“I am so done with innovation”

ImageCoCo in Minneapolis

Last week I went to CoCo, a co-working business in downtown Minneapolis. I had heard about CoCo via Twitter. I was anxious to check it out for myself. Apparently CoCo is thriving.

ImageClockwise: a special meeting room, CoCo founders Kyle Coolbroth and Don Ball, a fueling station

Once I walked into the CoCo open space, I could see why: low, warm light, moveable walls, and cozy wooden floors, arching ceilings from the old Grain Exchange, comfortable furniture, throw rugs, and quirky touches like street lamps and string lights. The place is an upscale student union with touches of Steelcase, Architectural Digest and Starbucks. CoCo is open without being crowded, intimate but high-tech, intense yet relaxed.

The place is a magnet for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Memberships offer desk(s) rental or setup for small groups. Members can reserve a single day or several. CoCo’s allure isn’t just its environment: it is the opportunity to meet other small businesses. Networking, whether social or business, is continual. When people push away from their desks, they grab a cup of coffee, find a sofa and chat with someone that just met. CoCo is all about collaboration.

So, where does my comment about innovation tie in? As part of an activity on Design Thinking, I had to interview random people in CoCo. My task was to approach strangers and ask them to tell me what “modern,” “family” and “innovation” meant to them. With a legal pad in hand, I asked two young people on a coffee break if they would help me. They agreed.

Both are at the start of their careers. They are friend-associates from different enterprises who look forward to the days when they can  meet at CoCo. “Cate” and “Elissa” were fashionable, cosmopolitan and soft-spoken. They gave me twenty minutes.

What did they say? What did I learn?

“Modern” meant “architecture” to them. “That’s lines and buildings” “I don’t think of myself as modern.”

“Family” is “networks” and “friends.” “I have a work family and my home family. Sometimes they merge.” “My work family grows from acquaintances I meet here and on projects.”

And “innovation?” Here Cate pushed her stylish glasses atop her head so we could see her full eye roll.” “I am so done with ‘innovation.’ It doesn’t mean anything to me.” I pressed her: “Why?” She went on: “Oh, I guess innovation is important, but it’s what I do with my friends, it’s how I make things better.” Elissa: “Innovation is for automobiles and sandwiches. It’s everywhere.”

This was epiphany for me: “innovation” has shifted. This baby boomer (me) sees “innovation” and thinks of bold  breakthroughs: moon landings, technology and artificial hearts. Innovation is an end to itself. A patent. A trophy. A triumph. Mankind marching forth. Progress.



But not at CoCo. “Innovation” is  a means to an end. It’s what you do.


I resist no longer






Each day some of my ‘What I Can Do’ becomes ‘What I Used To Do.’ It hurts my eyes to read lables on cans and little boxes. I strain to see my fingernails when I am cutting them.

Dr Optometrist says my eyes are still good. I’m not ready for bifocals, yet, but he suggested ‘readers.’ I bought a three-pack at the drug store. They are wonderful!

Other news: I used my first senior discount at the movies. First time. Asking for it was easy, but realizing I could use it anytime thereafter for the rest of my life bothered me.

I looked into the mirror and saw my father. Yay.


Are Millennials A New Species?






From ‘Village of the Damned‘ (1960)


I was chatting with an associate when out of the blue he said “By the way, dealing with Millennials is exhausting. I’m worn down.” This gentleman is no indolent plodder; he’s a man with a reputation for accomplishment across companies. “Exhausted” is not the first word I would use to describe him. He pounced on an opportunity to work with a young team of entrepreneurs. A seasoned man experienced in the language of the C-suites, he could help them hone their flashy product. Yet a few months in, there were problems. Why was this guy under siege? Was there a GenY — Boomer friction? He said “yes.” Things weren’t going smoothly.

What was going on? Do Millennials require new rules of engagement? Must the rest of us go to Y-School?

We’ve been reading about the march of the generations for a long time now. The Greatest Generation, the Boomers, Generation X,  and now the Millennials, Generation Y. There are attributes unique to each of them: toe-the-line and sacrifice, (Greatest), rebellion and ego (Boomers), anomie (Gen X) and “look at me” (GenY). In the Zodiac Of The Decades, each generation is molded by world events. Technology and prosperity are important as well.

