Now many of you know that I believe that the cultural, social and technological shifts that are happening in the world are the most pressing issues facing the church. We’ll of course it is not just us. Thanks to Troy Bronsik for pointing me to this great article, Social Media vs. Knowledge Management: A Generational War, on how the generations are finding tension in the technological world as the Millennials moves into places of power.
Venkat using the metaphor of "war" to express what is happening between the movements of Boomers, X’ers and Millennials in the technological communities of "Knowledge Management" folks and those engaged in "Social Media." First, he posits the following traits from Generation Blend and then He then goes on to explain how these realities, if you buy them, may go on to effect the future.
- Gen X is Currently Neutral: Crucially — and this is why I am a neutral — neither
movement reflects or overtly conflicts with, the values of Gen X (born:
1963 – 1980). I was born in 1974, which should explain why I claim
neutral status. This neutrality of Gen X is crucial: they were the
foot-soldiers of the top-down KM movement, and are today the leaders
and mentors of the bottom-up SM movement, as they move into middle and
senior management. Neither set of ideas is due to X’ers in any
significant degree. Due to its small size (in the US, there are 78
million Boomers, about 51 million Gen X’ers and about 80 million
Millenials) and its fundamentally pragmatic, as opposed to
visionary/world-changing mindset, Gen X is the crucial swing vote in
this culture war — we don’t have either the personalities or the
numbers to dictate how the world should be run, but we are smart enough
and numerous enough to make a difference by picking a side. So far,
we’ve been neutral. Which way we eventually swing will be the most
important element of this war.
- KM is about ideology, SM is about the fun of building: Salkowitz
notes that the Millenials are the first generation since the “Greatest”
(WW II veterans, born 1901 – 25) generation that likes to build (social
institutions that is). Building for the sheer pleasure of building, and
because the possibilities exist. Nothing describes the motivation
behind the creation of Facebook better than “because it was possible.”
KM on the other hand, arose from a generation that cut its teeth on
disestablishmentarianism. The Boomers objected to the world built by the “Greatests”
and their kids the “Silents,” (b. 1925 – 45) on moral grounds, and
to reinvent the world. So they reluctantly “sold out,” went all
establishment, and when they finally got those Vice-President titles
and a chance to set the agenda, they revived the ideology of their
counter-cultural youth and made it corporate policy. KM came from that
ethos, and is still more idea than reality. SM, on the other hand, is
mostly cool stuff without any grand ideological design behind it (which
explains in part why it is so hard to define).
- The Boomers don’t really get or like engineering and organizational complexity: This
is a provocative statement, to be sure, but I stand by it. Yes, some of
the most brilliant conceptual advances in information technology came
from Boomers. They built the early prototypes behind most of the
computing infrastructure of the world (the PARC personal computing
pioneers were Boomers for instance). But it was Gen X that actually
scaled-up and built-out the complex production-standard IT
infrastructure of the world (and thereby learned about complexity by
creating it). The Millenials learned to understand complexity even
better than us X’ers, by being born into it. By contrast, not only do Boomers not get
complexity, they are suspicious of it, thanks to their early cultural
training which deifies simplicity. The result of this difference is
that Boomer management models rely too much on simplistic
ideological-vision-driven ideas. Consider, for instance, the classic
Boomer idea of creating “communities of practice” with defined
“Charters” and devoted to identifying “Best Practices.” No Gen X’er or
Millenial would dare to reduce the complexity of real-world social
engineering to a fixed “charter” or presume to nominate any work
process as “best.” At best, X’ers and Millenials might create the first
iteration target of a Scrum-style sprint and let the charter just evolve. I suspect, as Gen X’ers and Millennial take over, that the idea of vision and mission statements will be quietly retired in favor of more dynamic corporate navigation constructs.
- The Millennials don’t really try to understand the world: If
us X’ers share with the Millenials an appreciation for complexity that
the Boomers lack, we share with the Boomers a taste for big-picture
synthesis that simply doesn’t seem to attract the Millenials (perhaps
they are just too young at the moment). This is a subtle point, so let
me try to explain it. The Boomers liked the idea of world views, and tried to frame both what they were for, as well as what they were against (think Star Wars) in monolithic ways. Mental models of the world that a single person could get. James Michener’s The Drifters represents one articulation of such a world view. Here’s the thing: Millenials fundamentally cannot
think this way because of the deeply collaborative nature of their
cultural DNA. They seem happy understanding and working with their
piece of the puzzle, trusting that the larger body politic will be
manifesting and working according to a reasonable understanding of the
world. Gen X, in this sense, manages a curious compromise. We like
world-views, but as anti-visionaries, we don’t like to just make them
up arbitrarily (and definitely not in the form of a novel or the lyrics
to a song). Our world view is a pragmatic one that accommodates
complexity by trying to make it a very rich, data-driven one. Wikipedia
(founded by Gen X’ers, Jimmy Wales, b. 1966, and Larry Sanger, b. 1968)
is a classic Gen X-led attempt to understand the world. It has none of
the incomprehensible complexity of
Facebook-as-implicit-model-of-the-world, but neither does it have the
doctrinaire vacuity of typical Boomer manifestos that try to dictate
how the world should be, with no real attempt to figure out how it is.
- Boomers speak with words, X’ers with numbers, Millennials with actions: If
you are wondering how a significant corporate cultural war can be in
progress without making headlines, it is because the three generations
involved process the world with different primary cognitive stances.
The Boomers attempt to understand the world with words, and the best
they can do is talk to themselves. The Gen X’ers try to avoid conflict
by seeking solace in data and a relentless focus on reality. The
Millenials are blissfully unaware of larger dynamics and just go ahead
Once you get behind the jargon, this is a fascinating article and one more bit of evidence that the shifts that are happening are not just a phase but a radical movement in the world that we all better begin to understand.
He ends the article with these words that to THIS X’er are potent, when talking about how the war will end.
And it won’t be just a victory of fashion. It will be a fundamental
victory of the better idea. SM is an organic, protean, creative and
energetic force. KM is a brittle, mechanical, anxiety and fear-ridden structure.
It is telling that the biggest KM concern is the potential loss of
Boomer knowledge, a backward-looking preservation/archival concern,
while the biggest current SM concern is probably the heart-stopping
excitement around the possibilities of mobile devices and the potential
Web-top-enabling Google Chrome.
Let me end with a personal note that hints at how I was won over by
the Millenial creation of Social Media. Back in 2002 or so, in a fit of
enthusiasm, I created a virtual community for an organization I was
part of, using the rather KM-style early SaaS offering, CommunityZero.
When a young, Millenial colleague first enthusiastically told me about
wikis, I actually resisted briefly, in a sort of passive-aggressive
way, because I didn’t believe such a disorganized approach could work.
I was wrong (obviously), and converted.
The tragedy of Gen X is that we will not be remembered as a big-idea
generation. We will likely be remembered, via a footnote (much like the
Silents), as the generation which made the fateful decision to trust
the creativity of the generation following it over the values of the
generation that came before.
Take a read of the entire article. Good stuff.