• “When Generations Collide:” Understanding Why and How Generations Clash in the Work Arena

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    One of the best parts of living in a small town in Maine is that people actually walk from place to place. Even more remarkable, perhaps, we walkers stop and greet one another when we meet. Sometimes, it’s just to say “Good Morning;” other times nuggets of wisdom are shared.

    Today, was a nugget of wisdom morning. Walking on our neighborhood beach, I bumped into a friend whom I had not seen for some time. Aged 60, she has been looking for work for more than a few months. She has a stellar resumé and has had many interviews but the ideal offer has not materialized. She said, “I kept asking myself what I might be doing wrong. I knew something was missing in the interviews but I could not put my finger on the problem until I read a book called When Generations Collide. Suddenly, I realized that my interviewers, most of whom were quite young, do not understand why I am pursuing another job. More than a language barrier it is a giant generational barrier, and I knew I had to overcome it to find the work that I wanted.”

    The full title of the book she recommended – and I do too – is, When Generations Collide: Who They Are. Why They Clash. How to Solve the Generational Puzzle at Work, by Lynne C. Lancaster and David Stillman.

    The authors, founding partners of BridgeWorks consulting firm, describe four generations as: “Traditionalists” (1900-45), “Baby Boomers” (1946-64), “Generation Xers” (1965-80) and “Millennials” (1981-99). They explore the problems each might encounter in work settings, but, of course, as with my neighbor the problems can arise long before one is actually in the work setting.

    This is a book you’ll want to keep, to refer to over and over again. It is not full of jargon, or dry data and analysis. It is an easy read, but don’t be deceived by the facility with which you can breeze through their anecdotes. The stories are real and poignant and may even enlighten as they did my neighbor and me on this fine Maine morning.

    Local Sculpture, Willard Beach, photo by Elizabeth

  • Squirrels: What Senior Job Seekers Can Learn from the Furry Critter’s “Phenomenal Elasticity of Body, Brain and Behavior.”

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    Courtesy of Multiverse.org

    The more I discovered about the much maligned squirrel in this fascinating article, Nut, What Nut? by Natalie Angier, the more I realized the creature’s feisty spirit and resilient demeanor are the very attributes intrepid job seekers need.

    Did you realize:

    “Squirrels can leap a span 10 times the length of their body, roughly double what the best human long jumper can manage?”

    “They can rotate their ankles 180 degrees, and so keep a grip while climbing no matter which way they’re facing?”

    “Squirrels can learn by watching others — cross-phyletically, if need be. In their book Squirrels: The Animal Answer Guide, Richard W. Thorington Jr. and Katie Ferrell of the Smithsonian Institution described the safe-pedestrian approach of a gray squirrel eager to traverse a busy avenue near the White House. ‘The squirrel waited on the grass near a crosswalk until people began to cross the street,’ said the authors, ‘and then it crossed the street behind them.’”

    “’Its primary visual cortex is huge,’ said Jon H. Kaas, a comparative neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University, ‘A squirrel’s peripheral vision is as sharp as its focal eyesight, which means it can see what’s above and beside it without moving its head.’”

    “A squirrel has the benefit of natural sunglasses, pale yellow lenses that cut down on glare….’Gray squirrels use their sharp, shaded vision to keep an eye on each other,’ reports Michael A. Steele of Wilkes University in Pennsylvania. Steele’s research team observed that, ‘when squirrels are certain that they are being watched, they will actively seek to deceive the would-be thieves. They’ll dig a hole, pretend to push an acorn in, and then cover it over, all the while keeping the prized seed hidden in their mouth.’”

    Amazing as these traits are, they amount to peanuts compared to this extraordinary eye-witness account of Squirrel daring do captured by Angier:

    “I was walking through the neighborhood one afternoon when, on turning a corner, I nearly tripped over a gray squirrel that was sitting in the middle of the sidewalk, eating a nut. Startled by my sudden appearance, the squirrel dashed out to the road — right in front of an oncoming car. Before I had time to scream, the squirrel had gotten caught in the car’s front hubcap, had spun around once like a cartoon character in a clothes dryer, and was spat back off. When the car drove away, the squirrel picked itself up, wobbled for a moment or two, and then resolutely hopped across the street.”

    That’s resilience! Just the kind needed to launch oneself into the job-seeking orbit and survive!

  • Aging: Pithy Perspectives from “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and Beyond

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    The Wizard of Oz's Glynda

    “Age Doesn’t Matter Unless You’re a Cheese!” is the pungent observation from actress, Billie Burke, perhaps most famous for her role as Glynda the Good Witch in the Wizard of Oz.

