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Out of Our Minds
Thursday, August 12, 2004 11:18 PM
The Next Generation of Leaders
Kevin Salwen on Passionate Work

Over the past few months, I've gotten a chance to meet a huge number of 20-somethings. This is a generation that has grown up during one of the most despicable, self-indulgent eras in the history of business -- think Tyco toga parties, Enron self-dealing, WorldCom flim-flam. Who could blame these budding businessites if they were just a bunch of cynics?

But a cool thing is happening: The 20-somethings are searching for (and finding) more meaning in their work. In other words, they are the 'And Generation': They want a paycheck and something more. They are building organizations like Net Impact, in which MBAs and young professionals strive to use their business degrees to make the world a better place. They are building careers in which their jobs connect to the community. But they aren't naive: They understand that profit makes it all happen.

Earlier this week in New York, I met a young man at an advertising agency who wanted to talk about his father. He recalled the recent morning that his dad sat on the side of his bed, head in hands, and bemoaned the concept of going into his office. 'I never want to be like that,' the 20-something adman told me.

This is fascinating stuff for a generation that will be our next leaders. Perhaps we all (I'm including my 40-something self in this) started out with ideals of being fulfilled in our work. But this younger group has come of age watching their parents get screwed out of pensions and downsized mercilessly. This next generation has experienced Sept. 11 and the subsequent (and ongoing) 'live for something more meaningful' era that followed it.

Those events and perspective have a deep impact. In short, this is a generation to watch.


anita - 8/15/2004 8:59:17 PM

When you're ready to write about what you experienced at ground zero and how it turned your life around, please show it to us -- I like the way you express yourself. thanks!
Will Pate - 8/15/2004 8:46:35 PM
Being a member of this 20-something entrepreneurial generation, I credit our amazing access to media as playing a significant part in shaping our attitudes. We've seen The Corporation, Supersize Me and Roger and Me. We know that the worst of our parents' generation has done a terrible job, and the best got downsized or found out that when they really needed it the company wasn't there for them. We've seen documentary news programs about corporate malfeasance, and execs shame themselves in their own self-interest. Perhaps we're as much the without generation as the and generation. Without bullshit, that is - I hope.

I think we're coming to a realization too that we may be the last generation with a real shot at saving our species from environmental failure. Green technology, social networking and social entrepreneurship could be the tools we need.

The best thing that ever happened to me was going to Ground Zero a month after September 11th. Almost three years later, I still can't write about what I experienced - I feel ill equipped to do the emotional impact justice. Someday I will be able to explain the things I saw. All I can say today is that it turned my life around.

NetImpact looks great, and brings to mind similar projects like Taking IT Global - another resource for young IT entrepreneurs that want to make a difference in the world.

Who's excited about the future? I am!
Ty Moddelmog - 8/13/2004 2:46:38 PM
Reading your blog as an 18 year-old, I'm given the impression that coroporate America is the pits, and that making a difference and making money are irreconcilable save the few rogue 'difference makers' who happen to strike gold. Please, somebody tell me this isn't entirely true! Somebody tell me that a traditional corporate job in a traditional corporation can, by some stretch of the imagination, be a positive experience!
sam - 8/13/2004 1:56:50 PM
not to be a cynic but i have yet to meet many people who don't want to 'make a difference'...the generational comparisons are a bit tiresome. i am 35, where do i stand in your generational generalizations? no idea, maybe i am part of that clueless generation? i too went through the 'let me make a difference' stage then reality slapped me in the face. Actually, give me some more ideas of organizations i can look into where a tired dotcom survivor can sign up…I honestly do want to make a difference and feel that a portion of corporate America is a huge roadblock. NFP don’t seem to have the answer on many issues either.
Kevin - 8/13/2004 12:18:53 PM
Hugh, I actually think one of the great things about Net Impact is the number of people NOT going into nonprofits. They are burrowing into major corporations and creating their own businesses, making change happen in the for-profit sector. That's not, in my mind, a negative but a big potential plus.
Hugh - 8/13/2004 10:43:00 AM
As someone on the trailing edge of that demogrpahic, with a recently acquired MBA, I completely agree with your sentiment. Although there was a Net Impact chapter at my B-school, unfortunately few of my compatriots went into the NFP world as I did. Maybe after they've spent a couple of years on the fast track, they'll come back to the fold, either as employees or board members of such organizations.


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