Tag Archives: politics

Do Demographics impact Leadership?

This morning on NPR there was a piece with Howard Dean about how older leaders should step aside and make way for a new generation. This has popped up in politics a bunch of times over the past couple of years, as the elected officials seem quite old. Our last presidential election gave options of a 69 and a 70 year old. With an ex president leaving office at the age of 55. The thing that most frustrates me about this reporting is it never talks about the root cause, which is demographics.

Birth Rates in the US 1943 – 2004: By Before My Ken – Wikipedia EN, Public Domain

After the baby boom, there was quite a baby bust. Births don’t tell the whole story, as immigration / emigration still move population around, people die, etc. But here is a 2015 snapshot of population by age.

Population by age in the US (2015 snapshot)

You can see that birth shape still in overall demographics, including the 1970-71 mini spike. It’s been filled in a bit by immigration, and the baby boom is less evident now that boomers are in their 60s and up and dying off. But it’s still there. And it’s important.

The Leadership Hole

About a decade ago I had the incredible opportunity to participate in a year long leadership excellence program at IBM. One of the classes was generational leadership, at a time when millennials were just about to enter the workforce. The teach talked about this demographic hole (all in generalizations).

The Baby Boomers were one of the largest generations, Gen X one of the smallest, the Millenials are nearly as big a generation as the Baby Boom. Gen X saw their parents laid off by large institutions, and the reaction is a huge upward trend in starting their own businesses. There are both less Gen Xers, and far less of them participating in large institutions still.

This means that as the Baby Boomers age out, who steps up? There aren’t actually a ton of Gen Xers there in the wings. And the Millennials are all very young and haven’t had the depth of experience yet. Do you try to fast promote them and hope they pick up enough along the way?  Many will, lots of “tribal knowledge” is going to be lost along the way. That might be good or bad depending on what habits were carried forward, but it’s unlikely to be a smooth transition regardless.

What Generational Discontinuity Looks Like

same-sex-marriage
Pew Research Center

 

FT_16.10.11_marijuanaLegal_trend
Pew Research Center

This is what generational discontinuity looks like. A flip of 60 / 40 opinion of something being bad vs. good in a 10 year period. Conventional wisdom, accepted norms, flipping really quite quickly after decades of the old attitude being around without any real changes.

Through this lens, the “why now?” of the Silence Breakers are another one of these 60 / 40 flips that we are right in the middle of the crossover. All of this was “accepted” until it wasn’t, and it will take a decade to fully entrench the new norm. Lots of people knew all this wasn’t ok, but it took Millennials standing up, and Baby Boomers dying out, to flip it.

There are Costs

It’s easy to see social progress and assume this is mostly upside. But there are costs of not carrying down experience and understanding. This analysis of the USS McCain collision showed how this leadership hole is hitting the Navy:

But the US Navy has its own particular history of creating fatigue through stress. The Navy’s Surface Warfare community has a reputation for “eating its young.” A “Zero-Defect” management mentality toward leadership has, despite entreaties from higher in the ranks, been ingrained in the surface Navy’s command structure. When something happens, junior officers get burned. There is no learning from mistakes—only punishment for making them.

Couple that with tougher tasks than ever. Over the past decade, as a Government Accountability Office study in 2015 noted, “to meet the increasing demands of combatant commanders for forward presence in recent years, the Navy has extended deployments; increased operational tempos; and shortened, eliminated, or deferred training and maintenance.” And to increase the availability of ships for ongoing missions in the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific, the Navy has “home-ported” ships overseas.

But the increased use of these forward deployed ships—which spent twice as much time at sea as similar ships based in the US—has had an impact on the training and maintenance of those ships in particular. In the Seventh Fleet, ships no longer even have a designated period for training. These days some Navy observers suggest the US may have the best equipped fleet in the world, but it no longer has the most skilled sailors driving them.

It’s the same pattern. Extending the terms of older generation, younger generation not getting enough mentorship, and critical bits breaking down when younger generation are put on the spot without enough preparation.

Patterns in our Demographics

The predictive power of this demographic hole is important. Like a warming climate it’s not going to tell you exactly which new super storm is going to hit which state. But it does tell us to expect an increase in:

  • Breakdowns in large systems / companies / organizations as the leadership hole prevented the pass down of unwritten rules and important tribal knowledge that kept the system working
  • Quick 60 / 40 opinion flips as the lack of gradual pass down of culture caused the younger generation to reevaluate their definition of normal

I just wish that more folks reporting on the events of the day pondered some of these larger factors and forcing functions of history like population demographics.

