At the YGL/GovLoop Next Generation of Government Summit 7/6-7/7, we have a ton of great speakers talking about opportunities for young leaders to change government.
One speaker is Rob Salkowitz who wrote the awesome Wiley-publish book “Young World Rising: How Youth Technology and Entrepreneurship is Changing the World”
We did a quick interview where we talked a little bit about his background, his book, and innovation in government.
Tell us your background. How did you become an author/consultant/speaker?
Around 2003, I started a very interesting long-term research project with
Microsoft on the future of work. One aspect of that was the impact of
next-generation workforce, and how the rising Millennial generation was
changing the way technology was used in the workplace. Around the same
time, I was invited to join the board of directors of a startup
non-profit in New York called Older Adults Technology Services, looking
at how to overcome the barriers facing some older folks in dealing with
these same new technologies. Suddenly I had access to two very unique
bodies of data looking at both ends of the generational divide at work.
That gave rise to the idea behind my first book, Generation Blend: Managing Across the Technology Age Gap.
You wrote a book before Young World Rising called Generation Blend. Can you tell us a little about it?
Generation Blendlooks at how the pre- and post-digital generations learn and use
information technology at work. It’s primarily intended to help
businesses manage a multi-generational workplace, since it looks like
the Boomers, GenX and the Millennials will be working together for the
next 20 years or so. It takes inspiration from the work of Don
Tapscott, who came up with the idea of the “Net Generation” shaped by
their exposure to the Internet, and also William Strauss and Neil Howe,
whose 1991 book Generations: A History of America’s Future, put
out some really provocative ideas about how different generational
“personalities” form and interact throughout history. A lot of these
kinds of books tend to be very partisan in terms of favoring one
generational approach over another. I really tried to avoid value
judgments and look at how the real sociology of the workplace and human
responses to new and challenging innovations affect the way we see our
jobs and work together.
At the conference you will be talking about Young World Rising. What is the book about? What is your key thesis?
Young World Risingwas originally intended to be “Generation Blend international,” but I
quickly discovered that it was much more interesting to look at the
kinds of organizations that the global Net Generation was creating for
themselves, from scratch, rather than examine how they were fitting in
to existing institutions. In Young World Rising, I look at
young entrepreneurs on five continents and discover some commonalities
in their world view, their approach to organization-building, their use
of technology, and their aspirations for their enterprises, despite
huge differences in their cultural backgrounds. One of the most
important characteristics is that Young World entrepreneurs find
innovative ways to blend social and commercial goals, and stray very
purposefully across the old boundaries that separate public sector,
private industry, and non-government organizations. Young entrepreneurs
in developing countries in particular exhibit incredible ingenuity in
finding elegant solutions to big problems such as pharmaceutical
counterfeiting, disaster response, workforce development, cybercrime,
market opacity, and infrastructure gaps – often relying on new thinking
that is only possible with exposure to digital technology.
There are a number of examples in the book. Can you share a favorite?
Sure. One of the occupational hazards of the Internet is those fraudulent
emails claiming to be from some high government official who is trying
to give you millions of dollars (“Dear Sir or Madame, I am son of
former foreign minister of deposed government….”). These scams
originate from the African nation of Nigeria so frequently that
Interpol refers to them as “Nigerian fraud.” This drives legitimate
businesses in Nigeria nuts. Some in the country are trying very hard to
develop an indigenous IT industry as a way to create good jobs and get
away from dependence on oil and natural resource exports, but because
cybercrime is so pervasive, companies can’t get payments processed,
have their IP addresses blocked, and can’t get shipments from many
online merchants. The Nigerian government is not especially honest or
effective, and even the good actors have not demonstrated much
enthusiasm for supporting their tech community. A young entrepreneur
named ‘Gbenga Sesan started an organization to teach computer skills to
kids in the slums of Lagos, improve the visibility and reputation of
the Nigerian IT industry internally and externally, and create
incentives to bring tech-savvy cybercrminals into the legitimate formal
economy. His group, Paradigm Initiative Nigeria,
aligns resources from the federal and local government, NGOs, and
transnational companies like Microsoft, with a focus on local
priorities. He has been extremely successful at influencing both the
policy dialogue and outcomes. The stories from PIN’s Ajegunle project are quite inspiring, and the group just produced an all-star music video
to combat the “gangsta” image that cybercriminals enjoy in Nigerian
culture. ‘Gbenga is very outspoken about the larger role of IT in
economic development, and very clearly sees the relationship between
the rise of an educated professional class in Nigeria and improvements
to the country’s social and political prospects.
Lots of Gen Y government workers are passionate about bringing innovation
into government. Do you have any advice on how to make that happen?
The structure of government is linear, hierarchical and compartmentalized,
and it was designed that way for what seemed like very good reasons.
However, the structure of the outside world is becoming networked,
collaborative and blended across boundaries. Some of the most
innovative and sustainable solutions to social, political and economic
problems emerge from the bottom-up or through completely random
channels. It’s critical for the next generation of government workers
to recognize these changes as opportunities to improve the
effectiveness of government, rather than threats to the authority of
government. Embrace the good ideas coming from outside. Partner with
private business and NGOs that share common goals. Orient toward
outcomes rather than process.
You speak a lot on different generations in the workplace. What’s the #1 mistake you see people make?
I think younger workers in particular see bad decisions made by more
senior colleagues as intentional stubbornness: “They just don’t get
it!” Often, it’s just plain fear. Older workers are terrified of
becoming unemployed in this labor market. They are concerned about
changes in processes or technology which might expose them as less
competent than younger peers, and may feel that their value is open to
question. That’s a horrible experience for a proud professional, and it
can lead to tensions in the workplace, including risk-aversion. Be
careful making judgments.
I love to travel. Part of the fun of writing Young World Rising was getting to see different parts of the world, make and renew
acquaintances, and lay the foundations for future trips. I’m also a big
reader, a lifelong comic book and sci-fi geek, and big into jazz,
alt.rock and world music.