    In their book by the same title, authors Kathryn and Ross Petras, have collected such provocative insights and more in what they call their “manual for living well to celebrate the wisdom and perspective that so often go hand in hand with experience.”

    Their nuggets come from 350 individuals who are: “1.Over sixty; and 2.Have something to say.” The list of luminaries included is impressive and diverse; it is well worth a read.

    A second great read is Roger Rosenblatt’s, Rules on Aging: A Wry and Witty Guide to Life.

    Roger Rosenblatt, acclaimed essayist and NewsHour with Jim Lehrer regular contributor, boldly offers – not your standard How-to’s seven or even ten easy steps – but a “whopping 56 rules for wisely navigating life into your golden years.”

    Rosenblatt describes his brief treatise (a mere 140 pages) as a “little guide intended for people who wish to age successfully, or at all.” He adds that “growing older is as much an art as it is a science, and it requires fewer things to do than not to do.”

    His advice on everything from party etiquette to office politics (“Never work for anyone more insecure than yourself”) is valuable reading for any one at any age. In fact one reviewer commented: ” A person of any age can profit from it. Perhaps a better title would have been; ‘Rules That Give You a Fighting Chance to Reach Old Age Without Succumbing to Stress or Having Someone Kill You.’”

    Rule #31 is particularly pertinent in this regard: “Do not attempt to improve people, especially when you know it will help.” Rosenblatt, reflecting back to Rule #2  adds: “Nobody is thinking of you – unless you tell them about their faults. Then you may be sure that they are thinking about you. They are thinking of killing you.”

    This is a must read for anyone who has a tendency to take themselves too seriously!

  • Happy Independence Day!

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    Holiday greetings from Maine…

    Georgetown, Maine, photo by Elizabeth

    It is sometimes forgotten that Maine was part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony during the American War for Independence. Our illustrious history – including a “sugar party,” pre-dating the more famous Boston Tea Party, which also fueled the fires of rebellion – can be found in this timeline from the Maine Historical Society.

    Five Islands, Maine, Lobster Pound, photo by Elizabeth

    We are renown for much more than our fabulous lobsters. Still, nothing can compare with grilling a fresh lobster and some corn on the cob for a holiday dinner to be topped off with a scoop of homemade ice cream crowned with strawberries picked that morning, and fireworks in the evening.

    We watch the fireworks sitting atop an old stonewall – remains of a fort which guarded the entrance to Casco Bay Harbor during the Revolutionary War. We also overlook the yard where hundreds of Liberty Ships were built and launched during World War II. Ironically those ships were modeled on a British vessel. Clearly, once we had achieved our independence from England and from Massachusetts, we began to share in a truly sportsmanlike manner, and – speaking of sports – that includes our love for the Massachusetts’ based, New England Patriots, Super Bowl Champions!


  • To Be or Not To Be? Hamlet’s Blackberry

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    William Powers’ new book, Hamlet’s BlackBerry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age is part fun, philosophical musings and part how to “disconnect ourselves from digital overload.”

    Unfortunately, Powers spends way too much time on the how to disconnect and not nearly enough on the philosophical musings. We all know how addicted too many of us our to our digital gadgets. If anything, it’s more difficult to get away from the dire warnings about how technology is ruining our lives, our relationships, our brains and turning everything but our thumbs tubby from lack of physical exercise. We do not need another treatise on that, but clearly we can use more of Powers’ witty, historical musings. Every review I’ve read notes how the reader picked up the book because he or she was intrigued by the title. Let’s be clear, the part of the title that appeals is to the left of the colon – “Hamlet’s Blackberry.” I have not read one review or spoken to one person who snatched up the book because it had such a gripping subtitle!

    Yes, it is good to assess whether we might have reached a point where the technology that was supposed to give us greater control is actually controlling us. And to his credit, Powers is not pooh poohing all technology or saying that we should disconnect from everything. The best parts of this book are those where Powers demonstrates – through seven ancient and modern philosophers – how new technologies have provoked similar fears throughout history. Plato, Seneca, Shakespeare and Gutenberg, for example, struggled with new-found gadgets. Even Ben Franklin, that wizard of invention, we learn had his moments of doubt!

    The “Hamlet’s Blackberry” (of the title) is what was called a writing table or table book and consisted of some plaster-covered pages bound in a pocket-sized book. A metal stylus came with it and was used to write down notes or lists. Shakespeare could sponge off the pages like a slate and use them over and over again.

    Ahhh, but where for art thou, quill pen? Would the end have been as tragic if Romeo and Juliet had had cell phones? Worst of all, how many of Shakespeare’s masterpieces might we have lost, if the Bard could have erased them from his Elizabethan Blackberry?

