While the future is uncertain, the transition stage is conspicuously absent
“The desert generation” is a Hebrew slang referring to the biblical narrative of the Jewish people wandering 40 years in the Sinai dessert. Where was Waze when you most need it! After leaving Egypt´s slavery and before entering the Promised Land, Jewish people wandered in the desert for 40 years. This was how Moses “solved” a dilemma he had. Moses was leading a people used to living as slaves, unable to live as free people in their country. The desert wandering time was the time invested to grow a new generation of people, people who will be used to be free.
Today, this phrase is applied every time there is need to deal with a transition phase involving the re-tooling of a group of employees. For example, a company acquires a new software, very different from the one currently used. Is clear that all new employees will get trained on the new one, and probably will never know anything about the old software. But for the existing employees who have to adapt their work ways to the new software, it is not only about training is about unlearning and relearning. This un-re-learn process sometimes it is difficult and some employees get stuck on their old perceptions and they get categorized by mangers as the “dessert generation.” Management using this phrase mean either of the following: “we need to wait until they leave the organization,” or “we need patience with them,” or “they will never catch up with the new way of doing things.”
Predictions about how technology will radically change how we do things in the near future, have become ubiquitous. In management has been dubbed VUCA, that monster below each manager’s bead. As a smorgasbord we are talking about: autonomous vehicles, drone freight carriers, Artificial Intelligence accounting, bot made medical diagnosing, virtual reality training sessions, automated lawyer advice, robots taking over any physical work, blockchained journalism and the list goes on.
At my counselling work I encounter difficult questions like:
- Schooling will be virtual; how should we build the new school buildings, which will last for 30-40 years?
- AI will deliver better diagnoses; how should we train the new MD’s?
- Coding will be automated; how should we develop the future code writers?
- IOT will streamline services, which kind of human capabilities do we need to run these?
- We began to train managers to manage the millennial new recruits, how do we train them to work shoulder to shoulder to the other 2 generations at work?
As difficult as these questions are there are other equally difficult questions, managers need to tackle. Leading them is what are we going to do in the fairly large (30-50 years) and massive (billions of people – the dessert generation) transition phase? If truck driving will be widely autonomous in 2025, how do we fill the gap in truck drivers for the coming 7 years? If all schooling will be virtual by 2028 and we are training teachers who will be graduating with teaching degrees in the next 3 years, how should we train them? Cities are planned 30-50 years ahead, should we stop planning building more parking places? What will we do with the acute actual shortage of parking places in crowded cities? An equally difficult question that begs attention is what are we going to do with the “desert generation,” how are we going to address a smooth transition?
We need to reroute innovative thinking also to the transition phase. Currently this dialogue is noticeably absent in the management world an among policy makers. Now more than ever managers and countries need ambidextrous thinking, focusing at the same time on the transition and the – not so far away- future. While we bridge the gap, we need to mind the gap.