Saturday, June 17, 2006


I was reading this great piece about multi-generational business issues. Apparently baby boomers (those older folks born between 1946 and 1964) and Generation X (their younger counterparts born between 1965 and 1979) are having some “issues” in the workplace. While the baby boomers think that face time is what matters and there can be no productivity when you aren’t in the office, Gen X professionals are all about maximum use of electronic gadgets and other tools.

I found the article even more interesting when the author suggested that the inherent conflict between the generations was really about their behavior as children. She suggested a “playtime” analogy, if you will. She seems to think that Gen X kids were safer in their own neighborhoods so they had a lot of autonomy. Children of this generation grew up playing until dark on their own, managing their own activities and handling their own homework. By the time their children were born (Gen X-ers), the world was less safe and parents wanted more structure. Gen X kids were driven from one pre-planned activity to another and their baby boomer parents were very hands-on in making sure that their homework was finished and they were properly socialized. Quite a difference between the generations that manifests itself in today’s workplace (and political world). Baby boomers think their Gen X colleagues lack initiative. Gen X-ers think their baby boomer colleagues should help build their careers. It’s a tough environment.

Makes you wonder what some of our St. Charles notables were like when they were kids…

If you start out with the theory that baby boomers learned to fend for themselves when they were kids, you might picture this bunch on the playground at school:

Over in the corner of the playground, young Joe Ortwerth was probably standing on the steps that lead into the building quoting scripture and shrieking his disdain for the tax break the vendors who were providing milk for the schools received from the state. Not a lot of kids liked to play with him and he probably didn’t have too many friends, even back then.

On the other side of the playground Patty York was learning how to cause trouble and smile innocently when the teachers came to break up the fight. Her favorite pastime was probably playing the boys against each other as they attempted to impress her and win her favor. It’s not that hard to imagine Tom Hughes and Glenn Jamboretz, both playground bullies, both smitten with young Patty, coming to fisticuffs in order to get her attention.

Darling Dottie was probably friendly and well-liked even back then. She probably preferred the company of the mature and intelligent Rory Riddler and his friends over the hooligans and bullies. Bob Hoepfner, on the other hand, was probably always getting picked on. He was probably an awkward kid who had a tough time getting along with kids his own age. He was also probably a tattle tale, which certainly did not help his popularity.

Flash forward a few years to our Gen-X crop of youngsters (someday to be politicians) participating in the more structured after-school activities planned by their parents.

Joe Brazil probably had trouble juggling his orienteering classes with his secret passion, the glee club. I can’t imagine that the other kids liked him much, and I bet he was the last picked every time.

Joe Koester barely had enough time to make baseball practice after Student Government, and he was probably more of a joiner than most kids his age. I suspect he was a boy scout long enough to learn a lot of useful leadership lessons.

Tim Swope was probably always well-liked and I suspect he was quite an athlete as a kid. I am sure he played multiple sports each season which allowed him to hang out with his buddies and make lots of friends.

John Gieseke was probably a fairly well-rounded kid who participated in a few activities, was well liked and had several friends. He was definitely not “overprogrammed” but he did enjoy the company of the other kids, and he was probably a boy scout while it was mainly fun and before the whole Eagle Scout thing came into play.

Tom Dempsey was probably a proper and polite kid. I bet he enjoyed golf lessons in the summer and fencing in the winter, maybe even some ballroom dance lessons. It’s hard to dislike the guy, but you gotta wonder if he ever does anything crazy or unpredictable. He was probably a boy scout because his dad thought it might be useful for his future “career.” He was most assuredly an overprogrammed kid. On the other hand, his trusted legislative aide, Tom Smith was probably a gifted kid and he probably spent time in the ever popular “how to make the most of your allowance” class and its prerequisite, “creative accounting for kids.”

Mark Lafata was most likely well, himself, and I bet he was not all that popular. He was probably a bit of a loner and since he didn’t really participate in many activities, he never really learned to play well with others. Not all that surprising since he often made unpopular suggestions like mandatory drug testing for his peers.

This generational rift is not terribly surprising, and it probably plays itself out in the political arena every day. Whether it’s the conflict between baby boomers or Gen X-ers at work or the disagreement among local politicians…apparently the lessons you learned in kindergarten still apply today.