What must we teach The Next Generation?
How can we prepare the next generation to handle the mind-bending changes that are taking place every day and every hour? Indeed, when is the next generation? Much faster than you think. Best to view it as ‘now’. So much technology involved in the way we live and work from today onwards. Bill Gates’s Magic all-electric house will be looking old already, I expect. There is a lesson in that. Be thoughtful for your techie advances. Today’s new connection wizard will often be tomorrow’s has-been. You cannot judge all of the stayers and goers correctly but you can be prudent about your investment in every new toy.
My advice is to shun the processes that make what is already being done adequately well simply faster with what appear to be more bells and whistles. There are a thousand ways to have a diary. I find most of them excessively interrupting and admonishing. I prefer a simple word document to which I can add whatever I want whenever I want. I’ve been using one for years and it works very well. Of course, it doesn’t send irritating messages to all those involved with me to remind them to jump to my commands. I think they quite like that. But each to his or her own.
Back to the basics
We obviously don’t need to drill the next generation in the techie things they are already enthusiastically learning. It will be second nature to them to adopt a technologically advanced lifestyle. Chances are, however, that they will need some more fundamental disciplines. I rate the first of these the understanding that fundamental is itself important. Certain basic rules of life get lost in the rush to adopt the next gismo or philosophy that comes along. As an example of this I quote digitisation, which Wikipedia defines as “…the process of converting information into a digital format, in which the information is organized into bits. The result is the representation of an object, image, sound, document or signal by generating a series of numbers that describe a discrete set of points or samples.”
The use to which digitisation is put is another helpful way of looking at it. Digitisation is how we turn everything into numbers. OK, but why do we want to do that? So that it is much easier to handle than words. What do we do once we have turned the imprecise words, senses, feelings into numbers? We then produce a process for handling them. And that process is fast and final, by which I mean definitive.
Absolutely fine for the hard data of life – how many bottles on the wall. But try to apply that numeracy to love, to pain, to a sunset, to beautiful music, to an unspoken relationship between two people. Of course, it can be done, we do it all the time. ‘Measure your degree of satisfaction with our service – one star or five stars or something in between.’ I may have loved the person who dealt with me, hated the answer I got and longed for a wider range of prices from which to choose. The weary five stars don’t give me much scope, so we resort to words – but only for those willing to take the trouble. Now we have biased any feedback in favour of the literate.
Measuring the unmeasurable
The quality of life is not easily digitised so we must be careful that we don’t ruin top class music, for example, by digitising it, at least until we can do so with the fineness of the human ear and the feelings of the human heart. How would you measure the characteristics of a potentially top leader? A lot of hard facts go into doing so. But so does a lot of judgment. Maybe one day we will be able to do it with a measure of success. For now, don’t be fooled by the very arbitrary attributes we can specify.
Teaching people to ‘read’ others is one of the most difficult coaching jobs we are called on to do.
I have spent some time on digitisation because measurement is one of the great achievements of the human species. But to allow it to overtake our sensitivities would be a major mistake. I have examples of where this has been done in our own business. Measurement of personality needs to be carefully handled if it is not to have the opposite effect for which doing it is intended. When it is achieved exclusively by numbers it has the effect of putting people into strict, and very limiting, definitions. This is not what we want personality measurement for. Our objective is not to ‘imprison’ people but to ‘free’ them. You don’t do that by putting them into a box.
There are other fundamentals of life that are equally important and difficult to measure. Personal discipline is a good example. We can measure exercise, diet, sleep and time devoted to several useful life-supporting-and-lengthening activities. It is much more difficult to measure a well-balanced person – and yet, that is the sort of person we want determining the basic rules of how we live our lives. And when it comes to sustainability, in the interests of revitalising the planet, our measurements will likely suggest short-term solutions to our problems rather than long-term solutions, which are generally the only way to undo the damage we have done.
Sustainability – the long-term solution
Sustainability becomes particularly difficult in times of economic disaster like covid. Desperate to get the planet’s economy back on line we will inevitably be searching for quick fixes. This will apply especially to SMEs who don’t have the cash reserves to sustain them through prolonged absence of business. It is vital therefore that their mentors and coaches – probably the parents and family, in proactive – teach them a company’s responsibility towards the planet and their fellow human beings. Longevity of a business today means adaptability to the changing scene.
It also means sensitivity to the market and to all the changes taking place in an overcrowded and vulnerable living space. The next generation is already with us. It needs to be.