The Future: Hidden in Plain Sight
“‘All right,’ said the Cat: and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone. ‘Well!’ I’ve often seen a cat without a grin,’ thought Alice: ‘but a grin without a cat! It’s the most curious thing I ever saw in my life!’” Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
If you go wandering around a typical Fortune 500 company chances are 100% that there will be a “Diversity Program”. By Diversity program the majority of organizations implicitly and unthinkingly understand this to be – primarily and exclusively – diversity around ethnicity.
What about generational diversity? What we should all know for sure, based on simple observation, is that in any large organization there are individuals representing 4 distinct generations. It would be easy to say that these 4 generations are easily mapped into age groups – but I won’t as this is sometime not nearly the case – depending on the organization.
For those organizations that are in the path of the increasingly velocity of technological change and which must adapt to survive and prosper then making some sort of assessment of who you have in key positions becomes important.
There is a tremendous amount you can learn about people by having simple casual conversations.
In plain sight
Individuals differ widely in what they notice and what escapes their notice. People differ widely in their level of curiosity. People differ widely on what drives them into discovery. If you had the opportunity to have a simple informal conversation with someone how would you get a handle on the above?
Comments on the content of television aside, everyone watches television. You might watch the nightly news, a reality show, PBS or whatever. No matter the category of the television programing something pervasive is going on. Did you notice it?
Ask someone if they saw the “hash tag” on the nightly news, the reality show, or the PBS show. Maybe they don’t know what you’re talking about. Ask them if they see that word beginning with the # mark at the margins of the video image.
It’s a valuable observation to make note of the diversity of the answers you will get if you ask people about hash tags as part of an informal conversation.
- Some people, even though they watch a lot of television, will tell you they have never seen these hash tags even though they did. That is, they are not overtly conscious of seeing them. Their eyes saw them but it was not raised to a level of consciousness. The hash tags are there – but not there.
- Some people will tell you they saw those tags. But they won’t know what they are. For these folks, they see the tags, know that they don’t know what they are but don’t have a level of curiosity to find out what they are, what they mean, and how to use them.
- Some people know what those hash tags are and tell you they have them as pre-defined search terms in Twitter.
So, if you were to wander around an organization, in sort of non-threatening way, and have a simple informal conversation with people in different parts of the organization and at various levels of the organizational hierarchy – what would you expect to hear? From what parts of the organization, from who in the organizational decision-making hierarchy. Who should know what and should you be surprised by the answers you get?
If you were to ask those responsible for new product development about hash tags and they didn’t know what a hash tag was (didn’t see ’em (but yes they did); saw them but didn’t have the curiosity to find out) what would you think? What about those folks in engineering – does it matter if they know what a hash tag is? And heaven help you, if someone in the marketing department doesn’t know what they are.
It is easy, and an oversimplification to make a projection (hypothesis) that those who know and those who don’t know are easily segmented into age groups and into levels of the organizational hierarchy. That is, young people know, old people don’t know; those in higher levels of an organization know – no matter their age; people near the bottom of an organization don’t know – no matter their age.
Try it. You might be surprised at what you discover.
But clearly, if your VP of product development or someone in the marketing department doesn’t notice these sorts of remnant grins of the Cheshire Cat marking the future in plain sight at the margins of the television screen then perhaps you need to make a more detailed assessment of how well your organization is positioned to recognize the future with such people in place.
So, when it comes to strategic direction and strategic priorities, it’s not so much about ethnic diversity as it is about generational diversity and the advantage some generations have in seeing what other generations can not – even though it’s in plain sight.
What does the next generation think about who should be doing what…
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