multi-generational mentoring

Accidental Racism

I am a racist. You are a racist. We are all racists.

We all harbor covert thoughts about people, communities, religions, and disabilities.

  • So you are following a Hummer with a Scientology bumper sticker
  • Or a car full of dark complected youth who have a woofer which is vibrating your dental work
  • Men with turbans are boarding your plane
  • Or you see a gay couple publicly expressing their affections

Yeah, whatever pushes your buttons—you think bad thoughts—admit it!

You would never say anything, but “those people  should_________!” Apples and oranges

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the Ku Klux Klanner but the moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. Excerpts from MLK’s Birmingham Jail Letter

Please do not be one of those people who say they are colorblind. That all people are equal in your eyes. Even if that were true, your blindness would mean you do not care about difference. And difference is everything.

Our greatest vulnerability is that we do not see our fates tied to others. That we believe that our comfort, safety and success can be achieved independently from other people different from us and our families.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.

The brutal truth is we have minimized our direct experiences with difference. Economic diversity in our lives is from the news. We have little tolerance for difference. The last time we had truly diverse friends was in college.

The consequences of these subtle, multiplied, and layered decisions are the increasing inability to relate to the world outside of our bubbles. Our networks are sanitized, pasteurized and free of “unwanted” elements. 

We struggle with relating to the I Can’t Breathe campaigns, Immigration Reform, Muslim hate crimes, Minimum wage protests…... 

We don't discriminate.

We are not prejudiced.

We care about all of our fellow human beings.

We have lost touch with reality.

We are accidental racists.

There are so many studies that show how prevalent our discriminatory inclinations are. 

Step one is to own our racism.

Now before you launch into your well-rehearsed denial speeches, listen to yourself and look around yourself. “Some of your best friends…..Really! Now why is it that your church, your kids’ schools, your place of employment, your golf club, your circle of friends do not reflect the communities we live in?

Admit it we have not done enough.

Our kids grow up in segregation and despite our best intentions they become accidental racists.

Susan Fiske’s extensive research at Princeton shows that as income rises we see poor people as objects and not as humans—mostly because they are a foreign and unknown population.

We watch as the world turns on Muslims again. -Treating a giant diverse population as a monolithic group. A group we do not know. Racism at its best.

Conjures up Nazi Germany or WWII with the internment of Japanese Americans…

This has been going on for a long time--too long.

In 1946 (Martin Luther King Jr. was about 17 and 18 years before Civil Rights), Albert Einstein was frustrated and angry and gave a speech at Lincoln University called, The Negro Question-- Here are some excerpts:

Many a sincere person will answer: "Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability."

The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.

What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children become influenced by this racial bias.

I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed. But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.

Sadly, these words ring true today. And “Negroes” could be replaced with many communities which combat our racism today.

It is well established that diversity is not a nice to have but a necessity to compete, survive, and evolve. Mother Nature knows this well! Investment portfolios require it. The American Medical Association studies prove that life expectancy is extended as much as 9 years for those that cultivate diverse social networks. But to attain and then maintain diversity professionally and socially takes courage, work, and vigilance.

Evaluate your network. Not talking just about ethnicity, but religious, economic, ability, sexual preference diversity. How will you reach out and build a diverse network?

What example by word and deed are we setting, for our children?

If the tables you sit at just look like you, I do not care how smart, witty you are, it is limited table of opportunities. 

So what are you going to do honor the legacy of Dr. King? More important, what are you going to do to make sure your kids and all of our kids don’t end up to be racists like us?

Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Einstein

 Thanks for reading. John

 


Let Your Inner Child Fly

The holidays bring back a flood of memories for me. I love being around kids who open up their Hanukah and Christmas gifts with reckless abandon and express real joy out loud.

Adults are obsolete children.  ~Dr. Seuss

Some people think I have never grown up. Okay a lot of people! But who is counting anyway?!!

