Earth Shoes Vs. Flip Flops: Are College Grads Ever Ready? #letsblogoff

For the third #letsblogoff (my second entry in this group effort to cure the world of ills via blogging on a single topic), my twitter buds chose a meaty question: Are college grads ready for the real world? Warning: things don’t end where they start off.   


What’s Wrong With Kids — Yesterday?

We all heard that knock right out of school – What’s wrong with kids these days? My gen heard: cut your hair, turn down that music, can’t you do something useful with your life? It’s the perennial generation gap.

Boomers, such as me, rejected the uptight establishment world of our parents. We fought their lousy Vietnam War (we typically whine about that first), made love, not war, waged sit-ins and love-ins to ban the bomb, experimented in communes, pot, psychedelics, and outdoor music bashes, and generally knew better than our elders. heh. Our rallying cry , “Never trust anyone over 30.”

Now there’s a plan with a short time horizon! So what happened to Boomers post-30? We became the establishment. Natch. Eventually, we had to take the reins and assume responsibility. That’s inevitable.

And when we did, it turns out we were better at organizing protests than truly changing the world. The generation that thought we put the R in Rebellion became (mostly) authoritative, ideological, Wall Street money makers and Big Business CEO’s.

Why in the world is that? I have an idea but first back to those new college grads,Gen Ys.

What’s Wrong With Kids – Today?

Gen Y’s, do you have a better plan? Apparently you study less, live with your parents longer, get married later, maybe have kids first, fight for gay rights, assume women’s and racial rights, rather be on American Idol than fly to the moon, and (get this!!) you can’t even support yourself.

How can you change the world when you’re still a dependent? What happened to the rebellious youth? Have you no spunk? (please hang with me on this ….)

While the Boomers and Gen Xs flattened the globe into a monster-sized playground, Gen Ys played high-speed digital games, built powerful social networks, and saw friends become stars via YouTube and reality TV. They are Digital Natives, fully connected 24/7, and seeking an Epic Win.

In fact, rather than rebelling (which in the hegemonic world actually reinforces the existing system) Gen Y’s are creating a new and potentially more powerful, more vibrant, less resource-intensive world. They might actually be building a real world – ok, a hybrid real/digital world — that can be effectively balanced.


Are We Ready for the Age of Flip Flops?

Earth shoes were made for walking. On the earth. They were earthy and so were the Boomer hippies who favored them. Earthy things take earthy resources, energy, and machines. Our Boomer world is Big Physics.

Flip flops on the other hand, are fragile, flimsy, and made for long days at the beach or sitting on your tush rocking to tunes while you game the day away.

Thing is, in the next real world, we might game for a living. That’s right. Millennials are finding a way to turn fun into profit. Their world is Mega Pixels.

We will likely travel, shop, learn, connect, produce, and get health care primarily via computers. And according to game guru, Jane McGonigle, Institute for the Future, computer gaming is good for us. It builds community, intense concentration, and most of all, confidence that we can achieve an Epic Win.

Unlike the real world where our largest life lessons arrive in the form of defeats and exhausting resources, digital games have no limits. Plus at any given moment as a reward for exceptional performance, you can experience a monumental win. What’s more, everyone else can too. There are absolutely no shortages of possible wins. That in itself frames an entirely positive experience.

Imagine if the game world IS the real world.

While Millennials have teethed on joy sticks and cell phones, Boomers and Gen X’s are mere immigrants to digital reality. We learn these skills like a second language; they live and breathe them. Even while we create the toys, it is Gen Y’s that hyper-extend the power of the media.

Welcome, President Flip-Flop; Move Over, Boomers 

Boomers, how did we let this happen? How did the generation that supposedly was the largest, most powerful cohort ever to walk the earth allow these upstarts a way to shove us into obsolescence prematurely?

Social change experts Strauss and Howe call it the Fourth Turning. Four types of eras, or Turnings, last for 15-20 years each and cycle continuously.

  • 1st Turning, Outer-Driven Era: a new sense of community arrives.
  • 2nd Turning, Awakening Era: inner life blooms with spiritual renewal, artistic innovation.
  • 3rd Turning, Inner-Driven Era: cultural and social life fragments.
  • 4th Turning, Crisis Era: conflict reins supreme and spiritual curiosity declines.

We entered a Crisis Era, the so-called Fourth Turning, around 2005 and it’s estimated to last until 2020 or 2025. These eras frame our worldviews and create generations with unique characteristics.

  1. Boomers, born during 1st Turning/Superpower America are idealists/prophets.
  2. Gen X’s, born during the 2nd Turning/Boom Awakening are reactive/nomads.
  3. Gen Y’s, born during the 3rd Turning/Millennium changeover are civic/heroes.
  4. The next generation, along with the Silent Generation, will experience the current 4th Turning/Crisis era during their youth, imprinting them as adaptive/artists.

In other words, when Boomers took the reins, we became moralistic (see graphic), which works for protests, but is hardly a formula for revolutionary leadership.

