Bridging the Digital Divide, Part 3

Our leadership brains are dealing with a digital divide in organizations today: team members of different generations think differently. First, there’s the digital natives; then come the digital immigrants. Bringing up the rear (literally) are the digital dinosaurs.

Author Marilee Sprenger, writing in “The Leadership Brain for Dummies,” makes these observations about the digital dinosaur:




Natives speak the language of their birth; immigrants are learning to translate the digital language of the natives, and then there are those individuals or organizations who are hopelessly out of date – the digital dinosaur.

You may think that Traditionalists (born before WW II) fall into this category, and many do. But anyone or any organization can be a dinosaur.

Digital media is transforming organizations everywhere. If your organization appears to be incapable of change, those who embrace digital technology won’t find it appealing. If your clients are changing their minds and getting plugged into the latest technology, you don’t won’t to present yourself as stuck in an analog world.

Take a close look at what your competition is doing digitally. If they are still dinosaurs, make some changes so your organization can be the first to enter the global age. Rather than feeling safe because they aren’t doing anything that you’re not doing, get out of that reptile brain and use your thinking brain to take some risks to get updated.

Note to church leaders: if my use of the words “client” and “competition” bother you, sorry – you have a whole different set of problems! The people who come to your church are your clients, and you do have competition – but it’s not the church down the street from you.


A closing thought on this series: leadership is all in your head – literally. When your brain is at its best, you will be at your best as a leader. Understanding how your brain works is just the first step. Put your leadership brain to work today!

inspired by The Leadership Brain for Dummies, by Marilee Sprenger
Leadership Brain for Dummies

Bridging the Digital Divide, Part 2

The brains of those who are digitally connected are different from those who are not. Here’s how Marilee Sprenger, author of “The Leadership Brain for Dummies,” sees this divide:




Some Traditionalists (born before WW II), many Baby Boomers (born 1945-1964), and the early Gen Xers (born 1965-through the 70s) fall into the category of digital immigrants. They didn’t grow up learning the second language of the digital world and speak it with varying degrees of fluency.

Many digital immigrants:

  • Insist on paper bills even though receiving copies via email
  • Print out emails and attachments
  • Rely on printed newspapers, books, and so on
  • Are somewhat leery of paying bills online
  • Believe that methods taught years ago should work for everyone
  • Don’t understand the informal language used in emails and texts
  • Believe a social network consists of people he meets with for parties

Digital immigrants have much to offer to your organization. Wisdom derived from years of storing patterns in the brain gives them the ability to see the big picture, predict accurately, foresee future consequences, and draw on mental templates to help store new information.

Challenging tasks activate more areas in the frontal lobes of the brains of digital immigrants than in the brain of digital natives. The immigrants have little choice because their brains change as they increase their skills with technology. The natives may need to practice more skills that their brains haven’t used very much, like building rapport face to face.

How do you lead digital natives and immigrants to work together?

Next: Bridging the Digital Divide, Part 3

inspired by The Leadership Brain for Dummies, by Marilee Sprenger

Leadership Brain for Dummies

Bridging the Digital Divide

Using the Leadership Brain to Understand Generational Differences

Marilee Sprenger, author of “The Leadership Brain for Dummies,” does a good job of outlining the differences in organizations that have multiple generations involved – like the church.

This post isn’t about that – you’ll have to read her book on page 223 to understand those differences. Instead, let’s take a look at the digital divide.



The brains of those who are digitally connected are different from those who are not. Since your organization has different kinds of brains working together, maybe you should understand a little about it.

The Digital Native

Today’s world requires a new language and a new literacy – digital literacy. The late Generation X’ers (born in the late 70’s) and the generations that follow them are digital natives – they speak the language well. These people have grown up with video games, cell phones, computers, the Internet, and other techno toys. The ABCs of learning have been replaced with the XYZs of technology.

The digital natives grew up communicating in a very different and fast-paced way from their parents and older siblings. They’re proud of their ability to come up with hard data quickly and easily. It’s a wide learning gap between these generations and the prior ones.

The digital natives who believe that their world isn’t complete if they aren’t constantly connected are always trying to multitask (you can’t, but that’s another post). They’re always working hard, switching from one task to another and back again without skipping a beat.

Former Microsoft executive Linda Stone called this problem continuous partial attention.

Not truly giving anything complete attention has a number of negative effects, not the least of which is the inability to accomplish anything! Efforts to stay connected may prohibit you from bringing deep thought and closure to any one project, which may lead to stress. Elevated stress leads to distraction which starts the cycle over again.

Recognize yourself?

