Skip to main content

Karl Moore: It is delightful to be here as part of the Mini-Biz and I appreciate your time.

I have done over one hundred interviews with CEOs in North America, Europe and Asia and some of them you would recognize: Here, from Montreal there is Pierre Beaudoin at Bombardier, and Robert Brown from CAE. I interviewed Mr. Clark on Saturday and it was very exciting to spend an hour with one of our former Prime Ministers. It was interesting to hear his perspective on life and what is going forward. I also interviewed Michael Sabia at Bell and Robert Milton of Air Canada, Montie Brewer of Air Canada. Some others are Sheila Fraser who is the Auditor General and a McGill B.Comm. graduate. These are a lot of interesting people who are primarily from Canada but also from the United States and Europe as well as Japan.

Then I have also done over four hundred interviews with what we call C- Suite executives. The C-Suite is the people that have a C in their titles, so not only CEOs but CFOs, but Chief Marketing Officer, Chief Technology Officer, Chief Operating Officer and this type of people. These are executives that would report directly to the CEO. Those are the kind of people that we are looking at there and then I have about two hundred interviews with the millennial generation. The millennial generation is what you might call Generation Y, except that they often do not like to be called Y because they are defined then based on Generation X. They feel that they are unique to themselves and they do not want to be defined by their older brothers and sisters or mom and dad. So we call them millenials because that fits around the time that they became of age, that is why they are called that and that is who they are. That is the research base.

What I want to talk about is some generational differences. When we look at generations, what is more important than just merely age is, the World experience or the world view that you have. What I would like to do here is divide the world into two parts effectively: the first part is that of the moderns, versus the post modern. So when I talk about post modern leadership this is what I am talking about and I will define post modern in some depth in a few minutes. The idea here is that if you are roughly over 35 and certainly if you are over 40 years of age, you are probably modern in your outlook.

Now, postmodernism is something that began arising to some degree in the late sixties by French intellectuals and it spread over time here. This is why I have a triangle here that spreads. The ideas came out in the late 1960s, so you may have read about them back in the '60s into the '70s but they took time to spread. Whether you are Generation X or whether you are Millennial depends really. We can not say that it falls on a certain year only and that if you are a year older than that than sorry about that, because it depends on where you grew up.

I grew up in Toronto but then I moved to Los Angeles for university and L.A was always a couple of years ahead of Toronto; these are social trends, and thankfully some of them die out. I remember one social trend, I was at a university doing a class down there and a couple of the executives said that they were in the funeral industry. They had a fancier name for it but it was the funeral industry. They said that in L.A about ten or fifteen years ago that funerals were becoming a celebration of life. So you would have a funeral and if the guy loved banjos you could have banjos on the wall of the funeral hall, you could have somebody playing the banjo. What was to be done was to say that everybody is sad that the man is gone but it was to be a celebration of his well-lived life. I guess I was living in England at the time and I thought that it was sort of an odd L.A. idea but over time that idea spread to other parts of North America, the idea of celebrating life at a funeral as a modern phenomenon. The Irish have had wakes and I have an Irish half to me, so we have had wakes for a long time so the idea is not an entirely new idea. The thought though is that if it is spreading throughout society, having started in L.A. then ideas start out there and spread over time.

If you grew up in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver those ideas took a few years. When I lived in Regina, Saskatchewan they would have taken another couple of years after that to have spread typically. Then, what you are depends on your family. My father was older so I got some of his values because he was my dad. My mom grew up in the Depression so she was a bit younger, but again those values came to me in a certain way also because I was born a bit later in their lives. So it depends on your family, it depends on the university that you went to and things like that but by and large we can say that postmodernism spread as an idea into the 1980s and '90s.

If you have gone into universities in the nineties or this decade you are postmodern in terms of your education. That is how you view the World and it is significantly different from people over forty. Young people, that is people probably under thirty, which is variable because the older I get the definition of 'young' gets older as well so we will say thirty or maybe under thirty-five; the thought is sort of that thirty-five and younger by-and-large have a different view of the World than people who are over forty. This leaves those people thirty-five and younger sort of stranded but it is hard to generalize here so I apologize to the people in this age group.