On the other hand, Gen Y/Millennials are truly transformative. As these civic/heroes emerge, their interest is power and they are instinctive team players. They become builders and doers.

While Boomers went looking for meaning, Millennials are meaning-makers. They share, publish, curate their own works and connect with the works of others. During emerging adulthood, “Civics develop activity oriented peer relationships, and a strong sense of generational community” (Strauss & Howe). That is exactly what this generation is doing right – collectively creating a way out of Crisis. Don’t worry, we will all play parts especially during the next decade but Gen Ys eventually will run the show.

A Powerful Coupling

Boomers and Gen Xs were stuck with a modern industrial world that needed our attention for another generation. Millennials don’t have those same interests. They have the tools and technology, and most importantly, the zeitgeist and worldviews to think and act in a brave new digital world. They will be heroes that show us a new way to trim our physical uses into a just-right fit. Plus they will enhance the real world with digital realities of unlimited potential.

The question isn’t:”Are college grads ready for the new world?” Or even, “Is the world ready for them?” We have to ask ourselves: Are we ready for the world they bring to us?


The young do not know to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible, and achieve it, generation after generation. Margaret Mead


Admittedly, there’s many ways to slice this pizza, as my brilliant twitter friends prove.

  1. Amy Good (splintergirl) Amy’s Blog
  2. Nick Lovelady @cupboards    Cupboards
  3. Becky Shankle @ecomod EcoModernism
  4. Tamara Dalton DesignStudios
  5. RufusDogg @DogWalkBlog DogWalkBlog
  6. Sean Lintow  SLS Construction
  7. Bonnie Harris @WaxGirl333  Wax Marketing
  8. Richard Holschuh @concretedetail ConcreteDetail

Images: Strauss & Howe chartEarth Shoes; Flip Flops


Timeline Tuesday: Waves of Change 1750-2100

K-Wave 8-2.pdf
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One of the best tools in the futurists bag is the visual timeline. Here is one of my favorite by Peter von Stackelberg at Social Technologies, a futurist consultancy based in Washington DC. Peter started this project as a student at the University of Houston in 1989 and continues to build on it.


A Timeline of Major Trends and Events

In this amazing diagram, Peter tracked major events, trends and cycles from an American perspective, starting in 1750 and then projected to 2100. Whats more, his analysis spanned all five STEEP domains. STEEP is an acronym for Social, Technological, Environmental, Economic, and Political areas which is used for environmental scanning research. While futurists tend to prefer using a range of probable futures, Peter essentially gives a single future view. The complexity of the data justifies this approach, and viewers just need to take that parameter into account.

Peter began with two sets of cycles shown under Economic trends:

1.      The Kondratieff Cycle idealized as a K-Wave that considers four distinct periods: early advance (E.D.) growth, late advance (L.A.) conservation, early decline (E.D) recession or collapse, late decline (L.D.) reorganization. Then the cycle begins again. 

2.      Schumpeters theory of creative destruction, illustrates an S-curve for major technological breakthroughs, or lead technologies. Most recently, Peter indicates eras of steel, then petroleum and now information and projects the next era as biotech.


Uniquely, the complexity of this data over time and topics gives a rich picture of possible futures. Any one of these areas might be somewhat different and change the future substantially. 


Whats It Mean for Cities and Architecture?

For future cities and architecture, a number of ideas catch my attention:

1.      While worldwide oil production is said to decline from 2010 to 2025, a positive economic cycle is projected. The only reason I can imagine that is if new technologies and areas of production and not just biotech emerge. One possible area is green tech, another is social tech, and a third is productivity among developing nations. All three would have positive results for cities.

2.      Superfast Trains such as mag-lev are shown on an S-curve that is just beginning a growth cycle. I cannot tell you how excited I would be to see a train culture emerge globally. If it is a mere third of the transportation pie, I think our quality of life and environmental consequences would be immeasurably improved, especially if another third of transit used personal transportation such as walking, bikes, and other intimate devices.

3.      Smaller households from aging and delayed parenting would create a need for more housing but not necessarily a demand for more space. One trend in the past fifteen years that can stand a reversal is the average size of houses, luckily already showing a decrease during the current recession.

4.      We continue to project growth in the US, which in turn makes the economy grow. However, that growth is based on immigration which is based on being a desirable place to live with jobs, education, and opportunity in short, the American Dream. Keeping that dream alive should be a national priority, not just for the US, but for every country. I think it has been a defining element of the past fifty years, a culture of optimism. However, on this chart, several risks emerge: end of oil, increased social and civil unrest, global population explosion, and American involvement in a war. Each of these cycles could cause major difficulties that require preparation.


Whats Missing?

This timeline uses cycles, which are external forces from specific systems and represent a structural or contextual change.

The actual experience combines external large forces with the actions of individuals, groups, organizations, and nations, our intentions and innovations. By understanding grand patterns, we can look at the best and worst for various scenarios.

Preferred scenarios become visions, images of the future, that shape the decisions and choices we make today.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Alan Kay