    This, I believe, is Powers’ message (overworked though it might be): there is a time to connect and a time to disconnect , and a reasonable person should know the difference.

  • How Positioning Yourself for a Spot on Oprah Is Remarkably Similar to Positioning Yourself for the Job of Your Dreams

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    When I read Charlotte Jensen’s five great tips about how to get on a talk show – even Oprah’s – I was struck by how these strategies could just as easily apply to a job search.

    As Jensen says: “Admit it: You’ve dreamed of sitting across from Oprah and watching your sales skyrocket after the world’s most influential talk show host gives you her seal of approval in front of millions. … Even though your chances are undeniably slim, it actually is possible to get on Oprah – or any of the other popular talk shows, including The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Rachael Ray, Good Morning America and The Martha Stewart Show. Plenty of entrepreneurs just like you have landed in front of cameras on TV’s hottest talk shows. How’d they do it – and what can you learn from their successes? Here are five things you need to know.”

    Here’s an abbreviated version of Jensen’s tips. See what you think:

    1. Start local. Become an expert in your field and find ways to inspire media coverage, even if it’s just your hometown papers, blogs and local news shows. Building a foundation of media coverage not only boosts your credibility, but also spreads the word, leads to new opportunities and prepares you for, hopefully, what will be your big break.

    2. Find a newsworthy angle. Your idea is more likely to get noticed if it ties in with current events or trends, and if you’ve established yourself as the go-to person on that specific topic. “Work to develop stories and angles that will resonate with the media and get them interested in an interview with you,”

    3. Pitch with finesse. Ready to pitch your business to producers? Keep in mind their goal is to entertain and inform viewers — not promote your company. Reaching the right person is essential, and timing is very important, as is the quality of the pitch itself.

    4. Be patient. Laying the groundwork is a process, and it doesn’t guarantee a seat on Ellen’s couch. If your efforts at getting noticed aren’t working, you might want to consider hiring a well-connected PR firm – but even then, there’s no guarantee.

    5. And when the spotlight comes, be ready to shine. This is one of those times you can’t just show up and wing it.

    Start Local; Become an Expert in Your Field – Someone They Want to Interview; Pitch [market] Yourself with Finesse; Be Patient; and Be Prepared to Shine when Your Moment Comes – each step is key. And, who knows, if you’re truly creative you could land the job and be on Oprah!

    Oprah, Courtesy of Babble.com

  • How the Economy and Virtual Volunteers Are Rapidly Making Traditional Nonprofit Boards Obsolete

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    The days of somnambulant boards – “experienced” power elites – sitting around magnificent mahogany tables, resembling small flight decks, are becoming even more rare than the mahogany in the finely turned table or the Aubusson carpet on the floor. Nonprofits as charitable institutions, solely supported by generous benefactors dedicated to serving the poor are a thing of the past.

    Today, successful nonprofits cannot afford the luxury of patiently waiting for beneficence to fall in their laps. The economy has nipped benevolent dollars in the bud, and even those benefactors with a few blooming roses left have come to expect more of the nonprofits they support. They seek ways to optimize the dollars they invest: to increase the impact, as well as the fiduciary and operational functionality of the organizations they support.

    Donors expect to see the nonprofit run as effectively as any other for-profit business in which they have a stake.

    This means that boards have to stop posing as governing bodies and become governing bodies. They have to take a professional interest in the operation – and not just an “interest.” They must apply the same operating principles: fiscal, marketing, R&D and ROI that they would to run a for-profit venture. Yes, they are looking for a SROI (social return on investment) but that, too, is driven by capital and not just good intentions.

    The transition from inert to proactive board needs to be a transformative process, but time is of the essence. Fortunately there are three options available to inject new life into the nonprofit board: one is real, face-to-face time and the other two are virtual.

    Encore.org has successfully launched a fellows program which provides high caliber, experienced talent to San Francisco Bay Area nonprofits: “Designed as paid, temporary, high-level assignments, Encore Fellowships provide immediate communications, research, business development, program development, and human resources support to nonprofits, while providing the fellows themselves with a bridge to a new stage of midlife work known as the encore career… The first program launched in 2009 inspired a provision in the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, passed last year, which calls for 10 new encore fellows in each state.”

    The two virtual volunteer programs are Catchafire.org and Extraordinaries.org.

    Catchafire connects professionals who want to volunteer their skills with nonprofits that need them. The organization helps nonprofits express their needs as short-term, discrete, and individual-based projects and packages those projects to create innovative solutions for basic nonprofit needs and to make it easy for actively employed professionals to find time to volunteer.