Next: Bridging the Digital Divide, Part 2

inspired by The Leadership Brain for Dummies, by Marilee Sprenger

Leadership Brain for Dummies

Living on the Digital Divide

My parent’s generation viewed office paperwork in terms of duplicate copies made by using carbon paper. Correcting mistakes was a laborious process of erasing the original, erasing the copy (messy), and then correcting the mistake.

carbon copy typewriter

I’ve been around to experience the same thing, but not for long. In graduate school I can remember writing and dictating research papers while my wife typed on an IBM Selectric with self-correcting type. We thought we were in heaven!

My first position out of graduate school came with my very own workstation, part of a network of 20 staff positions, with the wonderful world of word processing. We all used a central printer for the output. Like Henry Ford said, we could have any color we wanted as long as it was black.

Through several church staff positions, then as a consultant, and now as the Vision Room Curator at Auxano, I have come to accept the digital universe as normal. I’m typing this in one of my dozens of field offices around the region (Starbucks, for appointments of 1 or 2; Panera Bread, for 3 or more). My laptop is my assistant; I carry a printer around in my 4-wheel office, along with just about anything I would need to talk with a client. I can produce anything from my files in full color, customized for the client, in minutes.

And yet, there’s something gratifying about sketching an idea on a napkin (literally; I do it all the time). And I have several “theme” notebooks that I jot ideas, quotes, and the like in. Sometimes they make it into my digital files; sometimes not.

My world is a digital divide – I can’t do my work without all the innovative developments of the last couple of decades, but I’m drawn to the “old-fashioned” way of writing, in ink, on paper pages.

I’m looking around at kids (anyone under 35) flipping through a tablet, typing on laptops, talking on cell phones, texting on their mobile phone and wondering: Do they have this same feeling? Or are they over the digital divide, living on the next level, moving forward?

Then I think about my granddaughter, who wants to Skype with my wife and me via her parent’s phone almost every week, and my grandson, who makes a beeline for my wife’s iPad whenever he visits. At the same time, our fridge proudly sports the latest fingerprinting, crayon, and marker artworks from these two. For at least awhile, they seem to be comfortable in both worlds.

How long will that last?

Just wondering today…


What Shapes the Mind of Today’s Freshman…the Beloit Mindset List of the Class of 2016 is Out

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall.

Today, the Mindset List of the Class of 2016 was released.

The creation of Beloit’s former Public Affairs Director Ron Nief and Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride, authors of The Mindset Lists of American History: From Typewriters to Text Messages, What Ten Generations of Americans Think Is Normal, it was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references. It quickly became an internationally monitored catalog of the changing worldview of each new college generation.

Leaders – of all ages – need to understand what has shaped the lives of today’s entering college freshman class, those 18 year olds who:

  • Were born into cyberspace and therefore measure their output in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds
  • Came to political consciousness during a time of increasing doubts about America’s future
  • Have never needed an actual airline “ticket”
  • Are the most tribal generation in history, and they despise being separated from contact with their friends

For those who cannot comprehend that it has been 18 years since this year’s entering college students were born, they should recognize that the next four years will go even faster, confirming the authors’ belief that “generation gaps have always needed glue.”

Here are a few nuggets from this year’s Mindset Class for the Class of 2016. You must read the entire list here!

For this generation of entering college students, born in 1994, Kurt Cobain, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Richard Nixon, and John Wayne Gacy have always been dead.

  • They should keep their eyes open for Justin Bieber or Dakota Fanning at freshman orientation.
  • They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”
  • Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.
  • There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles.
  • A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss.
  • Star Wars has always been just a film, not a defense strategy.
  • They were too young to enjoy the 1994 World Series, but then no one else got to enjoy it either.
  • They know many established film stars by their voices on computer-animated blockbusters.
  • History has always had its own channel.
  • Point and shoot cameras are sooooo last millennium.

You can find the rest of the list here.

Read it now.

Off to College: The Mindset List of the Class of 2015

My son enters Johnson & Wales University in about a week, so it was with great anticipation I awaited Beloit College’s annual mindset list and it was just released.

“This year’s entering college class of 2015 was born just as the Internet took everyone onto the information highway and as Amazon began its relentless flow of books and everything else into their lives.  Members of this year’s freshman class, most of them born in 1993, are the first generation to grow up taking the word “online” for granted and for whom crossing the digital divide has redefined research, original sources and access to information, changing the central experiences and methods in their lives. They have come of age as women assumed command of U.S. Navy ships, altar girls served routinely at Catholic Mass, and when everything from parents analyzing childhood maladies to their breaking up with boyfriends and girlfriends, sometimes quite publicly, have been accomplished on the Internet.”

