I’ll take biggest business blunders of the 1980’s for $200, Alex

ofDhGTdDear Boomers and Gen X’ers:

Are you as amazed, astonished and appalled as me at the sheer lack of knowledge on the part of our sons and daughters of virtually anything that transpired before the year 2005?

I know Millennials and their successors, the Gen Z’ers, have taken more punches than poor Muhammad Ali at the end of his career but, folks, the knowledge gap is widening to seismic proportions.

But, fear not, I have a solution.

Before sharing said remedy, though, I would like to submit three recent examples from my personal and professional lives that bear witness to my fear for our country’s future (i.e. “Those who have no knowledge of the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them”).

1.) Scene: family picnic. Players: a 20-something niece and this reporter. Conversation:

Niece: “Hey Uncle Steve. We’re both left handed!”

Me: “I always knew we were both sinister.”

Blank expression. I had to explain the word sinister originated in the Middle Ages and was used to describe anyone born left-handed. Southpaws were considered unlucky and in league with the devil (both true in my case).

The newly-educated Millennial shrugged her shoulders and left to replenish her glass of pinot grigio.

2.) One of my daughter’s 20-something friends spied my heavily bandaged and badly ruptured quadriceps tendon, and asked what had happened.

I told her my ever-jealous business partner had pulled a ‘Tonya Harding’ on me.

Blank expression. I told her to Google Tanya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan and Olympics, and report back to me. Minutes later, she ran up to me and said, “OMG, Wikipedia says that, next to the OJ Simpson thing, Tanya Harding was the biggest news story of 1994!”

3.) We were brainstorming for a new business pitch when the subject of famous husband-and-wife teams came up. A Millennial participant said, “What about that GE guy and his wife who are always on cable TV fighting about politics?”

I told him he’d confused Jack and Suzy Welch with James Carville and Mary Matalin. To which the Millennial nodded and said, “Oh, right, Carville and Matalin are executives working for the prospect, correct?”

While I’ve changed the names and slightly altered the scenarios to protect the innocent, the stories are true.

We have an entire generation of lost souls about to take the helm of business and industry who have virtually no idea about the who, what, when, where, why or how of the world that existed before they extricated themselves from their video games and began non-stop texting.

There are obviously exceptions to the rule but, in my opinion, this is a generational pandemic.

But, as noted, I have a solution I’m about to implement at my firm: Business Jeopardy. That’s right, I’m ripping off the show’s creators in a desperate attempt to educate the troops.

I’m planning five, one-hour workshops. Each will focus on a particular decade (a la the outstanding CNN series) and each will feature categories relevant to my firm: business-to-business, industrial, consumer and marketing communications in general.

We’ll create a Jeopardy-like board and ask that all answers be in the form of a question.

So, for example, in the 1980’s Business Jeopardy workshop, one answer in the business category might be Ivan Boesky.

In the 1970’s workshop, an answer in the consumer category might be Gerald R. Ford (that one’s for you, Grand Rapids). Another answer in the 1970s business category might be Bhopal, India.

We plan on maximizing attendance by handing out Amex gift certificates to the winners of each decade, and then host a tournament of champions whose winner might receive, dare I suggest it, a DVD of the complete CNN series about the various decades.

Regardless of who wins what, it’s my belief the entire firm will benefit (as will each and every participant).

In the meantime, I must close by providing you with the answer to the contestant request in the headline. The answer is: Steve Cody. The correct question? “What was the single biggest hiring mistake made by H&K in the 1980s?”

“You control the board.”




10 thoughts on “I’ll take biggest business blunders of the 1980’s for $200, Alex

  1. Pingback: Here, there and everywhere. | Rep Man

  2. And one could fill a book with the everyday words, phrases and current events that Ann and many of her fellow Illinois alumni have no clue about.

    Plus, working in the communications business should REQUIRE a grasp of critical names and events of the recent past.


  3. Let the record show that this blog is not about whether Zmillennials and Gen Z’ers Re smart or dumb. Rather, I was addressing theit overal lack of awareness of people, places, events, words, etc., that are/were mainstream (Bedrock notwithstanding, of course).

    There’s nothing arcane about the word sinister. I’m sure it’s probably used at least once in every new slasher/serial killer flick. Not knowing the word’s origins, or that it competes with southpaw as a descriptor of left-handed people, is inexcusable.

    That said, I’d agree there is an overall dumbing down of America among all age groups. One need only look at the tightness of the presidential race for confirmation of that fact.

  4. So, if you semi-resent the blog does that mean you also semi like-it? As for the Ann Boleyn trivia, that’s arcane minutia that only someone such as you who studies Tudor England would know. The blog concerns mainstream news events and people of the recent past (as well as everyday words) that Millennials and Gen Z’ers should know.

    BTW, Bob, love the Pearl Harbor anecdote. Classic.

    • No. I completely resent it, actually 🙂

      I would say that left-handed people being called “sinister” is arcane minutia, as well.

      It’s fine to say that some Millennials are dumb, but there are a lot of dumb Boomers too. I don’t think it’s a generational problem.

  5. As a Millennial I semi-resent this blog. I know who Nancy Kerrigan is and I know that left-handed people used to be considered evil. I also know that Ann Boleyn had a sixth finger on her left hand and started a fashion trend trying to hide it. Do Boomers know about that?

    • Oy–that’s wrong on so many levels (well, two, the sentiment and the facts).

      Semi-related fact, I got my driver’s license on December 7th a long time ago and remember telling some adults “this could be a bad omen.” Said adults didn’t get the reference (said adults may or may not have been one of my own parents).

      • My sister made the Pearl Harbor reference. She was a teen at the time. Still.
        Catharine, I can understand your unhappiness with this post. Lack of intellectual curiosity can happen at any age. And while I am shocked at some of the examples Repman has cited, I’m sure my parents had the same reaction from time to time at things they thought I would know.