and lived on a wave of economic prosperity. The coming generations will be less well off than the baby-boomers. So delaying adulthood is probably a wise thing to do. However we must not forget that families themselves face challenges and that this prolonged residence causes strains within families.
Something else is happening. There is a certain decomposition of education. Primary school teachers complain about the low maturity of children entering the system. Secundary school teachers complain about the low readiness of children leaving the primary school, higher education teachers complain about the inflow in their system and finally companies are worried about the quality of candidates. So have we become stupid ?
One element could be the deteriorating disciplinary climate in families and school. But there is no proof for that. On the contrary  discipline in school and teacher-student relations seems to improve and youngsters are even asking for it. The German psychiatrists Winterhoff argues that there is a problem within families where discipline is fading. Parents want to be the partners of their children whereas children need structure. He argues that our society is cancelling childhood which has a detrimental effect on the psychological health of children. The problem is not to create boundaries (Begrenzung), the problem is the lack of them (Entgrenzung). The lack of boundaries creates dependency. It’s only because there are limitations that people can (have to) make choices. And it’s by making choices that one learns to be free.
So from a very rigid educational system, with hardly any attention for the development of children, we have come to an age where adulthood is postponed and youngsters are given a lot of (false) freedom. This leads to different behaviours of later generations at comparable ages. But everytime we see a change in society, we see that generations return to rather stable values and needs. Revolutions never succeed. There is always a backlash. You could also state that the reaction to the anti-authoritarian movement in the 60ies was a more conservative society. The need for discipline that youngsters express might be a reaction to Winterhoffs observed disintegration of the family.
Generation Y
So is the current generation Y different than any other generation ? Looking at the changing perception of childhood and the prolongued trasition into adulthood, something must change in how people develop their identity and how they behave. Anyway, that’s the conviction many people have. But is there really proof of that?
Some studies show that generation Y does not exist. A French professor has shown that the employees belonging to generation Y do not differ substantially from other employees. Their behaviour differs from students from generation Y. I guess that this would be the case in any generation and that the process of work socialization would play a role in that process.
Despoiling
So maybe companies will take over the role of educational systems and they will despoil a generation that has been used to extreme high comfort and lack of boundaries. And at the end of this despoiling process, generation Y will have taken of its clothes and be just the same as any other generation.
Throughout history children have not changed that much. They were treated differently, but they developed into adults. There has been no change in their psychological needs. People need to have the feeling they belong, that they can be autonomous and have a sense of mastery. The only thing that has changed is the speed of the process. It has slowed down. Life is longer so there is more time to reach the state of adulthood. We look at the current generation and we think they’re different, because they’re different from previous generations at the same age. But every later generation was perceived by earlier generations as being different. And every younger generation has tried to differentiate itself from earlier generations. It’s an eternal process.
Youngsters reaching adulthood will find out that life is not that easy after all. They will have to work for the money. They will have to struggle for a carrier. They will have to take on responsibilities, they did not understand. And they will have to learn how to do it fast.
Technology
So what about technology? I haven’t mentioned technology so far. Yes, technology has changed. Indeed the possibilities of ICT seem to be endless. But does this change the deep needs of people ? It doesn’t. People will use ICT to fulfil those basic needs. So technology does not change those needs, but it facilitates their satisfaction. Generation Y does not have significantly different expectations about employment than students from the baby boomer generation and generation X. They do not have different needs at all.
Monolithical 
What is intuitively not right is to talk about generation Y as if it were a monolithical generation. In the past generations weren’t either. I mentioned the stories earlier in this blog : generation Y is a myth. The baby boomer generation has produced a lot of different behaviours : hard working citizens, hippies, radicalists, environmentalists, … and all in one generation.
There are many studies that do show differences. For instance generation Y is less focussed on money and more on quality of life. This is to be seen in a societal context as this is a trend for all generations. We all evolve together. The elderly people of today have a different behavior than the generations before them, but they have evolved during their life, together with society. Their current behavior is not comparable with what they heve been taught 50 years ago. It’s a collective development.
But at the end of the day people from generation Y will have to work hard as well and do similar things to achieve their personal targets. Generation Y will grow up and they will become just like their parents. We see that happening already.
We become our parents
Although the societal context is changing and technology is changing, there is no point in considering generation Y as a monolithical generation that is fundamentally different from other generations. The behavioural differences that we might see are less important than the psychological similarities with other generations and indeed rather superficial differences. Moreover you will have members of the same generation act differently and members of different generations act in the same way. Generation Y is an invention, just like all the other stories about generations that have arisen since the oldest times. At the end of the day we have the same psychological needs and drives.
How much we resent the idea during puberty and young adult life, we all become our parents. And no generational branding will change that. There is no way out.