Each August since 1998, Beloit College has released the Beloit College Mindset List, providing a look at the cultural touchstones that shape the lives of students entering college this fall. The creation of Beloit’s former Public Affairs Director Ron Nief and Keefer Professor of the Humanities Tom McBride, it was originally created as a reminder to faculty to be aware of dated references, and quickly became a catalog of the rapidly changing worldview of each new generation.

Mindset List websites at Beloit College and at, the media site webcast and their Facebook page receive more than a million hits annually.

“As for the class of 2015, without any memory whatever of George Herbert Walker Bush as president, they came into existence as Bill Clinton came into the presidency. Their parents, frequently older than one might expect because women have always been able to get pregnant almost regardless of age, have hovered over them with extra care and have agreed with those states that mandated the wearing of bike helmets. Ferris Bueller could be their overly cautious dad, and Jimmy Carter is an elderly smiling public man who appears occasionally on television doing good works. “Dial-up,” Woolworths and the Sears “Big Book” are as antique to them as “talking machines” might have been to their grandparents. Meanwhile, as they’ve wondered why O.J. Simpson has always been suspected of something, they have all “been there, done that, gotten the T-shirt,” shortened boring conversations with “yadda, yadda, yadda,” and recognized LBJ as LeBron James.”

“For those who cannot comprehend that it has been 18 years since this year’s class was born, they will quickly confirm that the next four years will go even faster and, like the rest of us, they will continue to grow older at increasing speed.”

Here are a few items on the list:

  • There has always been an Internet ramp onto the information highway.
  • Ferris Bueller and Sloane Peterson could be their parents.
  • States and Velcro parents have always been requiring that they wear their bike helmets.
  • The only significant labor disputes in their lifetimes have been in major league sports.
  • There have always been at least two women on the Supreme Court, and women have always commanded U.S. Navy ships.
  • They “swipe” cards, not merchandise.
  • As they’ve grown up on websites and cell phones, adult experts have constantly fretted about their alleged deficits of empathy and concentration.
  • Their school’s “blackboards” have always been getting smarter.
  • “Don’t touch that dial!”….what dial?
  • American tax forms have always been available in Spanish.
  • More Americans have always traveled to Latin America than to Europe.
  • Amazon has never been just a river in South America.
  • Refer to LBJ, and they might assume you’re talking about LeBron James.
  • All their lives, Whitney Houston has always been declaring “I Will Always Love You.”
  • O.J. Simpson has always been looking for the killers of Nicole Simpson and Ronald Goldman.
  • Women have never been too old to have children.
  • Japan has always been importing rice.
  • Jim Carrey has always been bigger than a pet detective.
  • We have never asked, and they have never had to tell.
  • Life has always been like a box of chocolates.

For this year’s complete list and more about Beloit College, go here.


 Part 4 of a 4-part series on Generations in ChurchWorld

Last week this post introduced the generational lens that shapes a lot of my views. Monday I began this four-part series by looking at the Millennials; on Tuesday it was Generation X, and Wednesday it was the Baby Boomers. Today I want to look at the fourth of four generations active in ChurchWorld leadership roles today, and the implications for you as a leader with your own team.

G.I. Generation (Born 1901-1924)

Silent Generation (Born 1925-1945)

There are actually two distinct generations represented in today’s post, but due to the small number of G.I. Generations still involved in leadership roles in churches, I am going to look at them as a group.

Scarcity is a common denominator for these two groups. Between two world wars and the Great Depression, these generations had plenty of opportunities to do without. The need to “save for a rainy day” was tangible, and “Waste not, want not” was more than a slogan – it was a commandment. No wonder these generations later disapproved of the Boomers’ eagerness to pay two dollars for a bottle of fancy water! Symbols carried great weight. From swastikas to Sputnik and from flappers to flat tops, these were generations that drove their roadsters to drive-ins, smoke cigarettes and drank ice-cold Coca-Cola, and stacked a few 45s on the record player and did the twist.

Defining events such as World War I, the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, the New Deal, World War II, the Korean War, and the GI Bill changed millions of lives and shaped the God-fearing, hardworking, patriotic character of these two amazing generations.

The generational personality of these two groups who lived through these events and conditions can be described in a single word: loyal. These are generations that learned at an early age that by putting aside the needs and wants of the individual and working together toward common goals, they could accomplish amazing things. They learned to partner with large institutions in order to get things done, like winning two world wars, conquering the Great Depression, and sending a man to the moon. These are generations that still have an immense amount of faith in institutions, from the church to the government to the military.

