The parable of the dinosaur and the chameleon

by Lynda Smith
Posted In: Work Learn

In the late 1940’s and 50’s after the Second World War a whole bunch of babies were born. These babies formed part of a large species called “baby boomers”.  They caused a lot of upheaval in the world.  Their parents were happy and excited about life after the war.  Business was booming and the Americans even put a man on the moon.  These children were growing up with a positive attitude and even believed that they could change the world.  Schools and universities were built to accommodate this growing group.  Radio was the main medium as they grew up.  They would lie in bed at night and listen to programs like “squad cars.” Television became part of life for some of these children but computers were not part of their vocabulary.

These babies morphed into workers that believed they could change the world.  Work became an obsession and for many this meant working long hours, putting work first on their priority list and mortgaging their families.  During this stage of life, computers the size of houses started to appear and very quickly started to change the way people communicated and worked.  The pace of this change has been fine for some, but for most of these boomers it has been difficult to keep up and understand exactly how this is changing their world.

Otto von Bismarck brought in a great concept that many boomers have been looking forward to.  After 40 years of working they can relax, play golf and enjoy all the money that has been invested for them over the years.  They were all very sad in 2008 when these investments seemed to have disappeared down a deep black hole.  They are not sure what to do now? Should they keep working and let go of their dreams? 

They are not so happy at work because they have generation X and Y young snots who seem to be able to work from a small mobile piece of technology and seem to not have any respect for the way work used to be.  Why is change happening so fast?  Why can’t things just stay the way they were?  These young snots also seem to be happy to work for a few hours and then want to go home.  There is a lot of tension in the office and they call us part of a “dinosaur” species.  Are we becoming obsolete and bound for extinction?

There are some boomers who seem to be still doing ok.  I am not sure why they have managed when most of us are so unhappy.  They seem agile, move fast, have a tongue that flicks and catches a sense of all the wonderful things that the younger generation is experiencing.  They are learning about some strange new media called Facebook and Twitter and engaging with these young snots.  They seem to see the future as a place full of opportunity.  They talk about working much longer than they had planned because they love what they do, feel healthy and want to make a difference.  Some of them are even going back to learn new skills and are talking about a new career.  They seem to be just like chameleons that have changed colour and adapted to this new world.

In time history will look back and we will be able to record which species survived.

“In a few hundred years, when the history of our time will be written from a long term perspective, it is likely that the most important event historians will see is not technology, not the internet, not e-commerce.  It is an unprecedented change in the human condition.  For the first time substantial and rapidly growing numbers of people have choices.  For the first time, they will have to manage themselves.  And society is totally unprepared for it…

Throughout history, practically nobody had choices… Now suddenly a large number of people have choices.  What is more, they will have more than one career, because the working life span of people is now close to 60 years – three times what it was in 1900.” – Peter Drucker.