Gutenberg v Googleberg

by IdeaTransfer on May 22, 2011

Recently a client of ours was working on a new website by committee, and after a long conversation our job as facilitators was to summarize the conversation. “We have gone from Gutenberg to Googleberg,” we said. “Half the room represents the best of old school print, books and face-to-face relationships, and the other half represents the best of the new school social media, texting and digital relationships.”

“I am a Gutenberg,”said one of the people in the room.

“And I am a Googleberg,” added another.

And now we have now the great digital divide described in two affectionate terms.

For clarity, the Gutenberg v. Googleberg issue is a form of generational negligence and starts with ignorance or intolerance of generational differences.  And between generations, exposing faults in other generations seems to be much easier than admitting there might be superiority there.

Most current business founders are Baby Boomers – The Gutenbergs.  There are 90 million of us born between 1946 and 1964.  We grew up with affluent advantages and choking conformity.  And, man, the first wave “got outta there” by the mid-60s with excessive idealism and exaggerated nonconformity.  The later wave took it excessive to new extremes.

No surprise Baby Boomers founders tend to be mavericks.  We are driven to be the very best—but the best in our own way.  Nobody can tell us what we can and cannot do.  Does that sound like it might cause a few problems for our successors?

Successors in their 30s and early 40s belong to GenX—children of the early Boomers are the first wave of The Googlebergs.  Your big hang-up is security.  You saw undermined by a soaring parental divorce rate and two-career non-parenting, leaving you with  too much freedom and too much temptation.  It taught you to be continuously wary and to rely on yourselves, controlling what you can control.

You may not have created movable type like Gutenberg or the computer, but you drove the computer revolution—a perfect tool for trusting no one but yourself.  There are only 40 million of you, and you value self-reliance like one who knows we are all fundamentally alone.

Successors in their 20s are GenY—among other names and represent the second wave Googlebergs.  Because you were told repeatedly that everyone is special and each of you is a winner just by showing up, you have abundant confidence.  You are also determined and innovative, skeptical but tolerant, team-oriented and widely connected.  Gutenberg Boomers think you have no work ethic, but you work hard as long as you are learning something you value and expanding your horizons.

You distrust institutions and traditions.  You are accused of loving money but you love a challenge even more.  You are more technology savvy than Boomers and GenX can even imagine.  There are 80 million of you and you question everything but only trust your own answers.

About the only thing that remains a constant across these five decades is that we all still use the word cool–although we each pronounce it a little differently.

Why does all this matter for succession planning?  Because when founders take on successors you take on a foreign mindset.  You are asking them to take ownership of your business financially and psychologically—maybe even spiritually.  Which they will do, but not on your terms.

You can’t think of them like Gutenberg successors because they are not going to continue the business your way.  They are Googleberg Adapters and they are going to change your business into their generational mindset.  And they are right, so it’s not a matter of if, only when.

We’re not breaking new ground here.  Everyone with a child lives through everything we have said here.  So has everyone with a parent or two.  Baby Boomers, don’t fight it, guide it.  GenX and GenY, old school can still be cool. It really is cool to be a Gutenberg or a Googleberg.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: