• Sarah O'Brien

Why are we building bridges when we don't need to cross the water?

Updated: Mar 28

Over the weekend a discussion item was posted in an online forum that caused me to once again address a completely different issue than what was supposed to be discussed. This keeps happening and I know why. We have been trained and groomed to fix problems but not ask why they problem exists. We as a society, as professionals, as citizens, as public servants habitually toss bandaids out to every injury along journey. Unfortunately we rarely stop and address why we are getting injured in the first place. We have got to slow down and do more than just stop the bleeding. We have too many injuries and we have been sustaining them for far to long. We have got to stop hurting ourselves.


Since I have been pretty busy challenging the status quo in communities, debating democracy while hosting Church on the Porch, enjoying summer in Texas downtowns, and gearing up for some speaking engagements I haven't posted here in a while. So I thought it would be insightful for some and for myself to share this weekend's discussion topic and my response with a broader audience.


Discussion Topic:


Bridging the Gap

Today, the generational gap is felt more than ever due to the increased use of technological tools over the past thirty years. This means that people from different generations often approach their work differently. How do we bridge the mental gap between professionals who must collaborate to complete projects and achieve their goals? What are your experiences in an inter-generational workplace?


Response

I am going to respectfully challenge this entire discussion topic. I may be going out on a limb, but in all honesty, the generational mental gap theory could be interpreted as disrespectful to those that transcend age daily, I know that was not anyone's intention. However, I hope that everyone could see how it could be viewed that way. I believe everyone is entitled to their opinions, and frankly, I enjoy listening and learning from others whose views are different than mine, lord knows I can always be enlightened in ways I didn't think possible. So I am intrigued that a group such as this is embarking on the skills and technology gap in today's workforce in such an antiquated silo. I believe passionately that the "mental" gap that is referenced above is a mindset and has nothing at all to do with age. And again with all due respect, although unintentional, I believe that this is the type of stereotypical labeling which has contributed to such divisive behaviors and rifts in this country.


Let me explain my perspective further. I will say that the technology and skill gaps that we deal with in city-building (my arena) shouldn't be stereotyped into a category like an entire generation. Refusing to embrace changes in technology, adamantly opposing opportunities to improve yourself or the team, being too stubborn to change process or policy, and being unwilling to learn, research, teach, mentor, mentee, or share do not stem from any one generation of people at all. Baby Boomers were extremely innovative. Every generation has blazed a countless new trail, haven't they? We have people of all ages, from all backgrounds, with all different education levels, coming from all parts of the country and even world, who generally speaking have one of two mindsets: Scarcity or Abundance. I believe the technology gaps, at least in government, have been driven and sustained by a scarcity mindset. It doesn't matter what generation you are, those with an abundance frame of mind adapt, learn, teach, share, train, embrace change, ask why and put shared needs and common goals first. Those without are anxious, selfish, fearful, or lead with fear, and refuse to let go of their kingdom or status. People of all ages fall into both categories. I have worked for, served alongside, and led people in a variety of volunteer, staff, and leadership roles with both mindsets. I have also managed baby boomers down to gen Z. It isn't at all a generational issue in my experience.


The issues are not exclusive to age. Age is nothing but a number. It's your attitude and frame of mind that sets you up for success or keeps you pulling yourself and those who work with you into a negative arena. Those negative areas are consumed with stereotypes of something like age, education levels, race, sexual preference, or geographic origin. They only know scarcity. They breed scarcity. With the right support and attitude, a baby boomer who thinks abundantly can do anything that you or I can do. Can't they? Also critically important is how teams and organizations work collaboratively and use approaches like collective impact and strategic doing. EVERYONE needs to be involved in the process and contribute to the work in a meaningful, purposeful and intentional manner. Perhaps we artificially created a generational gap because of the way the government has failed to be inclusive and has traditionally operated with a top-down approach... Those failures, driven by scarcity, have perpetuated that mindset for multiple generation's worths of time, but there have always been people who have thought differently and challenged the status quo, young and old. I believe the only way this country will ever see the change that we all believe it needs in some form or fashion, is for cross generations to forget these types of generational stereotypes and embrace the commonalities that all of us share with like-minded people. I would think this group might be a good place for us to start reframing our views and our discussions that group issues or problems into one category and don't account for the inherent diversity in something like a generation. or a profession.


BYLINE:

Sarah served as a Texas Main Street manager for over a decade and is a proud two-time Past President of the Texas Downtown Association. She lives in Smithville Texas and has worked in local government. community development, destination management and downtown revitalization across the State of Texas. She is a motivational speaker, consensus builder, and visionary problem solver who helps organizations and communities understand their purpose and achieve collective impact.

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