Communications Gap: An Issue for the Ages

American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)

For the past few months we have been discussing bridge building, with particular focus on energy/economy and energy/environment bridges.

Regardless of the bridge – science/policy, industry/government, academe/industry – communication is fundamental. It is easy to say, but hard to do; your “clear” may be their “mud.”

Communication between technical disciplines, generations or geopolitical regions is a great challenge, incorporating such differences as education, genetic coding, societal indoctrination, language and generational perspective.

How often has each of us witnessed, or been party to, a communication that breaks down owing to lack of cross-generational perspective?

Let us examine the simple phase, “Let’s keep in touch.”

With obvious generalization, to a person in her 60s this may mean a social visit, a telephone call on her landline or a letter by snail mail. To someone in his 40s it may mean a call on his cell phone or an e-mail. To someone in her 20s it could mean an online “chat,” Facebook hook up or instant message.

The more “seasoned” among our ranks bemoan the lack of personal contact that the wired world has brought us; today’s “noobs” (I learned that word from my 18-year-old son; I think it means something like “newbie” or “rookie”) don’t necessarily concur. For example, before they met in person, my son knew his roommate better via Facebook than I did after several weeks of rooming with mine 30 years ago.

If “let’s keep in touch” poses a generational challenge, consider nuanced concepts such as work ethic, professionalism and commitment, all which have the potential, when debated across generations, to create enough conversational energy (sparks!) to power greater Beijing (or at least Flower Mound, Texas).

To a 20-year-old student who has grown up in an electronic age with 24/7 global connectedness, “work ethic” may mean something very different than it does to someone still getting used to the concept of a wireless phone.

Perceptions of generational difference have been around as long as there have been generations. Arguably, a young professional is just as committed and hard working relative to his world as a seasoned veteran is relative to hers. To believe otherwise would most certainly inhibit, if not prohibit, the building of a generational bridge.

It is a given that the future of AAPG and other professional associations and societies rests in the hands of our young members. Therefore, fundamental is the willingness of the more seasoned to reach out, engage and listen to and offer, where appropriate, wise counsel.

Also fundamental is the willingness of the less experienced to listen, digest and share, with some measure of respect for the experience of those who have gone before, perspectives on the ways of the modern world.

If done well – and if you will permit me an age-biased aside, perhaps best done face-to-face – then each can take some measure of pride and ownership as inevitable change takes hold and carries us forward.

The individual challenge of cross-generational communication emerges on a much broader geopolitical scale: the variation in age demographics by country and region.

In Canada, China, much of Europe, Japan, Russia, the United States and other countries heavily impacted by World War II, age demographics are commonly bimodal, with a mode around 50 years of age and an “echo” generation around 20-25 years of age. A great challenge in many of these nations is supporting an aging yet reasonably healthy population who wish to retire, while at the same time finding ways of maintaining growth and remaining relevant in the world.

By contrast Brazil, India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and others have a single mode around 15-20 years of age. Their great challenges include managing growth and resource consumption and employing and leveraging the potential of a young, able work force.

If jobs are not available and the employment need is not met, unemployed youth find other ways to be heard – ways that are often not productive, and at times even destructive.

We live in an interconnected world. Developed nations with a mature populous talking “down” to developing nations dominated by youth works no better than seasoned veterans lecturing to inexperienced young professionals.

Acceptance of the inherent differences that the wisdom of time and vigor of youth provide – across generations and between regions with significantly different age demographics – is vital to the health of our Association, of our industry and of a world that relies on energy for growth and prosperity.

Building a global generational bridge will not be easy. Significant challenges rarely are.

I usually start with something I can accomplish:

Pick one person who is not in your generation – preferably not in your home country – and commit the year to communicating with that person.

Mentoring is not age dependent; it works bottom up and top down.

If you are a seasoned veteran, share your experience and wisdom – and try to ask more questions than you answer.

If you are a young professional, share your vision of the world and where you see it going – and try to listen more than you “text”!

I’ll bet you find the experience gratifying.

Imagine the impact that 15,000 mentoring pairs around the world will have on global understanding.

Be the bridge.

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President's Column

President's Column - Scott Tinker
Scott W. Tinker, AAPG President (2008-09), is director of the Bureau of Economic Geology, University of Texas at Austin and Texas state geologist. Tinker also holds the Allday Endowed Chair in the Jackson School of Geosciences at UT-Austin. He has been a Distinguished Lecturer for AAPG as well as Distinguished Ethics Lecturer for the AAPG.

President's Column

AAPG Presidents offer thoughts and information about their experiences for the Association.