    Catchafire charges nonprofits a fee, but the services of the Extraordinaries is totally free. They, too, connect (via the web) professional volunteers with nonprofit organizations but their program is built on the concept of “micro-volunteering.”

    The Extraordinaries delivers micro-volunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on-demand and on-the-spot. So instead of making a lengthy time-commitment to a single organization on a single day per year, you can volunteer for many organizations many times throughout the week.

    We do not mean to suggest that nonprofit boards can be completely replaced with encore or virtual volunteers, but we do mean that it is time for the old tried and true boards to gear up and take advantage of the resources available to put them in a proactive and productive mode. Mahogany and Aubusson rugs are endangered specimens – nonprofits play too important a role to let them fall into neglect or even become extinct.

  • “Science is reshaping what we know about getting older. (The news is better than you think.)”

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    Illustration by Sarah Cline for Newsweek

    Jim Emerman, Executive Vice President, Civic Ventures, highlighted this fascinating Newsweek article, This Is Your Brain: Aging, on his recent web posting.

    I found these first words – “Science is reshaping what we know about getting older. (The news is better than you think.)” by Sharon Begley, science writer for Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal, very encouraging. The rest of her article, I might add, is just as upbeat. That being said, I was predisposed to like it because I am a visual learner and I love the article’s accompanying art, which pictures six interconnected cog wheels chugging away in a spiffy looking brain.

    Begley points out how researcher, Timothy Salthouse, Director of the Salthouse Cognitive Aging Lab at the University of Virginia, was troubled by a paradox he identified in a graph he had created:

    “The graph shows two roller-coastering lines. One represents the proportion of people of each age who are in the top 25 percent on a standard lab test of reasoning ability—thinking. The other shows the proportion of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies of each age. Reasoning ability peaks at about age 28 and then plummets, tracing that well-known plunge that makes those older than 30 (OK, fine, 40) cringe: only 6 percent of top scorers are in their 50s, and only 4 percent are in their 60s. But the age distribution of CEOs is an almost perfect mirror image: it peaks just before age 60. About half are older than 55. And the number under 40 is about zero.”

    His deductions are: “First, in real life, rather than in psych labs, people rely on mental abilities that stand up very well to age and discover work-arounds for the mental skills that do fade. The second is that some mental abilities actually improve with age, and one of them may be the inchoate thing called wisdom, which is not a bad thing to have when running a company.”

    Begley says such insights: “are producing a dramatic, and hopeful, rethinking of what happens to the mind and brain as we age. Some of the earlier bad-news findings are being questioned as scientists discover that the differences between today’s 20-year-old brains and 80-year-old brains reflect something other than simple age, and instead have to do with how people live their lives. And a deeper understanding of normal cognitive aging is producing interventions that, because they target the cell-level brain changes that accompany aging, promise to be more effective than memory exercises and crossword puzzles.”

    Read the article in its entirety to learn more about recent brain research and about some of the successful “interventions” available to foster healthy aging. Begley includes free ones such as walking which is just as valuable for your brain as it is for your heart, lungs and waist line, and others, which she notes contain little or no value other than the revenues they will generate for those folks rushing in to take advantage of the anti-aging intervention market.

    Estrid Geersten, tandem parachute jumping at age 100. Courtesy, Guinness World Records

    Speaking of paradoxes, the article also contains a subset – a slide show by Tara Lewis of “Super Seniors,” achievers doing everything from skydiving to climbing Mt Everest.

    The paradox for me is that, other than Nola Ochs who graduated from college at age 95, are these “Super Seniors” really optimizing their cognitive reasoning skills in these wild escapades???

    Nola Ochs, Courtesy Charlie Riedel, AP

  • Rabbits, Privet Hedges and a Planters Peanut Bar: How John Updike Brought What Is Peculiar to the Moment to Glory

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    Many times we have tried to describe the importance of details – in your writing, your work and your self-marketing – in this blog.

    This morning, when I read Sam Tanenhaus’ article, John Updike’s Archive: A Great Writer at Work, I was struck by a remark he quoted from Adam Begley, a critic and literary journalist now at work on a biography of Updike. Begley said, “Updike’s archive may be the last great paper trail. Anyone interested in how a great writer works will find here as full an explanation as we’re likely to get.”

    Tanenhaus says, “In addition to literary ore, the archive offers a picture of an all-purpose, do-it-yourself man of letters who typed his own manuscripts, designed his own book jackets, chose type faces and binding cloth and kept careful lists of corrections (down to errant accent marks) for new editions of his work.”