The question is why we care that these generations have a different view of the World. Well, we care because it is going to lead to some negative consequences. For example, poor customer service, it can lead to the loss of valuable employees. One of the big problems that law firms and CA firms are having in Canada and in the United States is that top law firms are built on the idea of having eight junior people for one partner. Now typically it takes about eight or nine years to become a partner. Then the thought is that you have a bunch of people that stay around, relatively lowly paid, doing a lot of work which supports the partners. Then they would leave after six or seven years because they realize that they are not going to become a partner because only one out of ten or out of eight makes partner. What you have is people leaving to go into business or going to be counsel or assistant-counsel for a company, but they would be expected to stay around for six years on average. What is happening is that they are staying around for three years in some of Canada's top law firms.

This is a real business problem because simply, the partner is making a great deal of money, which they feel that they earn and this is supported by a bunch of younger people that are working long hours and making less money. The model is now breaking down because the values of the Millennial Generation are substantially different and they want a different view of work. I will come back to this point later on and talk about their view of work. It is going to be around wasted human potential and problems to hire young people.

It is hard to define postmodernism, when you read the books and the articles about it, it is hard to get our arms around it and define exactly what it is. I want to give you the contours if you would of postmodernism, some of the elements of it. The central one is the world view of people who are educated in university particularly, in the last fifteen to twenty years is substantially different than my generation. One of the things that strike you is that there is less truth than there used to be, truth with a capital T. We are less confident of what we know. On the other hand there is more truth than there used to be, there is a paradox there. The idea is that it is not just the people at the top that have truth anymore; everyone has truth with a small t. This idea is that the experience of somebody as a young person is almost just as valuable as somebody older with experience. It used to be that there was a hierarchy and the people at the top would tell you, but now what we see is that young people do not accept this as true, saying that those people do not hold the truth.

There is a decline in the power of hierarchy. Again, we talk about knowledge becoming out of date much more rapidly than in the past because we are looking at knowledge doubling every couple of years, versus every fifty years back in the Middle Ages. So, it is changing; the World is changing. Also, a thought of a sense of things beyond science and analysis is that there is a limit to science. We see more of a growth of a sense of spirituality and a sense of purpose that is different. We are looking at something beyond science and all of that.

This is the practical, useful part hopefully. The first part is the decline of metanarratives. A metanarrative is just a big explanation. For example, communism is a metanarrative in that in its day it explained all of human history as class struggle. There was the thesis, the antithesis, the dialectic that the bourgeoisie would be overthrown by the proletariat. There are running-dog capitalists that would be run off by the freedom, by the yoke being thrown off by the proletariat. When we look at that we can laugh about it because communism has somewhat failed, or at least in China morphed into Chinese communist capitalists. There are communists that are really good at capitalism which leaves us confused and buying Chinese things. It is intriguing that that has happened.

What we look at here is that metanarratives are the big explanations of history and are falling by the wayside. After the fall of the Berlin Wall there was a certain amount of Anglo-American triumphalism in that we said to the communists that we won and they lost, Western Europe has been in relative low-growth for a long time, Japan was cratering at the time, China was still communist and not too much of an economy. We said to the World that they should be like us. We lectured the World. I have quotes from Clinton and Robert Wright, his Treasury Secretary saying that. We look back at it and it was kind of a nice time in history, we had won. The World went on and it shows that actually there is a bi-polar World of Moscow and Washington, then it was Washington and now it is Washington and Beijing and maybe New Delhi. The World is going in a different direction and they are not like us in terms of their economy. The Chinese, the Indians, the Gulf are taking different approaches and they are pretty successful. There is much that we can learn from them, and they can learn from us I hope as well but we can learn a lot from them.

It is something that the metanarratives of capitalism have scattered out to a number of stories and not one dominant story.

Now it is interesting because actually from a business viewpoint a couple of key imperatives out there now are innovation and emergent strategy. We need more innovation now than in the past is absolutely something important. Emergent strategy is one of Henry Mintzberg's ideas and he taught in our masters program yesterday so it is fresh in my mind. One of his great contributions to the school is the idea that strategy emerges not from the clever Kinsey Report or not from the senior people going away for a weekend but it goes from the executives being out in the field with customers, with employees, with scientists in the lab, having conversations.

Also, the job of the senior manager increasingly is recognizing innovation from others, not from you and providing resources for it, supporting the ones that are better. The job of the manager is not to have the ideas but to support them. That is saying that innovation comes from everywhere, not just from the center, not just from the top of the pyramid, not just from the old people, it comes from throughout the organization. This fits with the business need. A manager, a leader must now spend more time listening and looking for others' ideas and empowering them than in merely trying to be the great strategist. We have heard this for a while but I think that it seems more compelling today than in the past. It is just more true. It used to be that global firms would have a head office in a country and that is where ideas would come from but probably the main advantage of being a global multinational organization is that you are getting ideas and innovation from all over the World rather than from one place.

