Saturday, December 29, 2007


I'm celebrating a little robot uprising of my own here in the distant future - the year 2000. For Christmas I received not one, but two robots who will shortly be making my life better.

First, the programmable coffee mill/brewer will, when properly instructed and primed with coffee beans and water, grind and brew coffee that will then await my return from the gym in the morning. Yay. No more waiting for me to grind the beans and kick off the brewing process manually. I do kind of still have to do these tasks, but I don't have to perform them competently at six in the morning.

More wonderfully, the Roomba scheduler robotic vacuum can be cajoled into launching itself into my crumb-and-doghair-filled adobe abode and it will clean it automatically. Of course, there are a few technical issues to work through, like the fact that the thing won't hold a charge. But for a brief shining moment yesterday it fired up and started bustling around the living room, busily cleaning the floor.

The little dog was beside herself with frenzied barking.

The big dog hid.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

It's Not That Big a Deal

Used to be that having remote workers took a lot of extra work. You know, the tech guys had to set up banks of modems and workers had to have extra ISDN lines put in their houses and such. It was a pain.

But in our wonderful modern age, technology is no longer a meaningful barrier to working from anywhere, at least for the majority of knowledge workers. All the technology commonly used by remote workers (video conferencing, VPNs, home broadband internets, instant messaging, voice over IP, laptops, mobile phones and texting) is ubiquitous and trivial to deal with. Moreover, for the next generation of workers, these tools are seamlessly ingrained in how they interact with the world. They don't even notice them when they use them. (Whereas I, elderly Gen Xer that I am, almost keel over whenever I receive a bit of text on my phone -- "Ooooh look, someone's sent me an epistle on the telemaphone!" Cue the youthful eyerolling.)

So the only meaningful barrier left between the workers of the world and widespread telecommuting is the attitude of managers. And this is at once the easiest and most difficult thing to change. Telecommuting requires managers to think in a different way about what it means to supervise workers, but I don't think that business can afford to wait to change its collective mind about this stuff. Your key players are increasingly coming from the under forty set, and we intuitively understand this relationship between ubiquitous technology and work. Smart companies will harness this flexibility and enjoy a significant advantage over those folks who still think that people have to exist in the same physical space in order to collaborate.

All you have to do is change your mind.

Monday, December 24, 2007

How to Get Telecommuting

A nice reader at the Evil HR Lady asks a convoluted question about how to get telecommuting approved for a complex personal reason. I left a comment over there, but I was thinking a bit more about this. The most important thing to realize when you're pitching telecommuting is that the boss doesn't really care that much about your reasons for wanting to do it Don't waste your breath explaining about your blood pressure, the fact that your high school kid can't be trusted home alone with the cable TV, how you can't morally justify driving your car three hours a day in an era when the polar ice caps are dissolving.

These "facts" just cloud your proposal. And they don't help make your case.

Your boss only wants to know just how is it that you propose to actually get work done in your pajamas. Better yet, she wants your assurances that you won't ever work in your pajamas.

A good telecommuting proposal has to focus on the business at hand, and it should include:

1. An accurate, complete, specific list of the things you do and how you will do them remotely. When I say specific, I mean statements like "Using the existing VPN, I'll connect to my office desktop PC inside the firewall to complete the weekly server updates." If your boss isn't technical, include pictures. Be sure that you have tried these methods for getting your work done and that they really work.

2. A communication plan that describes how colleagues, clients, and managers will reach you on a daily basis. This should not involve you calling into voicemail several times a day, by the way, unless you're only telecommuting sporadically. People must be able to pick up the phone and reach you immediately in a consistent fashion no matter where you are working. Learn how to use the forwarding features of your office telephone. You should establish regular hours that correspond to what everyone else in the office is working. You should specify a variety of communication methods (IM, email, phone) and the time frame for responding to each of these.