– “When Generations Collide,” by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman

What is the impact of the G.I. and Silent Generations in ChurchWorld today?

It is diminishing due to age, limited mobility, and illness, but the spark of service still burns bright. These two generations have a strong sense of obligation to serve the church. For decades they have been at the heart of their church, and they remain dedicated and willing to help where they can. Of all the generations discussed, they are the most church-going, and they give generously to their churches.

Characteristics like the following served these generations well during dark and troubled times in our nation’s history; they continue to serve by being passed along to younger generations.

  • Hard working
  • Savers
  • Frugal
  • Patriotic
  • Loyal
  • Private
  • Cautious
  • Respectful
  • Dependable
  • Stable
  • Intolerant

For the G.I. and Silent Generations, hard work, self-discipline, and sacrifice have paid off. They survived the difficult years of war and economic depression and believe that the affluence of the 1950s and 1960s proved that striving and surviving were the right way to go.

Even though the youngest of these generations is age 66 and the oldest above 100, don’t make the mistake that they have nothing to contribute. The characteristics listed above not only served to keep our nation strong in difficult times, they can be tapped by younger generations as a gift of legacy.

How are you honoring, remembering, and tapping into the G.I. and Silent Generation?

Generational Disclosure: My parents are from the Silent Generation; my in-laws are from the G.I. Generation. As a young boy, I was lucky to have grown up spending a great deal of time around my father and his peers because we lived right behind the gas station he owned and operated. I grew up listening to stories of WW I and II from men who had been there and survived; I experienced first hand the optimism of the 60s and the tremendous  changes America went through. In college and graduate school my professors were primarily from these two generations; my first “bosses” were also part of these generations. In short, most of the adult influencers, from parents to professors to pastors were from these two generations. They were, and remain, the Greatest Generation.

 I hope you have enjoyed this briefest of introductions to the generations now serving as leaders in ChurchWorld. You will be seeing more in the future!


Majority Rules

Eighty million strong, the Baby Boomers changed every market they entered, from the supermarket to the job market to the stock market.

Part 3 of a 4-part series on Generations in ChurchWorld

Last week this post introduced the generational lens that shapes a lot of my views. On Monday I began this four-part series by looking at the Millennials; on Tuesday it was Generation X. Today I want to look at the third of four generations active in ChurchWorld leadership roles today, and the implications for you as a leader with your own team. The final generation will be examined tomorrow.

Baby Boomers (Born 1946-1964)

Ask any Boomer about the greatest invention of their childhood and their antennae go up – literally. The single most important arrival during the birth years of the Boom was the television. In 1952, four million television sets could be found in American homes. By 1960, the number was fifty million. The original “generation gap” was between Boomers and their parents as an entire generation of Boomers could relate to a whole set of reference points (TV shows, characters, plots, advertiser, and products) that were unknown to their parents. As they fine-tuned their sets, the Boomers’ generational personality was shaped. Events that were revealed to the public through this highly visual new medium included deep, divisive issues like the war in Viet Nam, Watergate, the women’s and human rights movements, the OPEC oil embargo, stagflation, and recession. Experiencing these landmark events, whether live or through the miracle of television, permanently changed the Boomers.

Boomers, while graced with many blessings and privileges, have had to fight for much of what they’ve achieved in corporate America against the sheer number of their peers competing for the same jobs and promotions. Boomers have again and again been labeled the “Me Generation” in part because they were privileged to be able to focus on themselves and where they were going instead of needing to sublimate the need of individuals. But there is also a second meaning in this “me generation” label, and that is the deep identification Boomers feel with who they are and what they archive at work.

– “When Generations Collide,” by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman

The common self-awareness and sense of destiny among Boomers was created by the staggering impact of change that took place during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Among the changes were several high impact events, which bonded Boomers into a generation set apart. If you are a Boomer you will understand the significance of these formative experiences:

  • Cold War
  • Economic growth and affluence
  • Education and technological growth
  • Rock and roll
  • Civil rights movement
  • The New Frontier
  • Space race
  • Assassinations
  • Viet Nam War
  • Energy crisis
  • Watergate and the Nixon resignation

What’s the impact of Baby Boomers in ChurchWorld?

In a word – huge.

Baby Boomers are now between the ages of 47 and 65. Sociologists call Boomers the “lead generation,” which means they tend to set the agenda for the rest of the nation. It’s true for the church, too. Boomers hold a high percentage of leadership positions in churches, including both staff and volunteer roles. Beyond just leadership roles, the simple vast number of Boomers means they will be the leading percentage of participants in your church.