P.S. That’s just from the disruption of flow of information through population bottle necks. If you start thinking about how opportunity exists when you hit the job market if you are in a dip or peak of the population, that gets fascinating as well. Malcolm Gladwell proposed that as part of the rise of the tech giants in Outliers. While he is always a bit light on research, it’s interesting to ponder.

 

This Is How Fast America Changes Its Mind

As the Supreme Court considers extending same-sex marriage rights to all Americans, we look at the patterns of social change that have transformed the nation.

Source: This Is How Fast America Changes Its Mind | Bloomberg Business – Business, Financial & Economic News, Stock Quotes

Really interesting visualization and look at how social issues hit a tipping point far faster than one might expect, and then the federal government just steps in and unifies things. Love looking at data sets like this.

The backstory on the Shrimp on a Treadmill

Exactly how much taxpayer money did go into the now-famous shrimp treadmill? The treadmill was, in fact, made from spare parts—an old truck inner tube was used for the tread, the bearings were borrowed from a skateboard, and a used pump motor was salvaged to power the treadmill. The total price for the highly publicized icon of wasteful government research spending? Less than $50. All of which I paid for out of my own pocket.

via How a $47 Shrimp Treadmill Became a $3-Million Political Plaything – The Conversation – Blogs – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

From the intersection of science and politics. Kind of like Ebola no longer being a thing everyone is freaking out about now that we’re past the midterm elections.

A tale of two tech teams

The Atlantic just published an in dept look at the Tech team behind the Obama campaign. It’s a little personality heavy, because they are trying to make tech interesting to the average reader, but putting that aside, there is quite a bit of detail on the team and tech structure behind the campaign.

Contrast that with what happened in the other campaign, where this was clearly not a core part of what they were doing.

Deaths per Terrawatt Hour

The folks at Next Big Future did an analysis of deaths per unit energy produced back in 2008, which was republished recently due to the media’s focus on the Japan reactor.  (There is also a many eyes visualization of the data.) World wide Coal kills 4000 times as many people each year as Nuclear. In the US things are a bit better than world wide, and it’s only killing about 1/2 as many as Oil, but it is still a big killer.

I think people are reacting to this safety issue much like they do flying vs. driving. Flying on an airplane is far safer than driving, but if it goes wrong a lot of people all die in one place at one time. The real killer takes us in ones and twos every day in every corner of this country.

(Image courtesy of Seth Godin)

Restore Truthiness, Help a Teacher

The folks over at Reddit, who got the ball rolling on trying to get Colbert to hold a Restore Truthiness rally in DC in October, found a new way to get his attention. Colbert is on the board of Donors Choose, a charity that helps get school teachers supplies for projects in their classrooms. On Reddit a thread was started to get people to donate to Donors Choose in the name of the rally.

Slightly over a day later it has pulled in slightly over $90,000 to the effort. It came in fast enough that is broke their tally system last night. So help a teach, and restore truthiness at the same time.

Two thumbs up for Bloomberg

“This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions or favor one over another. The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

“Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11, and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values and play into our enemies’ hands if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists, and we should not stand for that.

“For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetimes, as important a test. And it is critically important that we get it right.

His speech has shown up many places, this transcription is on Salon.  It’s really worth reading in it’s entirety.

IPCC Debacle from the horse’s mouth

There is a good posting on the Real Climate blog about the IPCC AR4 blow back that is happening.  I think this gets to the heart of it:

To those familiar with the science and the IPCC’s work, the current
media discussion is in large part simply absurd and surreal.
Journalists who have never even peeked into the IPCC report are now
outraged that one wrong number appears on page 493 of Volume 2. We’ve
met TV teams coming to film a report on the IPCC reports’ errors, who
were astonished when they held one of the heavy volumes in hand, having
never even seen it. They told us frankly that they had no way to make
their own judgment; they could only report what they were being told
about it. And there are well-organized lobby forces
with proper PR skills that make sure these journalists are being told
the “right” story. That explains why some media stories about what is
supposedly said in the IPCC reports can easily be falsified simply by
opening the report and reading. Unfortunately, as a broad-based
volunteer effort with only minimal organizational structure the IPCC is
not in a good position to rapidly counter misinformation.