More than anything I wish you more childishness, more foolishness, more fun and joy. We are so serious. We take ourselves way too seriously.

The grand metaphor of the metamorphosis. How the baby caterpillar develops into a cocoon and goes through the pain and suffering of the metamorphosis of pubescence and emerges as a beautiful high flying adult butterfly. This seemed correct until I heard a scientist describe the caterpillar as the one that was the adult--slow and wingless. A plodder limited by physical and mental capacities, afraid of then consequences. And the butterfly is the child who can fly, flit and explore, fearless and free. Caterpillar

Kids are always flying and adults are more often stuck out on a limb. Children are free of the self consciousness and adults suffer from looking good and being right. If we succumb to the inexorable decline of our freedom to create and be, then we become old and sedentary without regard to our chronological age. When risk aversity beats us into a locked step conformity with what is expected of us and we comply.

Neoteny is the retention of juvenile characteristics.  I like Joi Ito's take on it. Not talking about our obsession to LOOK young, I am talking about keeping the spirit of the child alive within us. The ability to play and to see the possibilities. To say and think things that speak to our possibilities and dreams. Relentless curiosity and free of what you fear others may think.

Remember the movie Big?

Play is important and necessary. All work and no play makes you a dull person!

I have a friend who won't play board games with his son because HE doesn't like board games. He is so hung up on getting him to grow up.

My childhood may be over, but that doesn't mean playtime is.  ~Ron Olson

We become progressively blind as we age. We see the world from our selfish and narrow perspective. A child sees so much that we can no longer see. They see the real things that exist between and amongst the things we create and impose on the world. They see the colors, and hear the sounds.Big

Ask kids what they want, besides a material thing. The answer will stun you. They have not been burdened with all of the reasons they can not or should not do things. Their imaginations are fertile and unfettered.

Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.  ~Pablo Picasso

Our kids grow up too fast and they lose their sense of play and fun. We need to enjoy and let go of all of the ridiculous expectations we impose on ourselves and others. We need to have fun by experimenting and exploring. Kids take chances by doing foolish things where they express themselves freely and naturally. They are vulnerable and open to what happens.

We need to laugh more--at ourselves--and less at others.

Not going to ignore my responsibilities as a parent, a citizen, or an adult, but I want to fly more like a butterfly and crawl less like a caterpillar. How about you?

How do we do this?

Take a chill pill.  Relax. Everything is not a federal issue that requires a no prisoners approach. Remain urgent about your goals but enjoy what is happening to you and what you are doing.

Value fun and play around us. Schedule time to play that you look forward to--a hobby, games with others, and just discovering an unscheduled time for fun.

Hang out with kids. Kids, young people, or just people younger than you, will give you energy and perspective. They will also teach you things if you are present! If you pay attention they will mentor YOU!

For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There's no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of. If you find that you're not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again. ----Benjamin Button

Thanks for reading. John


What We Can Learn From College Students

The allure of college still beckons. For almost everybody, going to college was the best of times. Every Fall we think of the good ole days of alma mater and some of us are yearning to returning to the learning. Our memories have smoothed over all of the anxiety, stress, financial and academic challenges and replaced them with nostalgia. :) But it is my experience that while many people think they have moved far from the days of the ivy covered halls, most still struggle with some of the same fundamental questions of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Questions like: What is the meaning of life?; What is my "major"?; and What do I want to be when I grow up?Animal house

I have three recommendations that come from college students. Recommendations that will hopefully reinvigorate your free thinking collegiate ambitions and your youthful ideals when the possibilities seemed limitless.

1. Write Your College Essay Over Again--Helping my son and his friends finish their college apps and their essays. Writing these essays are harder than calculus. If you use it to grow and discover oneself, it can be a painful and seminal experience. The essays either tell nothing about the applicant or reveal something special. The "prompts"/questions remain relatively unchanged. Here are the ones my son is addressing:

a. Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

b. Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

1000 words for both. Try it. It is still very tough and if done well, very insightful. Nothing like writing down your thoughts, especially if you know someone will read it to decide your fate!What is your concise and compelling story? I meet "professionals" everday who don't have one! Your story matters and you need to craft it in writing to tell it!