3. A set of criteria by which your manager can evaluate your effectiveness. This ties back into the specific list of duties -- if you know exactly what you're supposed to be doing and how you'll be doing it, it should be relatively easy to tell when you're getting it done. You should also specify how you'll report on the things you do each week -- whether it's through an email that gives the low-down, a weekly onsite meeting, or something else.

4. An escape clause. If your manager really can't stand it, or you find that you don't like wearing slippers all day as much as you thought, either party should be able to kill the agreement with reasonable notice, say four weeks. That time frame gives the telecommuter a chance to weigh his or her options (going back into the office, finding a new job, or what have you).

That's it. No flowery language about caring for small children, work-life balance, saving the environment, or sparing shoe leather. Of course, the exception to this would be if your boss has a mandate to save the environment, for example. But generally speaking, focus on the facts and you might have a chance.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Do the math

Like anyone else who does a job where the bottom line depends on getting out and seeing folks, I have goals that I'm expected to reach. They start out looking kind of benign. It's really two simple goals: 18-22 substantive contacts per month, and two contacts per year with the fifty top prospects in my pool. Oh, and there's a large dollar figure that our office is supposed to raise overall, but I don't really worry about that much.*

That doesn't sound too bad, right? I decided to apply my analytical self to figuring out exactly what those goals mean. Let's do the math, shall we?

18-22 contacts per month adds up to 264 or so for the whole year.

100 of those are taken up with my top fifty folks. I should be having two or three substantive contacts with different members of my top fifty prospect pool per week. I should also be able to move some of these top fifty toward some kind of meaningful gift, one assumes. Of course, in the absence of meaningful guidelines on who should constitute a top fifty prospect, I could totally neglect my stewardship obligations and only go after new people, or waste 100 visits on people who are perhaps not a good use of my time, or just go on visits who are fun to see (three-martini lunches, picking up the tab, exotic locations, what have you). I know better than to do that, but you can see how it could present a bit of a problem from a management point of view.

164 contacts are left to cultivate new relationships and advance people towards gifts that will make my employer happy. I need to be making at least three or four visits a week to reach this goal, and I'll need to try to reach many (many, many) more people than that to have any hope of getting there.

And so that's what I'll be doing. I know what I need to do: Develop my own criteria for "top fifty" and dump people who meet those criteria into my pool. Get appointments with them and any other human being who will see me, and don't stop trying to do this until my calendar is full from now until next Christmas. It sounds like one of those "if you do the work, it gets done" situations.

Does everyone here do this kind of analysis, I wonder?

* Why don't I worry about the dollar goal? Frankly, it's out of my hands. My job is to figure out who has money and interest in the place, and then get out and see those people. I cannot make them give money to me if they are not predisposed to want to get involved. I cannot make people who love the place rich so that they will have money to give. I cannot cause the market to go up and leave people with huge taxable gains at the end of the year that they're dying to give to my employer. These things are simply out of my control. What I can control is:

1. Knowing who has given in the past and taking good care of them so they might want to give again.

2. Treating everyone with an existing non-financial relationship to the place well, so those with wealth will think of it as a good place for their money and dreams.

3. Staying alert to opportunities.

That's pretty much it. If I'm spending my time seeing the right people (those with money, affinity and inclination to give), and I'm giving them the right experiences, I think the money part will take care of itself.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Another Take on the AT&T Telecommuting Business

From the Canadian paper the Globe and Mail, this article has some good perspective on the AT&T crackdown on telecommuting. I think it strikes the right balance between optimism and realism. Apparently HP is also scaling back telecommuting -- another tech giant with products that web workers use a lot. For goodness sake, what are they thinking? Of course, there are reasons these companies are cracking down. Unfortunately, they're not very good ones.

- Security: Nobody wants to be on the news when a telecommuter's laptop is stolen with everyone's name, SSN, and home address on it. But in a rigorous security environment, nobody should have sensitive data on a local drive anywhere in the organization, whether they are using that drive in a cube or on their patio. Poor security procedures are a problem no matter where your workers are.

