Grumpy old man

One of the joys of children is watching them grow up (even if they rarely avoid the mistakes we made). Sometimes they cut a little close to the bone. Last night was a case in point, as #5 (the only boy) offered the following observation,

You feel young until you realise that actually you’re old – a perpetual state of adolescence followed by a midlife crisis.

He added, although he omitted it from Twitter (probably ran up against the 140 character limit), “and then you’re fucked”. Charming, not least as I am a little more than a week short of my 60th birthday, and survived my mid-life crisis 20 years ago.

But it got me thinking, again, of generational change, of the excitement that it brings, and the opportunities it offers. And of a comment by Luke Johnson in his FT column some 5 years ago,

Owners and executives have a duty to ignore [behaviours where talent holds companies to ransom] and invest in young up-and-comers rather than greedy, established players.

Sadly not always the way in professional service firms.

More on Generation Y in law firms

Finding the time to think is never as easy as it should be: the demands of a transactional practice leave little opportunity to step back and consider where a difference can and should be made. An email yesterday, which somewhat unusually I did not straight away consign to junk mail (the usual destination for unsolicited communication), took me to the Pennington Hennessy Blog and a short post on Generation Y, and from there to an excellent article in the FT (which had prompted the post), A to Z of Generation Y attitudes.

I have posted on this topic before, Graduate divas – don’t you love them (triggered by a Jordan Furlong post in Law 21), and it is, as some of my partners know, a particular hobby horse I ride. But that doesn’t make it any less important. What I found interesting in Alison Maitland’s FT article, is this,

Yet two studies into the attitudes of those Generation Ys that are in the workplace suggest that Carrie, Alex and their young professional peers are not as different from other generations as supposed – and not just because the recession has upset their expectations.

While craving excitement and challenge, nearly 90 per cent of Generation Ys describe themselves as loyal to their employer, according to the study Bookend Generations , published this week by the US-based Center for Work-Life Policy. In addition, nearly half of this tech-savvy and “connected” generation prefers face-to-face communication at work to e-mails, texts or phone calls.

But what sets them apart from us (and I am unashamedly a Boomer) is

the unprecedented pace of technological change, which shapes how they expect to work and why they resist boundaries; and the disappearance of the job for life.

Our challenge is how to engage with them.

Time to go?

Generational change is an ever-present issue for most law firms: not just how to manage a new generation of lawyers, but how to deal with succession. You cannot do better than read Luke Johnson in his Entrepreneur column in the FT, Learn to tame the beast, ambition, and in particular his conclusion,

. . . we must each know our limit, and resist the urge to overreach. Ambition is a ravening beast that must be kept in check, because even if we do not all formally retire, one day every one of us has to surrender. Better to go with dignity and grace than have the booty snatched from our enfeebled grip because we clung on too long.

I may not hang this in poker work above my desk, but perhaps I should.

A tale of two generations

At a dinner last month, the host (Chairman of a Business Angels Network) and I realised that we were probably the oldest two in a room of 50. It is not that we are that old (mid-50s), but that in the work we do clients and colleagues are getting younger. Law 21, one of my law blog feeds, had a series of interesting posts some weeks ago on the issues both of employing Generation Y and having Generation Y as clients.

Law 21 is Canadian law blog, but the problems either side of the Atlantic are the same, and there is little difference in the way we approach the issues (or, as is often the case, don’t), and it is certainly not just technology but culture as well.

I thought of this again the day before yesterday. The day started at Twofour Communications in Plymouth, at an event both celebrating their 20 years in business and targeted at the South West professional community, to whom they would like to sell more services. What was most noticeable was that almost without exception the guests were a generation older than the hosts (which led me to ask whether they had in fact asked the right people). At the end of the day Caroline and I were at The Northcott Theatre in Exeter, for a concert by Tasmin Little and John Lenehan, as part of the Exeter Summer Festival. Here we were among the younger members of the audience. The contrast between my day’s start and finish could not have been clearer, or more illustrative of the the different worlds in which we now live and work.

Generational issues are much in my mind as a lawyer, and not just the prospect of employing Graduate Divas. Nicholas Carr’s closing to his latest book, The Big Switch, is relevant both to lawyers, and also to Twofour,

All technical change is generational change. The full power and consequence of a new technology are unleashed only when those who have grown up with it become adults and begin to push their parents to the margins. As the older generations die, they take with them their knowledge of what was lost when the new technology arrived, and only the sense of what was gained remains. It is in this way that progress covers its tracks, perpetually refreshing the illusion that where we are is where we were meant to be.

Life was ever thus.