2. One of the Worst Mistakes By New College Grad Job Seekers---A few months ago a survey of graduating seniors revealed what they regretted after confronting the challenges of this brutal job market. After all, they are just 21 or 22 years old, so of course they are under-prepared for the career/job search. There is a triad of culprits to blame. First, the parents are pushing their kids to pursue WHAT THEY THINK are "good careers" and have not let their kids develop their own paths. Second, undergrad colleges are woefully bad at career prep, it's embarrassing how new alumni are not "polished and finished" before they graduate. Lastly, the students themselves, take little initiative to get experiences, internships, develop a network, and start to define their own career trajectories while they are in school. So plenty of blame to go around.

Should have networked. The survey revealed this was one of the most regretted mistakes. "Students who spend their time trolling job boards should instead spend that time making solid connections with people who are respected and involved in the workforce, industry experts and alumni, and spend only 30% of their time looking at job listings." More than 70% of jobs are discovered through networking, so why don't students and all job seekers employ a networking strategy? Network as a life strategy, not just to find jobs.

3. Treat Every Job and Opportunity as a College Degree Program---Think about your career in four year chunks, just like your undergrad program (okay maybe 5 years;) The point is approach your work like college. Re-enroll every year. Think about what general ed and major requirements you have to complete. What professors will you take? What goals will you set? What weaknesses will you strengthen? What talents will you further? And maybe as important, what electives will you take?

Life goes fast and it blurs and runs together. College stands out as a distinct chapter in our lives. While we are grateful that we are not 21 today, we can use the regimen of college to focus our future chapters and to make them worthwhile and memorable. Otherwise jobs and time marches on and our present life continues to pale in comparison to our college days.

Re-live your college experience by renewing your urgency about the value of your time and the need to complete your next "degree". It is never too late to start.

College students today are smarter and more worldly than we were. They can teach us many things. Most important, how to be young and daring. How to reinvent ourselves. Yes there are many generational differences. But we are older and wiser, aren't we?

Thanks for reading. John


Multi-generational Networking and Mentoring

If we are honest with ourselves we all harbor prejudices about others who are different from ourselves.Stereotypes persist because they contain a grain of truth. However, we learn that stereotypes confine a group to a convenient little box. Stereotypes ultimately hold back a group, especially if they are not in control.Once we discover for ourselves the truth by meeting and getting to know people, we find out how limiting and pernicious stereotypes can be.

One of the most misunderstood prejudices is between the generations. Always been the case, but today it is amplified by life expectancy the profound differences in the accelerated changes, experiences, and historical events that have shaped each group's point of view. Like all discussions of differences, there is a fine line between education/awareness and reinforcing stereotypes. That being said, thinking about and understanding these differences is a part of appreciating commonalities. Generational

Take this Generation IQ test to see how you fare. And then check out the chart below to remind you about  the basic differences among the generations.

Boomers and the Millennials may have the biggest generation gap. Not just in years, but in world views. One irony is the former formed the latter's mindset. This is highlighted in the workplace. Boomer bosses can't understand the work ethic or what they perceive the lack of one. And Millennials are peeved by the attempts to make them fit into the old set of rules that have not proven to make the world any better. Like all divergent points of view, both are correct. Nothing gets done unless there are bridges of mutual benefit and understanding are built.

This is where networking and mentoring come to the rescue. Everybody wants to be listened to and to be understood. Spending the time to get to know one another will enable you to find out that you want the same basic things. Some of the issues are pretty insignificant. Some flex in the rules and hours. Making the impact of the work more palpable, more meaningful, and more understood. And giving the youth guidance on the path to their goals. I have found these steps help. Bottom line: listen and find the common grounds before making any statments or pronouncements. 

