Global Crisis/Innovation Blog 

Patricia’s Dilemma: The Generation Gap 

By Shlomo Maital  


  The generation gap


In my travels, I meet many talented, brilliant young people.  In teaching innovation, I find that many are frustrated, because they hold high-paying jobs for companies that preach innovation but do everything possible to eradicate it.  As a result, they believe they have lost their creative spark forever. I try to restore it.

  Lately, added to the creativity frustration, is another more serious dilemma. Many young people reject the rapacious short-term profit-at-all-cost values of their employers.  The world has changed. But companies and the senior people who run them, especially those in financial services, think it has not.  They do not hear the message of Occupy Wall St.:  Change your values, change how you think and act.  What do you do, as a young manager, if the job you need is provided by those very companies whose values you reject?    

   Here is the essence of a conversation I had recently with a brilliant young woman, whom I will call Patricia.  

         Until I was 6, I grew up in Northern China, in an industrial city, China’s 4th largest.  We lived in public housing, in a row house with three other families. We shared a kitchen. We bought food in the market, in reusable containers. My job was to buy the soy sauce and I would bring it home in a refillable container with a spout. We were poor and happy and we shared.  Then we moved to America.  I did well in school and worked for a financial services company.   I avoided going into debt. I bought things when I had the money. I paid for my MBA with savings.  But I am worried by those around me, who pile up credit card debt.  In China we learned to save. 

        The last company I worked for went through four painful rounds of layoffs.  On four occasions, people were fired.  This created a bitter tense atmosphere, with no-one knowing if they would have a job next month.  It was ruinous.  This employer was a profit-maximizer. They lost sight of long-term values, of serving their clients. 

      I am now searching for a job. I don’t want to work for such a company.  But it looks like there are very few companies that are run on more pro-social ethical values.  I am searching for one.  They are hard to find.  I don’t want to compromise my values by joining a company I do not like nor approve of.  But what choice do I have? 

         I can’t recall a time when the ‘generation gap’ has been bigger — between my generation, who ruined the planet, created global warming, created the disastrous 2007-9 global crisis, and yet still fail to understand what we’ve done and why everything has to change, and quickly; and young people, whose future we have ruined by our distortion of capitalism, leaving them with a polluted planet, a mountain of debt and an uncertain future.   If the facts change, Keynes once said, then YOU have to change.  The facts have changed. The ruling generation has not.  They don’t get it.  They don’t begin to understand the young people leading Occupy Wall St.  They don’t even try. 

  Patricia and I are now engaged in a desperate search, for an employer whom she admires, who shares her basic values, and for whom she could devote her energy and brains with passion and good will. 

       Readers, can you help?