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Jeff DeGraff

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Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss

Posted: 12/25/11 04:38 PM ET

It's that time again -- the Christmas to New Year dash -- rat-a-tat- tat. I believe Weight Watchers counts it as a half-marathon and gives you enough points to devour at least one chocolate éclair and swill a few glasses of port. Put up the lights, take the youngsters to the "Winter Solstice" festivities at school, trim the tree and visit the family in Kalamazoo -- a blur of punch bowls and bowl games. Who are these people that sent us this Twelfth Night card? Did I tell you how your Hungarian great grandfather came to America to work on the first Mercury spacecraft? Do we really need to get all expenses in this week for tax purposes? Stop!

I would like to take a moment to reflect on current events before we deposit one more year in the Big Bank of Time. This year I want to talk to the young -- not the young at heart -- but those who never knew the joys of tube socks or big hair or cheap gas. Gather around the fireplace while I wax lyrical -- groovy.

I graduated from high school eight years after Woodstock. (Yes I'm keenly aware that this admission of guilt makes me unimaginably "old" and possibly even irrelevant.) While the sonorous barbaric yawp of the Boomers echoed through the subsequent decades, it had little effect on their younger siblings like me. Vietnam, Watergate, the Oil Embargo and rampant unemployment had left us to fend for ourselves. We didn't want to change the world. We just wanted to change our circumstances. Screw the revolution, the "me generation" was born to run. But one phrase from those mythologized three days of peace and music rang in our ears and stuck in the crawl of our psyche -- "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss." It wasn't about who was in power, but rather that all power brought corruption and deception to bamboozle the unsuspecting and dimwitted. Alas, with age comes a more mature form of cynicism and the realization that we "won't get fooled again" is more wishful thinking than a statement of fact.

Social upheavals and dislocations have an annoying way of returning in cycles. So here we are again... again: Iraq and Afghanistan, the deficit debacle, soaring oil prices, double digit unemployment and the like. Feel free to throw in a couple of environmental disaster for good measure. (Remind me to tell you about the time Lake Erie caught on fire). Suddenly, your generation looks and sounds a lot like my own. So I would like to send you message from your future. While I would advise you to disregard it (don't let anyone walk in your clean mind with their dirty feet) it's my diabolical hope that it makes a barely audible beeping sound in the middle of your night like an exasperating gadget gone mad. It will be heard.

As you fly through the world on turbo earbuds to the soundtrack of your signature mix remember that someone always owns the channel no matter how personalized and this gives them right of way to some choice real-estate in your mind and pocket. iMe is just an extension of the Great Über-Brand -- "Smithers send in my minions." It really doesn't matter what you listen to as long as it drives traffic on the media toll road. Why not throw it into reverse? Collect your own thoughts and make your own music. Turn off, tune out, drop in!

Diversity of all types is indeed the most salient and essential characteristic of civil society and the engine that drives all forms of growth. Innovation requires deviation. However, social media produces very little substantive variation. In fact, it mostly confirms and reinforces existing ideological views: High school and college friends, anachronistic social causes, obscure bands and special interests with promising hook up potential all getting along. If someone disagrees simply vanquish them via the painless act of un-friending. Ta-do! For my next act I will make all the "stupid" people disappear from my life. The Spanish Inquisition would be impressed by the secretive way in which you maintain the dominant logic on your little micro-channel. If you want real diversity, and a shot a personal creativity, friend your enemies.

Political dialog unites the maddening throng in the common cause and powers democracy. But it also confuses the will of the people with real expertise. In Common Sense, Founding Father Thomas Paine warns against the perils of confusing the two. Late night hate show hooligans do their best to incite their "followers" to act on complex issues of monetary policy, international trade agreements and global energy strategies. Why not let Gus the refrigerator repair man do your root canal because he has quorum on some salon site? After all, his opinion is as valuable as anyone else's, right? This is an act performed at both ends of the spectrum. I propose you become your own slate-boy like Toni Reali of ESPN's Pardon the Interruption. Burst into these programs with your own 2 Minute Drill and correct the facts of these pandering parvenus like he does for Kornhieser and Wilbon. Yes, for the people by the people, but pay special attention to which people actually know what they are talking about.

Now is a good time to be an idealist. We need your energy to turn on some lights these dark days. We need your irrational exuberance, your righteous indignation and your willingness to act purposefully. But beware the "aura of collaboration." Beep, beep, beep. Time to wake up and meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

Jeff DeGraff is a Professor of Management and Organizations at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan. To learn more about his book Innovation You and PBS special by the same name, visit his web site at www.innovationyou.com or follow his blog on innovation at www.jeffdegraff.com.

 
 
 

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