- Accountability: If you can't see workers how do you know they're working? Well, kids, the corollary is true, too: just because you can see people doesn't mean they're working. There will always be people who abuse the privilege of working at home, in a cube, in an office, wherever. You'll always have to babysit some of your employees. As a manager you have to have real, measurable goals for every employee, and then measure their work against those goals -- I know it's a pain, but that's why you get paid the big bucks. If you can't tell what people are doing by what they produce, you need to look at your management practices. Reeling in hard-working telecommuters isn't going to help you be a better manager, and will only succeed in alienating your most self-disciplined and productive workers.

- Results: Telecommuting isn't saving us enough money, and our stock is in the toilet -- we must get all those people back in the office! Somehow if we make the workplace look like it did back when we were profitable it will be like it was then. So you revisit a classic logo, you start airing commercials that make people nostalgic for the big profitable you, and paint the offices the same color as in the 1990s. It's not going to work. The genie is out of the bottle and your workforce has changed, along with the rest of the world. Give it up and move on. You may have to actually innovate instead of rearranging the deck chairs on your personal Titanic, but like I said, that's why you get paid the big bucks.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Taking Accountability to the Next Level

I think this is a really interesting idea: these guys at are asking non-profits to really quantify what results they achieve with donations. Their methods sound a little hard to take (one charity said that the person who called them for stats and facts seemed evasive about what they were doing and for whom they were doing it) but the idea of taking accountability beyond the "how much do you spend on fund raising v. how much do you spend on your programs" is the right way to go.

When you're raising money, it is absolutely critical that the donations that people make go to the places they intended for them to go. That's it. So we need to have transparent and rigorous systems in place to account for this. If someone gives me $10,000 for the division of embarrassing problems, I should be able to follow that check into the accounting system and out the other end to address embarrassing problems. That is the bottom line, at least from the donor's perspective, and systems that allow me to quickly report that back to my donor are the minimum requirement for accountability.

In a perfect world, all non-profits would have tight fiscal controls that allow them to more quickly and easily answer the kinds of questions the GiveWell guys are asking them. Seriously, if I give you $10,000 for a particular use, say for repellent-infused mosquito nets, you should be able to show me that you really put $10,000 worth of repellent-infused mosquito nets into people's houses. Donors deserve it.

A special note to GiveWell -- you might could go ahead and get the .org version of your domain name instead of having an unfriendly 403 error display there.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Three Tips for Learning a Database

Rather than curse the darkness, Stella is going to light a little candle here. It seems that a lot of people never move beyond the basics of looking stuff up in a database: You need to find a person and you type his or her last name into the Last Name field and click find or submit or whatever. Congratulations! You are now working slightly more efficiently than if you had an index card file. The real power of any database is in finding groups of people who have things in common so that you can do things with them. For example, you could find everyone who had given to a particular area and then ask them to give more to a similar area. Or you could find everyone who lives in a certain area and then call them up to see if you can visit them. The possibilities are endless.

But if you're faced with an unfamiliar data structure, a completely horrible user interface, and no functional help files, how do you get from simple name look-ups to cooler stuff? Try these tips:

1. Don't be afraid. You're not going to break anything, really. In most databases you have to work pretty hard as a mere end user to mess things up, and so you'll be okay. If it asks you to save your changes and you either didn't intentionally change something or you're totally not supposed to change things, tell it to not save your changes. And if the database doesn't warn you before saving your changes, then it deserves what it gets and whoever manages the database should be taken out back, given twenty lashes with a slimy bit of pond scum, and then sent packing with his or her person still festooned with the aforementioned bit of pond scum.

2. Find a record that looks like what you are looking for. Let's say you know one of your constituents meets the profile of your target audience: he lives in Akron and has given more than $50 to the division of embarrassing conditions, and he's over 60 years old. Look him up by name and note where and how those other pieces of information (location, giving history, age) are stored in his record. Then head back to the advanced search interface and plug those criteria (location, giving history, age) into the right places, and suddenly you're finding groups of people who are like what you want.

