Monday, April 22, 2013

America’s Next “Hero” Generation

A month ago I spoke to Dr. Dana Clark’s large class of potential “community-destination marketers” at Appalachian State University (ASU) perched in the northwest mountains of North Carolina.

Weeks from graduation for most, I told these students that should they land a position with a destination marketing organization (DMO) they would already be among the top 1% in knowledge about the topic.

Two things will be required of them.  One, patience with co-workers and supervisors who will be stuck in out-dated approaches, and two, a realization that within 3 to 5 years what they have learned at ASU will be obsolete.

Using a quote I had read in my local newspaper, I relayed the wisdom of a friend of mine, Dick Brodhead, who is the president of Duke University in Durham, where I live.  In a speech to faculty, he had noted just the day before my trip to ASU that a liberal arts education:

“…aims to engage multiple forms of intelligence to create deep and enduring habits of mind, an active, integrative spirit naturally disposed, when it comes upon a new fact or situation, to go to work trying to understand it, updating preexisting understandings in a new light.

…It is, in the fullest sense, equipment for living.”

These kids to whom I spoke at ASU are bright, energetic and very thoughtful.  They asked great questions, and I could also see it in their eyes as each one filed by to shake my hand later.

Any DMO will be lucky to land one of them but I wish for them that they will find one smart enough to listen to and engage them in contemporary applications of community marketing such as the one in Durham.  Unfortunately, those odds aren’t good even if they limit their availability to just those that are accredited.

I offered to these students that the college courses most beneficial to community marketers today outside of those about destination marketing and development will be historical analysis and statistics just as they were during my now-concluded 40-year career in that field.

Many people misunderstand the value of historical analysis because they think of history as linear.  Actually, it is cyclical.  It doesn’t exactly repeat itself but the cycles are similar.  However rather than predestined, outcomes depend on the reactions of generations to times of crisis (e.g. Civil War, Great Depression/World War II.)

To understand their role in historical cycles, I recommended to these students a book first published when they were preschoolers entitled An American Prophecy, The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

First published in 1997 and now available as an iBook, it accurately forecast what we now know as the financial crisis.  It traces cycles over the past five centuries.  Cycles span a human life or roughly eighty to one hundred years.  Each cycle has turnings that follow seasonal rhythms, e.g. “growth, maturation, entropy and destruction.”

The turning dating from the 1980s until the financial crisis has seen an “unraveling” of society, similar to other cycles in our history.  I told the generation to which I spoke last month at ASU, that if I read the book accurately, their generation is potentially a “hero” generation, much like the G.I. Generation of my father.  They will also face a similar crisis in their lifetime.

Just short of a week after that presentation, the New York Times published two columns.  One, by liberal-turned-conservative David Brooks summarizes a paper by a Yale senior describing the generation to whom I spoke at ASU and the influences that have shaped it.

The author, Victoria Buhler describes how she and her peers in that class grew up in a time of prosperity in the 1990s.  That was shattered first by 9/11 and then by the jadedness and moral ambiguities created by two long wars followed by the financial crisis.

As they enter their adult years, Buhler, according to Brooks, writes that this generation is now more anxious and cynical.  They are less idealistic about America and the world.  In Brooks’ assessment of Buhler’s thesis, this generation emerges empirical.

They “require hypothesis to be tested and substantiated with the results replicated before they commit to a course of action.”

To me, this means they will be far more capable of bringing America back from the unraveling of the last forty years based on a sound, “what works” policy rather than the ideological gridlock of many in high office today.

The same day as Brooks’ column was published, the New York Times published one by liberal economist Dr. Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize-winner who as a young man worked in the Reagan administration just as the unraveling so now apparent was set in motion.

Krugman argues that we’re cheating our children all right, but not from debt.  We’ve been cheating them for decades by neglecting public investment in infrastructure, disabling regulatory oversight of the food and water supplies and undermining upward mobility and the middle class to the advantage of the 1%.

I saw the future in the eyes of those students with whom I spoke at ASU and I have faith they can help us recover from this most recent unraveling and a crises yet to be manifested.

However, it will all come down to whether they are able to turn things around as we did during the American Revolution, the Civil War and the Depression/World War II, each of which could have gone another way.

It isn’t a given but my hopes and prayers are with them.  God bless America!

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