Monday, February 09, 2009

Rebecca Ryan Speaking at Chamber Dinner

Rebecca Ryan was the featured speaker at the Hutchinson/Reno County Chamber annual dinner tonight.

Ryan is the author of "Live First, Work Second," which gives insight into the mindset of the next generation. She has researched the material through interviews and focus groups. She has her own firm called Next Generation Consulting that aims to help communities attract and keep people of all ages.

I just reread the book and it's a quick, concise read - well worth the effort. For the purposes of discussion, the generations are roughly divided into:
Silent Generation born 1925-1942
Baby Boomers born 1943-1960
Generation X born 1961-1981
Millennials born 1982-2002

In her initial comments this evening, Ryan told the group that a "Leader's job today is not to have the answer. A leader's job today is to midwife the answer." She told people to consider if when they go to meetings they pretty much know what is going to happen. If so there's not enough new voice in the meeting.

I've never thought of it that way, but she summed up why I generally hate meetings - we have the same conversations over and over again. I can anticipate what's going to be said next, which means there's no reason for me to be there. But I think for some people, they see value in that because meetings are a way for them to "hammer home" their point of view by repeating it. I just don't want to be involved. But, then, of course, I'm one of those Gen X people who has no patience with such things. We like things to move quickly. So, there you go.

I knew I would like Ryan when I read the book and she brought up Maslow. If you've read here for any amount of time, you know I'm a big fan. I really think Maslow had us all figured out. She looks at it from a generational perspective - the greatest generation wanted basic needs, the boomers moved up to affiliation, the gen xers value independence and the millennials are working their way up to the top into self-actualization.

A real shift is that people used to have one job their whole lives. I was on my 7th job before I was 40 and I felt like I'd stayed in some of those for a long time. She said in the coming generation, that by age 32 people will have had nine jobs. I think it's great to do different things - you move in different circles, meet different people, learn different systems - and take all of that with you into the next thing, making life a richer experience. Ryan said younger people "know they will have multiple jobs, but they may not necessarily want to have multiple homes or zip codes."

She discussed the seven indexes she lays out in the book. These are the things that matter to young people when they're considering moving into a community.
Vitality - health and well being of a community - are there trails for example
Earning - can I make a living here and are there knowledge-based jobs. The 30% of people engaged in knowledge based jobs make more than half of the income in the US. If you want to raise the standard of living for everyone in your community, you need to increase your knowledge-based jobs and entrepreneurs
Learning - not just traditional learning, but are their writer's groups and lectures and other ways to keep the brain engaged
Different Talent - does the community incorporate all different kinds of talent? She uses the Irish Potato famine as an example to illustrate this - the famine happened because they had no genetic diversity in the potato. She asked the group tonight, "Are you growing only one kind of potato here?"
Cost of Lifestyle - can I afford to have a life here
After Hours - what is there to do after work and on weekends - this may not necessarily mean a big party scene - not everyone wants that
Around Town - How easy is it to get around. The national average commute is 22.6 minutes. We can get from one end of Hutchinson to the other in that amount of time and that is something I like about living here. I do not ever again want to spend my time sitting in traffic.

She talked a bit about networks - what kind of opportunities are there for people to connect. You know this is one of my great concerns - how we connect with other humans. This seems very lacking in our world today and we are less for it. She challenged us to think about how we create a space to connect.

A really important point she made was that if you have people talking about ways to improve a community, it doesn't mean that what's there is bad. It just means there's a new way to look at things.

One of my favorite comments was, "I don't care if you put young people or young thinkers at the table." I've noticed lately that regardless of the topic, the answer often seems to be age related. We hear, "Well, we need to get young people involved..." or "Well, people over 40 don't do this..."  This can be used to explain everything from texting to newspaper readership.

The problem is, these things are far deeper than age and if you stop with an explanation of age, then there's nothing that can be done. We can't create more people under 40. But, of course, age is not the answer. I'm closer to 50 than 40 and text more than some people I know who are half my age. It's not age and if you explain everything away with age you don't ever get to a real answer that you can actually use.

Overall it was a very interesting evening. I'm so glad I went. Trish came and picked me up and it was good to be there. I ran into a lot of folks I know. Everyone seemed amazed to see me out and about. Tomorrow is two weeks since surgery. I think I'm doing pretty well, but I will be glad to be normal again. At least now I have some new things to think about while I'm recuperating.
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Anonymous said...

Pardon me if I go on a bit, but this topic interests me.

Too often, towns pay lip service to the idea of new blood. "Great," they say, "as long as we don't have to stretch beyond our comfort zone." (There are exceptions, of course. I know a Chamber VP who quotes "The Blues Brothers.")

Color me cynical, but having done the Chamber thing in a couple of places, I know the head honchos are usually higher-ups in the branch offices of international corporations -- as a group, hardly the kind to relate to workers a couple of generations younger who want book readings and cool coffeehouses.

Every town of Hutch's size that's not a college town is fighting the brain-drain battle. Many are trying revitalized downtowns, with loft apartments and entertainment districts. But until the "knowledge workers" morph into movers and shakers, don't expect a ton of change. Or even after that.

To truly attract waves of young people, Hutch would have to become something you don't want to be: Chicago or KC. Try getting across town in 20 minutes then.

As to meetings, have an agenda and hold them standing up a half hour before lunch.

Patsy Terrell said...

If anything will change is a whole different subject. I was happy to at least hear part of the conversation, and see others hearing it. I don't know if they listened, but they heard it. They had a record crowd, a sell out, so hopefully someone heard something she said.

Patsy Terrell said...

Thanks, Dave... I looked in on your blog... interesting thoughts... and I'll check back again. Thanks.

Amy said...

Patsy, I think you're technically younger than I am. I don't twitter or text that much. My phone cannot take pictures. I don't blog. I only check my myspace and facebook about once a week.

I think I'm prematurely turning into my mom :(.

Patsy Terrell said...

Amy... different people like different things... maybe these just aren't the tools that interest you. Nothing wrong with that. Although how you can stay away from facebook is a mystery to me! :)