3. Question your results. This may come as a shock to you, but databases are not magically created; rather, much like Soylent Green, it's peeeeeeeeeple. People make the data in your database. And people make mistakes. And store the wrong thing in the right field. Or store the right thing in the wrong field. And neglect to tell you that the advanced search features of their databases are terminally f*cked sub-optimal and cannot be relied upon. So anytime you're working with a new database or you're starting to push your knowledge of queries past the basics, it's important to go through your results with a fine-tooth comb to make sure that you have what you think you have. If it's a small, important group of results, I look at each one to verify that it does meet my criteria and that nothing unexpected has happened. If you have a really big result set, do some sampling to check it out. Look for problems -- someone who should not be on the list, at least on the face of it -- and then try to figure out how they got there. Unless your database is truly awful, there will be a reason that an out-lying record is there -- it's that people problem again.

With a little curiosity and some purposeful clicking, you'll be on your way to generating magical lists of people, places, and things to use in your work. And you can stop asking me to get you these lists. And that's good for everyone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Thing You Must Absolutely Know How to Do

I'm constantly amazed by people in the workplace, both in good ways and bad ways. The good? They're kind, interesting, and they often have wonderful talents that you might never discover if you didn't take the time to listen to them. The bad? I am constantly discovering that people lack the most basic skills in the software tools that they use every day. The most important thing that people don't know how to do?

Use application help.

I'm pretty good at using basic office productivity software (stuff to write, manipulate numbers, design and run presentations, you know the Office software I'm talking about here). So how did I get like this? I didn't attend instructor-led classes or have a private tutor. When I needed to do something that I didn't know how to do, I just fired up the online help in the application. I typed my question, I used the index, I picked through the help files until I found what I needed, and then I did it. It's pretty simple, really.

Look, people, a nice team of technical writers spent months or years going through that application with a fine-tooth comb discovering all the bells and whistles and documenting them. Most software (though certainly not all) will at least point you in the right direction when you're trying to learn how to use it. Most of the big label products also have tutorials -- lessons built right into the help files that will step you through all the tasks you need to create a new whatever-it-is-the-software-is-designed-to-help-you-make. But the technical communicators can only do so much for you -- at some point you have to take responsibility for your own growth as a software user and open up the book. Or, as I like to say, you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him think.

I know that not everybody learns the same way, but between the tutorials that talk you through stuff, the "Show Me" features, the pictures and the words, and the fact that when you use online help you're theoretically actively engaged in a meaningful (to you) task and you have some motivation for completing it successfully (e.g. not getting fired) -- well, it sounds like most of the learning style bases are covered. Like I said, vast teams of specialized technical writers, learning and cognition experts, and other smart people spend a lot of time thinking about all the ways they can help you git-r-done with their software. It's their job.

I can't help but note the corollary principal here: It's not my job.

Monday, December 17, 2007

What a difference a year makes

Last year at this time I was shopping on my "lunch" break (really more of a brunch break) in part to have human contact because I was feeling a tinch isolated in the home office. I really got a lot of Christmas shopping done because I was in stores at a time when most people weren't, and it was a little heavenly. This year I'm constrained to shopping on evenings and weekends with predictable results -- a case of severe misanthropy combined with a certainty that I'm single-handedly propping up the economy.

That's okay, though, I'm sure the feeling will pass soon. And then I'll have a brief reprieve until September 2008 when the chipper retailers will begin pumping Christmas songs on the Muzak again.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Telecommuting Takes a Hit

Why is it that when push comes to shove, telecommuting is one of the first things that takes it on the chin? People are buzzing about AT&T's move to rein in its telecommuters, under the guise of ... well who knows, really. What could they possibly be thinking?

First, they're going to lose a lot of great talent that will not be persuaded that their long-term telecommuting arrangements are somehow suddenly ineffective, even though they've been dutifully making money for AT&T from where ever they are for years.