With that being the case, ChurchWorld must take seriously Boomer values, needs, and concerns. Since Boomers are experience-oriented, churches must take pains to provide ways for Boomer to experience Christ. Since Boomers are future-oriented, churches must focus on tomorrow more than yesterday. Since Boomers are growth-oriented, churches must look beyond current membership to those who are not yet a part of the church. Since Boomers are action-oriented, churches must do rather than just discuss.

The Baby Boom Generation has had tremendous impact on our society. The sheer size of this generation has caused it to dominate our nation – and our churches. As Baby Boomers reach the end of middle adulthood and prepare to move to the next stage of life, they have a lot to offer ChurchWorld.

What are you doing to take advantage of the strengths of Boomers?

Generational Disclosure: I am a Baby Boomer. Enough said. Well, not really. All my formative years in college and my career have been primarily in the company of my peers. My closest friends are Boomers. In addition, many of the church leaders I work with in my consulting role are Boomers. The person who looks back at me in the mirror is a Boomer, and I am continually learning from him.


Gen X – Young & Restless

Part 2 of a 4-part series on Generations in ChurchWorld

Last week this post introduced the generational lens for a lot of my views. Yesterday I began this four-part series by looking at the Millennials. Today I want to look at the second of four generations active in ChurchWorld leadership roles today, and the implications for you as a leader with your own team. The remaining two generations will be examined tomorrow and the next day.

Generation X – (Born 1965-1981)

Possibly the most misunderstood generation in a leadership role today, this small (approximately forty-six million) but influential population has worked to carve out its own identity from its parents and younger siblings.

As you noticed yesterday (and will again tomorrow), technology has had a big impact on the Xers. While it was a single device for the Boomers, Xers were swamped with the media choices that sprung up during their lifetimes: cable TV, digital TV, satellite TV, VCRs, video games, fax machines, microwaves, pagers, cell phones, PDAs, and of course, the most life-changing item of all: the personal computer.

Most of the inventions above were intended to simplify the American way of life, but ask any Gen X about their childhood and you fill find that it was pretty complex. Violence appeared not only on television but close to home in the form of AIDS, crack cocaine, child molesters, and drunk drivers. Taken together, the message came across to Gen X: the world wasn’t as safe as it used to be. The number of single-parent households skyrocketed, and Mom wasn’t home with milk and cookies at the end of school. Instead, it was off to afterschool care or home to an empty house to play video games till supper.

The insecurities that developed during their childhoods continued as they became adults. Lay-offs, downsizing, fierce competition were just a few of the hallmarks of the world that Gen Xers came into as they entered the work force. The rate of change they’ve seen during their lifetimes and the cynical sense that everything is temporary play into their distrust of career permanence. After all, if their computers can become obsolete in a matter of months, what does that say about their own shelf life at work?

– “When Generations Collide,” by Lynne Lancaster and David Stillman

Generation X – the 30 to mid-40 year olds in your church – are an extremely resourceful and independent groupp.

As with any of the generations discussed in this series, it is hard to define Generation X. There are some dominant themes that characterize segments of the group, and will be beneficial for leaders with Gen Xers on their team:

  • Freedom – many Xers reject workaholics and expect personal satisfaction from their jobs; their other interests are just as important as work
  • Issues of survival – national and global issues such as world hunger, famine, poverty, AIDS, pollution, and so on are large and complex; Gen Xers don’t expect these issues to be solved and indeed, see their own quality of life declining in their lifetimes
  • Feeling neglected – more than 40 percent of Gen Xers are children of divorce; often from a single parent home. Isolated from family, they turned to technology to develop relationships

Where does that leave you as a leader in ChurchWorld with Gen Xers on your team?

For Gen Xers, it’s not about job security but career security; they will build a repertoire of skills and experiences they can take with them if need be

Many Gen Xers are looking through the world with a skeptical lens

Because of what they saw their parents and friends’ parents go through, they are often not willing to pay the same price for success

They are ambitious and hard-working, but focused on balance and freedom

Raised on sound bites and accustomed to instant information, Gen Xers like their information in a manageable format

One more thing to think about: because of the large number of Millennials compared to the number of Gen Xers, a big shift in leadership will be taking place in 2015 – the majority of the workforce will shift from Baby Boomers to Millennials – completely bypassing the Gen X leaders on your team.

How do you think they are going to react to that?

Generational Disclosure: I am the parent of one Generation Xer, a 31 year-old son who has a 3-year-old son. He is a chef, kitchen manager, and regional trainer for the restaurant chain he works for. In addition, I work with several Generation Xers in my company, I network with many Xers across the country in my consulting role, and the leadership team at my church is exclusively Gen X.