On Time and concreteness

Time
Max Weber wrote that wasting time is a capital sin. Personally I believe that wasting someone else’s time is the primary sin. Anyway, time is an essential part of our lives. We measure it, we cherish it, we waste it, we chase after it. Our sense of time gives us stress. There is so much to do, and so little time. Have you ever had that feeling that you are in your first day of a two week’s vacation and you already regret that you do not have more time to visit places, do things, … ? The feeling spoils the experience. We live a life that is so time oriented that it is sickening.
A couple of years ago I was in Senegal and our guide told me that people in Senegal do not run after the time, but that the time stays behind the people. And indeed, I have met people in that country who seem to have a quiet flow of life, selling fruit, preparing fish, … every day seems to be following the same, predictable course. People there concentrate on what is at hand at the moment itself. The next day resembles the current day.
How horrible, you might think. Of course people in Senegal live in totally other conditions than people in the West. They have less. And yet, they seem to be happier, more in sync with their environment. They have less posessions to worry about and more time at their hands. However, some of them want something else. Armand told me that many youngsters risk their lives to sail with a Pirogue (the local boat) to Tenerife hoping to find a better life in Europe. A better life to them is a better material life. They end up dead, or in camps for asylum seekers, or in some kind of illegal circuit. Because they think that having things equals being more happy. But their current happiness lies in how they deal with time and the way they lead their lives.
Concreteness
Next to a different sense of time, life of people in Senegal is characterised by the fact that they are very close to the concrete nature of life. There is not much abstraction. The fishermen in Saint-Louis follow the rhythm of the sea, and so does their family. The Imam of the village of Bagbo follows the rhythm of the sun. The farmers of the village at the Mauretanian border (I have forgotten the name) follow the rhythm of the seasons, or the rhythm of the animals they have. The family follows the rhythm of preparing the meals, which they do in group. People are very close with what they do. They eat what they grow, they eat the fish that they catch.
The sociologist Richard Sennet explains how we have lost this connection with the concrete nature of work. We have created abstract jobs that are not in touch with the concrete origins of craftmanship. The architect does not have to draw the plans for the building he wants to erect. It’s the computer that does it (CAD). However by drawing and redrawing, the architect would get a physical touch for the construction. The fisherman in Senegal who mends his nets – which are very expensive by the way – feels the fibers, the knots, the threads of the net. The farmer feels the land.
We have lost that. Because there is no time. Buying prepared food in the supermarket that you only have to warm up in the mico-wave oven is an example of how we are losing touch with the concreteness of life under the pressure of time. The distance between us and the origin of things becomes greater and more abstract.
triggerfinger21Alain de Botton explained during a lecture that people are striving to restore their contact with the concrete nature of life. If you ask people what they would do if they could change jobs completely. Many answer that they would start some kind of business that is much more concrete and less time-dependent : a bar, a B&B, a biological farm, a band, … Many people have hobbies that respond to just that. How many people do not take on some creative side-job? We need concreteness and we need a sense of control of time.
Work and Time
In the workplace we are trying to introduce flexible working hours. We are giving people the possibility to manage their time and to adapt work patterns to their personal needs.
People are in command of their time as long as they bring the contribution that is necessary. Time or presence should not be the criterion any longer. People are in command of how they organize their lives and their (working) time. I believe this is the right way forward.
There’s a caveat though. Never before in modern history people were so much in command of their time. But never before people had so much trouble managing it. And never before we had to face issues of stress and burn-out like today. Burn-out is one of most critical threats to health in the modern work place.
This is a paradox. One could state very easily that people who suffer from burn-out are at fault as they are more in control of their time. It is of course not that easy. People who suffer from burnout do not get it because they measure time. They enter burn-out when they feel a discrepancy between the effort and the result or its appreciation. It’s the teacher that invests hours in preparing classes but finds himself in front of a bunch of ungrateful and disinterested kids, or harrassing parents for that matter. It’s the leader that goes a long way to inspire people to go beyond their limitations, but finds that they are more interested in their payslip and are only prepared to give a minimal contribution (just enough) for a maximum result. It’s the worker that asks himself if what he does has any meaning and finds that there is not enough to make him continue.
Life Education
So what do we need to do? We need to educate people. It’s not about time management, it’s about life management. This is something we do not learn in school (there we still have the Pavlovian bells). It’s life that teaches you life management. But if we keep on telling our kids that they cannot waste their or someone else’s time. If we condemn il dolce far niente as a shame. If we do not allow children to be bored, … we are sowing the seeds of disorders and burn-out.
I am told that Generation Y has understood this better. I am told that Generation Y is able to balance work life and personal life better. I am not sure about this. Generations Y and Z also want to have luxury (the newest Ipad). Well they are going to have to work for it. No one is going to give it to them. People need to set priorities and define what is important to them. And we need to explain how the relationship between concreteness and time might affect them.