But more important is the fact that AT&T/SBC is turning its back on a work trend that actually makes it a lot of money. When people work remotely they use telecommunication devices -- like the ones AT&T makes. Rather than have an internal base of people who could test products and lines of service and help them develop a strategic advantage around this growing market, they're going to pretend like it's 1991 and only weirdos (or would that be weirdi?) work in their slippers.

Come on, AT&T/SBC, wake up and smell the telecommuting.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Extra Time Isn't Always Useable

It's early here. I'm a naturally early riser, and that's a good thing, because I can do important things like run or blog. (But no running today, because I set the wrong alarm and woke up too late to really get to the gym and get things done. But I digress.) The extra hour or so that I can have in the morning is wonderfully useful to me personally, but I have a small problem:

I'm starting to call people with whom I would like to set up appointments to visit. These folks are busy professionals who have extremely demanding careers, and they are not at the numbers I have for them between 9:00 and 5:00. Okay, I should call them at home at night. The problem is that the best time to reach people is, sadly, during the dinner hour, say 6:45.

But dig it: that is the witching hour around my house, too. I've got children wanting dinner, homework help, nose-wiping, and the like. When I come home from the office I am on duty, like every other working parent (read "mom"). Some nights my beloved husband has been home all day and has a dinner plan and so on, but three nights a week I'm on my own to get things rolling until he gets home close to 7:00. By the time things (read "children") settle down, it's 8:30, too late to politely call another person if you ask me.

Possible solutions include: being a Fifties Dad and repairing to my home office with a martini and the phone to continue making calls. This may lead to certain feelings of hostility from my beloved husband who, like any reasonable person, appreciates help in distracting the children while he tries to prepare dinner. Plus on the days he's not here, this will most certainly lead to small children standing on the patio, pounding insistently on the office door and sobbing. And that's bad.

Okay, I could use my phone earpiece and try to make some calls on the short drive home and catch as catch can between 5:00 and 5:30, at which point a small and very talkative child joins me in the car and wants to tell me about rocks that she found on the playplound today. Risks include crashing the car because I'm a bit of a panicky idiot when it comes to driving and yakking.

Ummm....that's all I've got. Any ideas?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Finding the Middle Path

In my current work, I needed a way to manage tasks that I think of now, but which cannot be completed until some future date. It's really important -- if I say I'm going to phone someone in two weeks to follow up on their decision about something, I simply must do it.
The answer: a tickler file.

Now those of you who are Getting Things Done probably have some array of folders. This is nice, but big. I don't want to be dragging around a filebox, and because some of my calling and work has to happen after hours, I need the information with me in a convenient form.

I decided on index cards after I found the pictured index card binder. Great day in the morning, it's a wonderful thing. So here's how it works: I've got 1-31 for the days of the month, and then a Jan-Dec section for things that aren't this month. I move cards from day to day, and then I'll move next month's in at the end of this month. Pretty simple. For cards that are going to have a long life (for example, people that I'm working with and will be making a series of calls to over the course of a few months) I use a Sharpie to put the permanent information on the card -- name, phone number, class year and the like. I add the notes from my most recent call or my planned call in pencil, then as I transfer those notes into the core database, I erase and put my next planned action on the card, and rotate it into the day or month when I plan to call. I punch my own cards using a standard three-hole punch, and as I get things completely done, I just file away the completed index cards.
I feel a little obsessive-compulsive, but then I am reminded of things like this, and I don't feel so bad.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Remote Work in Hawaii

Under the category of "nice work if you can get it", I file this report: From the Honolulu Star Bulletin, a nice bit of reporting about how people are working from anywhere, including assorted coffee shops and mall food courts in Hawaii. Nothing in this article is earth shattering, it's just nice to think about people geeking it up in paradise, especially when it's 38 degrees outside and we might get a little snow tonight.