Does when you are born define who you are? The ancient Chinese thought so. Their Zodiac defines people by birth year, each with an avatar and a defined set of superior attributes. Shortcomings, too, unless you are a Dragon.


Thank goodness I didn’t marry a Tiger.

Got a problem with someone? Want to hook up with a Snake? Visit your nearby Chinese restaurant and find out. We chuckle at the absurdity of birth year personality, so why do we accept the concept of ‘Generation Y?’

Are the generations really that different? PewReseachCenter thinks otherwise, at least in the areas you would assume they would be. How about, say, technology and acceptance of social change?



Courtesy PewResearchCenter

Members of the Millennial generation also give generally high marks to societal changes such as the greater availability of green products and more racial and ethnic diversity. But, as was true of technological innovations, in many cases their views are not much different from those of the age groups that precede them.

Academics and marketers make their living exploiting differences between groups of people. Marketers seek “segmentation.” Sociologist pursue “demographics.” People aren’t people; they are generations.

But Boomer pundits forget a few things. If they climb into the 1980 Wayback Machine and turn themselves into 25 year-olds what would they find? Maybe Time articles like “Here They Come, the Baby Boomers. Confident and Educated,” or “Will the TV Generation Fit In The Workforce?” They would see older employees recoil when PCs came into the office. Boomers were social and free in their youth, just like the Millennials are now.

Could it be that Generations are not innately different, that differences are merely the point in life they are in at that moment? I work with younger men and women and I see myself thirty years ago. Millennials are the most independent, attention-deficit and idealistic of the generations? Oh, please.

Each human is an individual and it is as individuals that we respond to the world. I know parents who Facebook-stalk their kids. I know of Millennials who don’t like Facebook. Mom and Dad got the iPads first. And most of Generation Y doesn’t like Twitter or Google Plus.

I’ll agree Generation Y grew up with instant-on, SMS and video games. They will always be better at those things than their elders. Electronic gadgets don’t make them a different species, however. At some point, Generation Y won’t be any good at them, either.

Boomer friends, I have a thought for you: the young who walk your office halls are you. Or, maybe you were them. Did you change? We are the ones who became different; we are more cautious. Conservative. That is normal. As more older employees leave the work force, those who remain will be outnumbered.

But only if we view ourselves as ‘Boomers’ and their younger colleagues as ‘Generation Y.’









Shooting Myself In The Ear


In the summer of 2008, I realized I was hearing an annoying, persistent whine in my ears. Each day it seemed to get louder, so much so, and so much THERE, that I decided to see the doctor. Perhaps I had an infection or blockage of some sort. A dose of antibiotics and I’d get better in a few days.

The doctor couldn’t find anything wrong, so he passed me on to an ENT. No visible damage. No tumor. Then on to Audiology down the hall. That’s when I got the bad news: I have 40% hearing loss. My hearing was that of a much older man, an 80 year-old. Then they told me the really bad news: it wasn’t coming back. Permanent. Gone. Move on.

“Hearing loss” means you lose the higher frequencies. Birdsong, children’s and women’s voices, rainfall … musical notes. It was pretty depressing to learn I was losing the sound of my wife’s voice and I may never hear my (future) grandchildren.

And there’s a final letdown: hearing loss isn’t a diminished volume control. No, it’s a substitution. My ears ring loudly of insects. It’s like sitting under a tree on a hot summer day with millions of cicadas whining above you. It’s always there. This is called ‘tinnitus’. I call it a ‘torment.’ I can no longer enjoy a quiet evening.

Back to 2008… the audiologist said the damage was likely self-induced. Did I work in a factory? No. Did I shoot firearms for a hobby or in the military? No. Frequent exposure to airplane noise? Yes. Do I listen to loud music? Er… Do I wear earbuds? Um … With an MP3 player? Yes!

And then I realized what I had done. Earlier in 2008 my gym decided to save a few dollars and not replace some very noisy treadmills. I mean VERY noisy. I use those machines for an hour at at time. But the real culprit was my MP3 player. To overlay the treadmill shrieks, I cranked up the volume to drown them out.

