avatarThe movie Avatar which came out a few years ago was a milestone in cinema history, not merely for the technology developed specially to produce the effects, but because it was one of the first blockbusters to reflect a postmodern view of the world.  We’ve blogged before about Generation Y, the first postmodern generation, but following a recent conference at which I addressed these issues I thought it would be good to revisit how Generation Y is entering the mission field and impacting their agencies, and to do it using a suitably postmodern metaphor.  To refresh your memories, Baby Boomer represents people born from about 1945-64, Generation X: 1965-1979, and Generation Y those born from 1980-2000.  Obviously, these are extreme generalisations and individuals each have their own personality and giftings which may not collate precisely with these generalisations.

Avatar, if you haven’t seen James Cameron’s epic film, is based around two groups of people, one a tribe – the Na’vi – living on their traditional lands, and group of human invaders who prize the mineral wealth beneath the land.  Its central characters have the vision to reach out to each other across the divide.  While this story has been filleted already for its postcolonial, anti-racist, pantheistic and environmentalist metaphors, it can also be seen as a representation of the potential conflict between Baby Boomer leaders and Gen Y recruits as Gen Y start to enter the mission field in significant numbers.

Gen Y, is this your leader?

Gen Y, is this your leader?

Who do the characters represent?  The humans, particularly their leader Colonel Quaritch, represent Baby Boomer senior management, supported by their Gen X workers.  Their lack of compromise in their pursuit of results and their willingness to ignore the needs both of their own people and particularly of others in order to achieve results can represent the uncompromising approach of certain types of mission leaders, fixated on an end goal.  The Na’vi, on the other hand, represent Gen Y, and have many typical Gen Y traits: they value community, are connected not only with each other but with other lifeforms and the planet they live in a harmonious relationship with.  They are clearly spiritual and have a desire to work things through rather than fight things out.  The hero of the movie, Jake Sully, represents an old-style leader who has the courage to change and learn new things, and his love-match Neytiri represents Gen Y who don’t simply give up on old ways but collaborate with Baby Boomers to create a better future.

Gen Y: feeling a bit out of place in their agencies?

Gen Y: feeling a bit out of place in their agencies?

What is the outcome?  The humans are defeated and driven from the planet, not merely because the Na’vi unite and fight back, but because the planet itself turns against them.  This is a metaphor for the unsustainability of the old way of life, but we know the humans will be back.  Whether they will come with more troops or a trade agreement is not made clear – the future is left deliberately uncertain so that we can decide it for ourselves.

What does this mean for us?  In the mission world the situation is reversed – Gen Y is invading (peaceably) the world of the Baby Boomers.  They may well receive an uncompromising welcome, and be told “Things have always been done this way.  Deal with it.”  Their likely response will be not to deal with it but to move on to a more adaptable agency.  This is bad news for the first agency:

any agency unable to welcome significant quantities of Gen Y is ultimately doomed to being unable to recruit new workers.

Jake Sully represents the Baby Boomer/Gen X leader who has the courage to realise that the organisation’s values and processes need to be adapted if they are going to welcome Gen Y.  This means recognising that values different to their own are valid, and that Gen Y can quickly make a significant contribution to the agency’s mission if they are welcomed, listened to, mentored, and allowed to learn and grown through their experiences.

Generation Y are by nature collaborative.  But they too are uncompromising.  They will not wait around to earn the right to participate in the decision-making process.  If the prevailing culture excludes them, they’re not going to wait 20 years till they’re senior enough to change it.  They’re going to start something new.  Some of the newer mission agencies will be inherently more adaptable, while older ones may have more resistance to change.  We have already seens some exciting mergers between old and new (e.g. AWM and Pioneers), and this may be the way forward for other agencies too.  Some form of change is inevitable.

The mission leaders who want to lead their agency into a fruitful future will be bold enough to make room for Generation Y now, before somebody else does.