THANK YOU, FERRIS
Todd Dewett | January 7, 2020
[I am about to launch my latest book The Ten Delusions, but I’ve already jump-started work on the next book too. It’s called Live Hard. It’s intended to be inspiration for living more fully, thinking outside the box, taking principled risks, etc. One possible story I’m working on for the book, draft below, deals with the changing demographic nature of the workforce and how the boomers should deal with it. To make my points, I rely on a few quotes from characters in a few movies you probably remember….]
Live Hard is not just a suggestion for individuals. It’s a mandate to look at your surroundings more critically. The landscape is shifting, so you have to ask how you can use that reality. It’s a time of radical demographic change, a massive step forward in diversity.
In the diversity discussion, we’ve talked a lot about women and minorities – and we’re not about to stop – but, there is a group we need to talk about that I feel has been neglected – young people.
Male, female, or otherwise; white, black, brown, or purple – young people will be taking over shortly. The question is, “Are you ready?”
When people look at young talent, the conversation often becomes focused on the need for “seasoning.” Sure, the young lack experience, so this is true, but incomplete. This tendency blinds us to the true value of young talent. They have the most eager minds, the most vibrant capacity to dream, the biggest willingness to take principled risks, and the greatest interest in overturning convention.
I suspect that telling them to wait their turn has always been about power as much as experience. People with power don’t want to give it up. So, while waiting for the often hard to define “seasoning,” we’ve missed out on a fair amount of great thinking!
Let’s be clear. With few exceptions, artists, scientists, and entrepreneurs all make their greatest contributions early in their careers, often very early. What does this suggest about what we’ve been missing in organizational life by keeping the young down? A lot…..
Now, I know that not all adults are fuddy-duddies. Many varieties of thinkers have long espoused the power of youth. More than a few managers have too. One of my favorite examples is John Hughes, the beloved filmmaker. Many of the characters he created, or helped create, really do exemplify the passion, the imagination, the intellect, the common sense, and the bravado of young people.
Mr. Hughes was one the greatest creators of fun insightful movies ever. You might have heard of some his work: The Breakfast Club, Pretty In Pink, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, and Some Kind of Wonderful, just to name a few.
I dare you to try to live up to the ideals of those memorable characters. In fact, your career might depend on it.
Andie Walsh in the movie Pretty in Pink said, “If somebody doesn’t believe in me, I can’t believe in them.” So, here’s your opportunity. As the mass retirement of the boomers commences, how fast and how genuinely will you build bridges with the next generation who will run your organizations?
I mean, if not now, then when? Keith Nelson in Some Kind of Wonderful said to his father, “Then I’m nineteen, then I’m twenty, when does my life belong to me?” He was tired of his dad telling him how to live. Sound familiar to any of you? It’s not terribly different than one generation of management telling the next how to manage, and how to do things “right.”
Duckie from Pretty in Pink said, “Whether or not you face the future, it happens.” And Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off stated, “I’m not going to sit on my ass as the events that affect me unfold to determine the course of my life. I’m going to take a stand.” So, do you want to argue with them about seasoning, or help them get it as soon as possible?
We always seem to be talking about change and the increasing pace with which change is affecting our organizations. Well, the young are so capable of change and able to grow. How can helping them be successful not be our number one workforce priority moving forward?
Do you remember the closing scene in The Breakfast Club when Brian read his short essay to the principle? In the span of one afternoon, these seemingly simple teens opened up their minds, raged, humbled themselves, learned, bonded, and matured.
The essay read, “Dear Mr. Vernon, we accept the fact that we had to sacrifice a whole Saturday in detention for whatever it was we did wrong. What we did was wrong, but we think you’re crazy to make us write an essay telling you who we think we are. You see us as you want to see us, in the simplest terms and the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain, and an athlete, and a basket case, a princess, and a criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, the Breakfast Club.”
Sure, my fellow older people, you might not understand some of them. Believe me, I get it – but, this isn’t about us. Your legacy is about getting over you and the team that got you here. What you did, what you like, what you value, how you speak, how you behave. No – it’s about that next bunch. The ones who might look a little suspect to you. It’s about them – and you won’t like them all, so what – get over it.
When the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off expressed his disdain for Ferris, his able assistant Grace set him straight when she remined him, “Oh, well, he’s very popular, Ed. The sportos, the motorheads, the geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads — they all adore him. They think he’s a righteous dude.”
So as you look for your future leaders, stop overly relying on your old filters about what makes sense and what’s predictive. Instead, watch them, and see who’s following who. Then ask why, and show a little interest.
To all you title holders and gray hairs, I say to you that if you don’t know what they value and don’t endeavor to move mountains to go find out, well, they’ll judge you too, and when they can, they’ll take their talent elsewhere. They rightly think of themselves not unlike how the great Ferris Bueller thought about Cameron’s car-obsessed father when he said, “A man with priorities so far out of whack doesn’t deserve such a fine automobile.” With respect, I ask, do we deserve these kids who will be our future?
The very same amazing fictional character also comforts us and tells us this transition will work, we won’t get busted or fail, because, as he said to Cameron and his girlfriend Sloane when they almost got caught skipping school by Ferris’ dad, “Only the meek get pinched. The bold survive.”
In the end, I think we’re going to enjoy this new generation. We’re going to embrace them, and when we do, I think they’ll pay us the same genius compliment that Samantha once gave the geek in Sixteen Candles. She felt heard and respected, so she said, “It’s really human of you to listen to all my bullshit.” Has there ever been a better compliment? I don’t think so. So please join me, and together we just might save Ferris.