There are also some novel rules of coffee-shop-office etiquette at the bottom of the article. Scroll all the way down for gems like:

Buy clients a drink -- If clients are coming in to meet you, offer to buy them a drink. Don't use the cafe as a revolving office, where people come in and out without buying anything.
I think it's always a good idea to buy clients a drink. When will bars add wi-fi? Who needs video poker? I need a Guinness and a broadband connection, stat.

Friday, December 7, 2007

What Are You Doing, Stella?

Okay, so it's well known that I'm not telecommuting any more. I work in a real office, I waste time yakking with co-workers literally at a water cooler, I show up on time, I leave late, the whole nine yards. So where do I get off keeping the whole Stellacommute-Telecommute thing going on?

Part of my ongoing reason for keeping this blog alive is that I love writing about technology and the like, and this is a jolly place to do it. For all eight of you who visit me on a regular basis. And probably six of those visitors are actually me. Okay, whatever.

Another reason is that I maintain a fervent but secret agenda to go back to at least a part-time telecommute arrangement at some point. I'm still learning what the heck I'm doing in my job, and still proving that I can pull my weight, but I do believe that I'll keep working my way back to you, babe (e.g. working some of the time at the homestead).

And, as I discovered today, I'm keeping my edge even after achieving my goal. According to the nice folks at LifeHack, I've become a sportscaster, taking my real world telecommuting experience into the commentator's booth. It's really true: I achieved the complete, total dream of full time telecommuting for a job I loved from a place that I love. Then I kind of stopped loving the job as much, and something more challenging opened up, and I moved on. But I keep my hand in the telecommuting world by continuing to write about it, even if only in the wishful abstract. Swell!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

People Like the Telecommuting

Or wish they could find out whether or not they like it. That's the conclusion of a survey sponsored by Citrix (provider of one of my favorite pieces of remote-working software, Go-To-My-PC). The survey was actually relatively uninspired with regard to the questions it seems to have asked: Do you telecommute? Would you like to? Okay, thanks for your time.

But 23% of those surveyed say they do telecommute at least some of the time, and 70% would really like to.

Overcoming both management fears (they're goofing off! I can't sneak up behind them and catch them goofing off!) and worker fears (they'll think I'm goofing off! I'll never get promoted again!) is increasingly the critical part of successful telecommuting programs, it seems to me. The technology for working well from anywhere is now trivial, so it's time for people to change their behaviors to make it work.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Productivity Perfectionism Follow Up

Courtesy of The Onion, which has, once again, hit the nail on the head with its insightful analysis of the issues of the day. We must all be vigilant to make sure that our efforts to Get Things Done don't actually get in the way of...ummm... getting things done. You know?

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Perfectionism v. Happiness

My beloved former boss always used to scold us as we burnished the last little bits of our projects until the material wore thin: "Perfection is the enemy of done, and right now done is more important." And I would shudder a little bit, avert my eyes, and launch the code. And most often, nothing truly horrible happened, and the problems we did have were easily fixed. Of course, in software projects that last little bit of testing and bug fixing is really the least of the project and most of the critical work was done way earlier during analysis and design. And naturally, I would obsess over analysis and design prompting the inevitable Analysis Paralysis meeting with the big guy.

What you may detect here is that I am a bit of a perfectionist. My older child will tell you that I look over a math test and ask her why she got two problems wrong (not in an unreasonable way -- I just ask her to check her work and figure out where she went wrong, I'm not an ogre). I suppose I should focus on the twenty problems she got right, but that's hard for me.

It turns out that perfectionists can be more unhappy than slackers -- even seriously so with suicidal ideations, anorexia, and other self-harming behaviors undertaken in pursuit of artificial ideals. This Times article about the perfectionism got me thinking about the productivity blogosphere's mania for getting stuff done. While I'm sure that many of the people who are making lists at the altar of Dave Allen are out of control and need help, I suspect that many of the most enthusiastic practitioners are people who were already pretty together.