Traditionalists

Civics

born 1920-1944

Baby Boomers

born 1945-1964

Generation X

born 1965-1976

Millennials

Gen Y

Born 1977-1994

Context

Great Depression, WWII

“Sixties”,Vietnam Advent of TV, Civil Rights

Iran Hostages, Divorce, Latch-keys, Microwave Ovens

Computers, Internet, Helicopter parents, 9/11

Population

30 million

36 million

50 million

77 million

Work Style

By the book - "how" is as important as "what" gets done

Get it done - whatever it takes - nights and weekends

Find the fastest route to results; protocol secondary

Work to deadlines - not necessarily to schedules

Authority/
Leadership

Command/control; rarely question authority

Respect for power and accomplishment

Rules are flexible; collaboration is important

Value autonomy; less inclined to pursue formal leadership positions

Communication

Formal and through proper channels

Somewhat formal and through structured network

Casual and direct; sometimes skeptical

Casual and direct; eager to please

Recognition/
Reward

Personal acknowledgement and compensation for work well done

Public acknowledgement and career advancement

A balance of fair compensation and ample time off as reward

Individual and public praise (exposure); opportunity for broadening skills

Work/Family

Work and family should be kept separate

Work comes first

Value work/life balance

Value blending personal life into work

Loyalty

To the organization

To the importance and meaning of work

To individual career goals

To the people involved with the project

Technology

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it"

Necessary for progress

Practical tools for getting things done

What else

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

However, mentoring offers the most powerful tool to span the ravine between the boomers and the millennials. Millennials want to learn and grow and they want to define success. Boomers need new ideas, technology and energy. On the surface this is a marriage made in heaven.

"Mentoring young employees is a tested way to transfer knowledge, and there are mutual benefits. "There's a lot to be said for reverse mentoring," says Piktialis. "Younger workers can learn about the organization and social networking from older employees, but experienced workers can also gain so much in terms of new technology and proficiency." Use your younger employees for sharing and training on the latest software and hardware; they will feel valued for their skills, and your older employees will benefit by staying current. says Diane Piktialis, research working group leader of the Conference Board.

I learned this the hard way when I led my first start-up. I realized my limitations in the new tech world and I swallowed my pride and engaged younger mentors to help me understand and lead with the best information. In exchange, I showed them all of my bag of tricks and gave them more opportunities. Later I turned this into a more intentional process to make sure we captured this two-way mentoring process to benefit the organization's mission. In the end mutual goals were achieved and both the mentee and the mentor were better off.

Consider a skill based mentoring program where mentor and mentee are matched on interests, not seniority or position in the organization. Here's an excerpt from a program touted by the University of Texas:

Consider creating a mentoring program based on your workers’ skills and not based on their function or seniority in the organization. This new and different approach gives any employee from any generation a way to transfer or receive a new skill. For example, an employee might want to learn how to “tweet,” another employee may want to learn how to coach. Whoever possesses that skill within the organization, on any level, can share that information with their co-workers. This model allows all generations to learn together in a way that doesn’t threaten anyone’s position, because it centers on learning different skills from a variety of co-workers.

While technology is the easiest focus for some boomers, look deeper for other connecting points. And for the millennials, leadership and management may be the obvious topic. If you take a complete interest inventory, you will discover other opportunities to enhance the skill and knowledge needs in your organization.

Being a leader today requires you to engage tools and processes to optimize the talents and potential in the people you manage or work with. It requires you to create new partnerships, alliances, and mentorships to be successful.

No one wants to be accused of discrimination or prejudice--although it exists. Understanding these generational differences makes us better employees, managers, marketers, parents, and customer servers. Advancing mutually beneficial ideas that connect parties of different generations may be a productive first step across the generational canyon. Connecting and listening always help. Skill based mentoring may be a tangible way to make more progress between the cubicles and offices and beyond.

Thanks for reading. John