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Gustin Partners | August 04, 2014 |

And Another Thing…Demographics

By Thornton May
Futurist, Senior Advisor with GP, Executive Director & Dean - IT Leadership Academy

In the Roaring 20’s stock purchases on margin, bootleg whiskey and women’s rights were not the only things expanding exponentially. Knowledge – what was knowable and what was supposed to be known – was expanding at previously unheard of rates. Will Durant philosopher, historian, educator and writer, in his best-selling opus The Story of Philosophy: The Lives and Opinions of the Great Philosophers of the Western World lamented:

"Human knowledge had become unmanageably vast; every science had begotten a dozen more, each subtler than the rest…. All that remained was the scientific specialist, who knew “more and more about less and less,” and the philosophical speculator, who knew less and less about more and more. The specialist put on blinders in order to shut out from his vision all the world but one little spot, to which he glued his nose. Perspective was lost."

While the irrational exuberance and boundless optimism of that age came to an abrupt halt, not so knowledge. A colleague recently shared with senior IT executives results of his research into what was “Top of Mind” with CIOs. His list featured 48 topics. While multi-tasking is all the rage these days, even the most dexterous executive would probably have trouble balancing this load.

Herb Simon, the Nobel Prize laureate argues that humans have bounded rationality [i.e., we can only keep so many things straight at one time]. Simon’s insights were democratized [i.e., dumbed down] to the mantra that people can only keep six disparate ideas in mind at one time.

My research leads me to believe that one of the six ideas executives need to keep Top of Mind is DEMOGRAPHICS.

Futurists LOVE Demographics [the particular features of a population, for example people's age or race] and Demography [the study of populations]. Demographic baselining is where one starts understanding humans at work. The demographic conversation in most organizations today revolves around “what are we going to do with the Millennials?”

If you were to review the very sizable and growing literature studying generational issues one would come to the conclusion that every generation basically wants the same things. It is how and when they want these things that is so different.

At this year’s Harvard Law School Commencement Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York [“the Sheriff of Wall Street”] gave graduating jurists the following sage advice:

"No one who ever pitched a perfect game in baseball went to the mound that day expecting to do so. Because not only is that unrealistic, it is the height of arrogance. And yet I see people all the time make that very mistake. They want to be great before they have learned how to be good. They want to be on the big matter before they have handled a small one. They want to try a case before they have argued a motion. They want to be generals before they have been good soldiers."

But first I submit you have to learn some craft. Actually learn how to practice law in whatever area you first pick.

But first I submit you have to learn some craft. Actually learn how to practice law in whatever area you first pick.

To be a world class leader requires understanding demographics [i.e., the mind sets and behavioral proclivities of the populations in the workplace]. Understanding demographics will require patience and some additional homework.


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