Perfectionism often makes you see a big problem that requires a big solution (43 folders, plus index cards, special pens, a Moleskine, and a relentless search for the perfect online task manager! Go!) when you really have just a small ripple in your generally well-organized world. Research has shown that the truly awful may not even realize that they are stinking at something like getting things done, and the people who think they are the worst at something may, in fact, be pretty competent. So the more you seek to improve how you apply structure to getting things done, the more unlikely it is that you actually need to improve dramatically.

And yet you feel like you must. Because you are a perfectionist. So you read another "squeeze every moment out of your day" blog entry. You feel guilty when you leave an email in your in-box for three days. You stay at the gym twice as long to make up for the day you missed.

Part of me thinks that this is not necessarily a bad thing. I always say that mental illness is only a problem if it gets in the way of living life, and if tweaking your productivity systems makes your brain happy, then go for it. But if you find yourself paralyzed by the fear of making a mistake or experiencing some small lapse in efficiency, then maybe it's time to pop a 'luude and force yourself to relax.

Now I've got to go sort towels so my linen closet is neat and tidy.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

X Marks the Spot

I went to hear a lecture by Marilyn Moats Kennedy about generations (you know, Boomers, Busters, GenX, Gen[wh]Y) last month that has been nibbling at the back of my mind. The talk was mostly about all these generations mixing in the workplace, and the well-documented challenges of managing this latest generation of folks in their early twenties to thirty.

It really got my goat. No, I don't have a goat, but if I did, it would be had.

I am a prototypical GenXer -- I'm all space shuttles exploding, Reagan declaring ketchup a vegetable, Madonna with the "boy toy" belt buckle, post-punk, riot grrrrl, I used a typewriter when I started my first job but by the end of the year we all had Macs and the typewriters were gone -- and I've been working for seventeen years now. It's almost accidentally turned into a career path at this point, so I feel like I'm not doing badly.

But the fact that GenX was barely mentioned in this lecture was very strange to me. Ms. Moats Kennedy was waxing rhapsodic about how GenY is so different and how boomers have to figure out how to deal with them. Among her insights (which were truly insightful):

  • GenY doesn't want to go out for happy hour with the crew from work. They want to go home and eat Lean Cuisine and go to the gym, and each drink they might have with you just translates into another hour at the gym. They don't exercise or play outside, also -- they just go to the gym and use devices specifically made for exercising.
  • You have to tell GenY explicitly what you want them to do -- if you want them to show up in a grown-up costume for meetings with clients instead of flip-flops, you must tell them to do so. They're happy to do it, but you need to be terrific - be specific.
  • GenY has been extremely attentively parented -- this is the first generation to have play-dates. You must schedule things with them and follow the schedule. They don't want to blue-sky, they want to follow the agenda, and will cheerfully work through whatever bullsh*t you put on the agenda. But don't expect them to enjoy a freewheeling bull session where you come up with twenty wild new ideas that may or may not pan out. Why don't you just tell them what product you want them to innovate.
Yes yes yes, this is all well and good, but here I am in GenX thinking, What about me? I mean, come on! I know there aren't as many of us, but heck, don't we deserve some kind of special management attention too? We're really utterly ignored now that GenY is proving to be such a pain in the collective behind. And I'm not the only one who's noticed.

Well, it turns out that GenXers are kind of a zelig in the workplace. We are really good at navigating the boomers' expectations, but we are also fully digital so we don't find GenY's focus on technology-mediated socialization that foreign (although we secretly think it's kind of bogus). We lived with self-absorbed boomer parents finding themselves throughout the seventies, we dealt with the absurdity of the eighties, we came into our own in the nineties (and everyone should be grateful to us for ending the era of hair bands and ushering in post-punk grunge), and now we should be running things in the aughts.

But we're not. All those dang boomers are not retiring, leaving us malingering in middle management. And we have to look out because all the self-entitled GenYers might run roughshod over us.