    “Updike was also leaving a trail of clues to his works and days: an enormous archive fashioned as meticulously as one of his lathe-turned sentences. ‘The archive was vitally important to him,’ Mrs. Updike said in a telephone interview, especially in his last days. ‘He saw it not just as a collection of his working materials, but as also a record of the time he lived in.’ Today the material crowds an aisle and a half of metal shelving in the basement of Houghton Library, Harvard University’s rare book and manuscript repository.”

    “There is even a wrapper from a Planters Peanut Bar, as lovingly preserved as a pressed autumn leaf, evidently used by Updike to describe the moment when Rabbit, addicted to high-cholesterol junk food, greedily devours the candy and then, still unsatisfied, ‘dumps the sweet crumbs out of the wrapper into his palm and with his tongue licks them all up like an anteater’ — an early warning that he’s headed for a heart attack.”

    Be sure to listen to Updike’s remarks in the video interview included in this article.  Updike says, “I do not think of myself as writing stylishly but rather precisely.”

    He remembers details such as the time he described the way in which “a man who’s about to leave his wife runs his fingers over the top of a privet hedge.”

    Updike says, “This age needs men like Shakespeare, or Milton, or Pope; men who are filled with the strength of their cultures and do not transcend the limits of their age, but, working within the times, bring what is peculiar to the moment to glory. We need great artists who are willing to accept restrictions, and who love their environments with such vitality that they can produce an epic out of the Protestant ethic… Whatever the many failings of my work,” he concluded, “let it stand as a manifesto of my love for the time in which I was born.”

    We cannot all write like John Updike, but we can try to capture details “Peculiar to [our] moment.”  These are the details that will illuminate our lives, our experience and our passions – be it for the work we hope to continue or the manifesto we wish to leave behind.

  • You Have to Step Out of the Batting Cage to Hit A Home Run!

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    Art courtesy of www.wizardofdraws.com

    You can become competent – even very good – at something if you’re diligent about practicing. Remember Jack Benny’s old joke about the tourist, lost in NYC, asking: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” And the somewhat acerbic New Yorker answers: “Practice!”

    In today’s job market, you can practice resumé writing, branding, self-marketing, networking and interview skills to the cows come home and you’ll never land the job. (Could that be because you’re waiting for the cows to come home in NYC where there are no farms for them to come home to?)

    Seriously, you have to focus on hitting a home run to secure the job you want. Yes, you have to practice. You must be extremely good – if not an expert – at what you do. But once your credentials are solid, you must be prepared to take a risk, to step out of the batting box and take a swing.

    The irony is that, while we’re suggesting you take risks, it’s a luxury today’s employers cannot afford to take themselves (as in a mediocre candidate) in this economy. They have problems that need to be solved now, and too many of the tried and true “expert” tactics and strategies have failed.

    Innovation is the big word today. Employers are looking for candidates with new solutions. The ideal candidate understands their challenge, has innovative strategies to address that challenge, has the know-how to implement the strategies, solve the problem, measure results and communicate lessons learned.

    You need to demonstrate that you are that “Innovator Par Excellence!” Research – or dare we say – ask what that employer’s priorities are. Don’t leave it to him or her to imagine what you might do. Rather, take one of their most urgent priorities and create a mini-plan to tackle the challenge: create a solution-based strategy to accomplish the task, etc, including measuring impact.

    Take risks: not off-the-cuff risks but well reasoned risks that you passionately believe in. Never underestimate the power of passion as your ultimate productivity tool. Don’t let fear of failure circumscribe your creative thinking. The worst thing that could happen is that you don’t get the job – but do you really want to work with someone who does not see the value in your ideas? The best thing that could happen is that you get the job and – even better – with mini-plan in hand, you’ve already begun to do the job.

    Art courtesy of www.buzzle.com

    Moreover, you will learn in the process. Look at Thomas Alva Edison. Beth Kanter in her blog, “How Nonprofit Organizations Can Use Social Media to Power Social Networks for Change,” mentioned Edison and his belief in the importance of experiments and not to frame them as success or failure but as learning. “Edison,” Kanter says, “held 1,093 patents for different inventions.  Many of them, like the lightbulb, the phonograph, and the motion picture camera, were brilliant creations that have a huge influence on our everyday life. However, not everything he created was a success; he also had many failures.  He also did not find the successful inventions with his first experiment.  In his question to create the storage battery, he conducted 10,000 experiments before arriving at a method that worked.”

    And she quotes Edison, “Results! I have gotten a lot of results. I know what doesn’t work and won’t have to be tried again.”

    So, our advice is to get out of the batting cage and start swinging. You’ll get many strikes and hit more than a few foul balls but, eventually, you will connect with a zinger and knock that ball out of the park. That’s what’s called a home run!

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