Geeks and Geezers

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Geeks & Geezers
How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders …this is a book about leadership and learning and about the almost magical process by which some people succeed, however they define success, not just once but again and again. It is a book about cross-generational leadership that looks, for the first time, at two groups of leaders—our youngest and our oldest, the geeks and the geezers—and asks them to tell us what they have discovered about leading, learning and living well in the course of their very different lives and times.1 Table 2-2 Comparative Features of Geezer and Geek Interviewees2 Geezers Geeks Age range 70-93 21-34 Average age 77 28 Birth year [based on average age] 1924 1973 When 25-30 1945-1951 1991-2003 Gender [male/female] 88%/22% 61%/39% % with divorced parents 8% 44% Average Number of siblings 2.4 1.8 It is a book that grapples with such compelling questions as why some people are able to extract wisdom from experience, however harsh, and others are not. It asks successful geeks to share the secrets of their youthful triumphs and distinguished geezers to tell us how they continue to stay active and engaged despite the changes wrought by age. What all these people have to say is so important, so useful, that we believe it will help readers find their own best strategies for leading and learning, not just for a time but for a lifetime.3 …the world born during the Depression and World War II could be understood using a map. To make sense of the Wild West of the digital world requires a compass…. Maps, by definition, can help only in known worlds—worlds that have been charted before. Compasses are helpful when you are not sure where you are and can get only a general sense of direction.4


Geeks & Geezers: How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders, Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas, Harvard Business School Press, Boston, 2002. 2 Pg 44. 3 Pg. 2. 4 Pg 11-12. © 2003, Caldwell Consulting, Ltd., All rights reserved., 214.641.4084.



Geeks & Geezers
How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders Table 1-2 Era-Based Differences5 Analog Digital Linear  Nonlinear Maps  Compasses Mechanics  Living systems COP (command, order, predict)  ACE (align, create, empower) Experience  Beginner’s mind Conventional warfare  Terrorism and cyber warfare Specialist  Deep generalist

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What are the implications of era for the way our geeks and geezers think about the leader’s role? We found three key differences between geeks and geezers when we compared their hopes and aspirations at the same age (roughly 25-30).    First, geeks have bigger and more ambitious goals than geezers did at the same age; they aspire to “change the world” and “make history,” whereas geezers were concerned with “making a living.” Second, geeks place far more emphasis on achieving balance in their work, family, and personal lives than did geezers at a comparable age. And third, geeks are far less likely than geezers to have heroes or to have had their image of a successful leader shaped by a hero. No issue or attitude divided the two groups more dramatically than that of the drive among geeks for worklife balance…

Taken as a whole, these differences, we suggest, are directly linked to the eras in which each group matured as leaders.6 Table 3-3 Geezers’ and Geeks’ Concerns at Age 25-307 Geezers’ Concerns Geeks’ Concerns Making a living  Making history Earning a good salary  Achieving personal wealth Starting and supporting a family  Launching a career Stability and security  Change and impermanence Working hard and getting rewarded by  Working hard so you can write your the system own rules Listening to your elders  Wondering if your elders got it wrong Paying dues to the organization  Deciding where loyalty should lie Using retirement to enjoy life  Achieving work/life balance

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5 6

Pg. 11. Pg. 13. 7 Pg 84. © 2003, Caldwell Consulting, Ltd., All rights reserved., 214.641.4084.



Geeks & Geezers
How Era, Values, and Defining Moments Shape Leaders We found that every leader in our study, young or old, had under gone at least one intense, transformational experience. That transformational experience was at the very heart of becoming a leader. The descriptive term we found using is crucible…”a place, time or situation characterized by the confluence of powerful intellectual, social, economic or political forces; a severe test of patience or belief…8

Figure 1-1 Our Leadership Development Model

Experiences Leadership competencies

Individual factors

Organization of meaning


The transformation that our leaders described when they talked about their crucibles was essentially a process of education. Learning how to learn was one of the most valuable tools they took away from their crucible experience, and it was one of the all-purpose tools, along with creativity, that they depended on in all their subsequent dealings with people and the world.


Pg 14.

© 2003, Caldwell Consulting, Ltd., All rights reserved., 214.641.4084.