Humanity is not meant for loud noise. Homo  sapiens evolved in quiet places. The savanna and forest don’t have treadmills or rock concerts. Loud things startle nature and drive animals away. Humans’ maximum tolerance is 85 decibels.That is about the sound of a person talking a bit too loud. Our delicate ears aren’t meant for the modern, cacophanous life.


The doctor said I could prevent further damage if I used hearing protection in the gym, when cutting the grass, flying in a jet and during any other exposure to loud things. She said to avoid ‘noise cancelling’ devices because they mask, but don’t eliminate noise. And I perhaps I should use ‘pink noise’ machines when the tinnitus is unbearable.

So I made some changes. I now wear dorky, industrial-strength hearing protection in the gym, foam ear plugs when cutting the grass, and soothing classical music when I’m alone to shush the cicadas. I’ve been retested for hearing loss twice since that summer and I am happy to say I’ve not lost any more hearing.

So my word of caution to you: avoid loud things and loud places. Don’t make my mistake and shoot yourself in the ear.

I Wear Old People Sunglasses. From Walgreens.


Last winter I lost my prescription Dolce and Gabbana shades in Cairo. They fell into the Nile when I was making my way up a catwalk to a ferry. I tried to be philosophical about it, rationalizing my loss was an offering to the ancient gods in an exotic place. But I really was upset: I looked GOOD wearing them and they cost a fortune.

Back in the States I couldn’t find a replacement at the optometrist. Oh, they could be specially ordered, but the price was outrageous. Still, I needed sunglasses, so I pulled into Walgreen’s to get an ‘emergency’ pair.




I found these ugly-useful sunglasses that slip over my regular eyeglasses. I checked them out in the little greasy display mirror. I saw an old dude looking back at me. In a hurry, I bought them anyway and tossed them in the car as ‘driving glasses.’

Damn, but these are the best sunglasses I have ever worn! They fit like a dream, are high-UV filtered and they block bright light on all sides. They look godawful, but guess what? I don’t care!  

And so I’ve come to realize this is how one accepts aging: comfort trumps appearance and cost reigns over style. I’m over fifty now and more than halfway through life. Sure, style matters, but now it’s a different, inner style. Appearance is still very important, but I’m not into impressing people at my age. I’ll still draw the lines at those hideous, boxy Senior Shoes from SAS. Well, for now, anyway. Maybe in another twenty years when I’m two inches shorter and my toes are bent, I’ll welcome those, too.

My clunky sunglasses (my wife and I call them ‘sungoggles’) come with several benefits:

  1. The younger adult, who lives with us, takes stuff and never returns any of it, won’t touch them.
  2. My wife bought a pair – they come in only one style – and we can each wear the other’s glasses. They’re andro!
  3. Young people scatter before you in public places.
  4. Or, they hold doors open for you. Sometimes this is a good thing.
  5. And if you’re a person who cannot be in public without eye makeup, just slip one of these babies on if you must leave the house in an emergency.
  6. Finally, they are so ugly, they don’t accessorize at all. Which means they go with everything (if you stop giving a damn about your appearance). 





Baby Shoes

Last week Son2 called from college, all excited about his last year at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. He’s drafting a proposal for a grant, the framework for a thesis on “Marxist jurisprudence,” reeling in letters of recommendation, hoisting 18 credit hours and starting a part-time job. And, oh, would I mind sending him $25 for another book he needs?



After we hung up, I had to find his baby shoes. I’m not sure why, but I needed to reconnect with the little boy he once was. We keep a ‘boy box’ for each of our children. These boxes hold abandoned favorite toys, hand prints, sample report cards, Scout awards – tiny, useless-valuable things. We say these boxes are for them; that when they grow up and leave, we’ll hand them over. But Son1 has already left and the other is nearly gone, and we still have the boxes.

I can’t tell you the emotions I feel when I hold these little shoes. I see the flash of golden hair. I hear once again the bells in his baby voice. It’s pretty complex. He was a real shit as a little guy. His first word was “No!” He battled us all the way through high school.

Yet, just typing this now brings a lump to my throat. Yes, you can be all rational and ‘learn to let go.’

But this empty-nester can’t.