A third idea here is that we recognize that emotions are more of a part of the conversation. When I worked at IBM I was in Plans and Controls for a while at head office. I shudder to think of that, that I was at Plans and Controls in the Toronto head office for Canada. What a horrific thing that was. I remember that at meetings if anybody got emotional at a meeting, we would stop the meeting and have coffee. It was all about spreadsheets, plastic overheads back then and it was all about numbers and metrics. That is now a passé view and people now want to be engaged at work.

This may be to some degree due to many more women being in the workforce. That is a stereotype but if I argue that women are sometimes more in touch with their emotions than men, I do not know if anybody would argue too violently with that. That may be why it is but the thought is that the Academy of Management with eight thousand people each year who go to the business professor and doctoral student conference, there are hundreds of presentations about emotions now. It is a huge area of interest in work because we see that emotions are how you get the great energy out of people.

A renewed need for purpose is what young people particularly, but the boomers are getting there as well is a sense that materialism is not enough. Having two Mercedes is not enough. A big selling book a couple of years ago was The Purpose Filled Life which was a New York Times best-seller for months and months, and a best-seller in Canada.

Let me just tell you about coffee that I had with two students at different times, both now former students. One was a twenty-eight year old MBA she starting talking about her life at a big company and after about ten minutes I stopped her and told her that she sounded like one of my middle-aged buddies that I play hockey with. It sounded like she was having a mid-life crisis already and she is only twenty-eight. She was saying that she wants to have a sense of purpose.

Another, a B.Comm. student who is about twenty-seven now, quit a job at Bell, moved to Ethiopia for a year to help out in Africa as an IT person. What I see increasingly is young people saying that it is just not enough to pay the mortgage, what they want is a sense of purpose in what they are doing. So in a law firm it is about doing pro bono work more, it is about wanting to work with clients that have a sense of vitality and I hear this increasingly from young people so we have to think about how to get that sense of purpose into our organizations.

We have to rethink the meaning of career for young people particularly but Boomers are getting into this as well, I hear that more of my Boomer friends are. The other day we had four couples together for dinner and we got talking about if we won a million dollars. Amazingly, we agreed within about five minutes that it was not enough, that we actually needed ten. We were talking serious money, and all of them said that they would quit work and do volunteer work. They all said that they wanted to get off of the corporate treadmill or the teaching high school treadmill and do volunteer work. I hear this refrain increasingly in society.

What we are looking at is saying that people want much more flexibility, on-ramps and off-ramps. After I have given talks I have had many women lawyers tell me that they really appreciate it because what they want is to be able to work sixty- percent of the time. They want to get paid for seventy-percent and I tell them maybe fifty and then maybe we have a deal, but what they want is that sense of flexibility. The amazing thing is, and this is really weird, that young men are taking paternity leaves increasingly. What is good for the gander is good for the goose and they are asking themselves why their wife should get to have a year off and they do not. Now, any of you women who have had children or you are husbands of women who have, we understand that the woman is much more engaged in that.

On the other hand, the idea of wanting to be a parent is a very good one and an engaged father strikes me as good. See, my wife gave birth and I went back to work right away. Probably my mother-in-law and my mother pushed me out of the house and they felt that I was not particularly useful at that point but there is that sense that you go back to work right away. Young men are now taking time off.

To summarize, simply we look at the World as modern and postmodern. The thought is that probably anybody who is thirty or thirty-five and under views the World substantially different through the lens of postmodernism. We talked about different views of hierarchy, different views of the word truth, and different views of authority. So what we see are five practical ideas that we look at the importance of stories, the importance of hearing many voices and not being the only voice that is speaking. This is really ironic given that I am talking all of the time. The importance of emotions is something that we have got to focus on in the workplace as well as a renewed sense of purpose and meaning, and rethinking the meaning of career.

Report an editorial error

Report a technical issue

Editorial code of conduct

Tickers mentioned in this story

Study and track financial data on any traded entity: click to open the full quote page. Data updated as of 17/04/24 4:00pm EDT.

SymbolName% changeLast
Air Canada

Interact with The Globe