‘Next greatest generation’ dependent on building trust, panel says

Benjamin Hoste | Staff PhotographerChris Hayes, Dalia Mogahed, Megan Smith and James Smith discuss “The Next Greatest Generation” during Friday’s panel discussion in the Amphitheater.
Benjamin Hoste | Staff Photographer
Chris Hayes, Dalia Mogahed, Megan Smith and James Smith discuss “The Next Greatest Generation” during Friday’s panel discussion in the Amphitheater.

At Friday’s morning lecture, a liberal television host and magazine editor, a researcher on Muslim-American studies, a major in the United States Army and the vice president of Google[x] gathered on the Amphitheater stage to talk about what it means to be part of “The Next Greatest Generation.”

Chris Hayes, Dalia Mogahed, James Smith and Megan Smith have all spoken in some capacity at Chautauqua Institution this week.

Hayes, who moderated the panel, began the conversation by asking James how he sees the past generation’s emphasis on service in the military in relation to the next generation’s service in the military.

“Although the military is smaller, they’re still touching the rest of society through values that the greatest generation experience — difficult circumstances, life or death circumstances, testing your limits and trusting others,” James said.

In his morning lecture on Thursday, Hayes told the audience that polling data over the past four years indicates that out of all American institutions, the military had the highest approval rating. He asked James why he thought that was.

“The military is fast to execute,” James said. “Through that execution there’s a lot of pretty good values that come out of that. One of those values is education and the global education that we’ve received.”

The conversation then transitioned to millennials’ use of social media and the political unrest in Egypt. In 2011, protesters in Alexandria’s Tahrir Square and other cities throughout the country were responsible for the toppling of Hosni Mubarak, the dictator who had been in power for 30 years. He was replaced with Mohamed Morsi, who led the country for one year until he was overthrown Wednesday, July 3. Both uprisings used social media tools to mobilize and organize hundreds of thousands of protesters.

Mogahed, former executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and current CEO of Mogahed Consulting, said that the power structure has shifted.

“We can’t control the message anymore,” she said. “No one has a monopoly on it.”

Hayes then asked Megan Smith, vice president of Google[x], if social media is being considered, like previous inventions such as the steam locomotive, as a catalyst for optimism and a future without the problems that currently plague the world.

Megan said she doesn’t see it as a worldwide solution for these problems, but what she does find encouraging is that social media is prompting young people to converse and interact with those in other countries.

“I am optimistic about how we are cross-sharing solutions and how young people see things and are stepping up to solve problems,” Megan said.

She referenced Airbnb, an online networking service that allows registered hosts to provide lodging space for registered guests. Megan suggested that this idea — one that saves people money, resources and time — could be expanded.

“Does everyone really need a lawnmower in their house?” she said. “Could we actually cross-share these resources? Could we actually solve world hunger? Maybe social media is one of the tools that will allow us to do that.”

Hayes then asked Mogahed about switching from an industrial-age model based on competition to a model that does more to incentivize cooperation.

“The problem is, we’re competing against each other instead of working with each other,” Mogahed said.

She referenced the National Institutes of Health, which benefitted from consolidation. Having once been divided, the agency made more progress after uniting all of its separate institutes and offices in a cohesive search for a cure to cancer.

Next, Hayes asked about collaborative learning and trust-building, which led to a discussion of The Starfish and the Spider, a bestselling leadership book.

“What’s fascinating about the metaphor is that if you cut off a spider’s head, it’s dead,” Hayes said. “If you cut off one leg of a starfish, it regenerates it. So the more you distribute decision-making and power inside an organization, the more durable it is.”

Megan said that it was this model upon which the leadership at Google is based. When the financial crisis hit, Google needed to cut about half a billion dollars from its spending. But instead of having people at the top making decisions to eliminate people at the bottom, the company used a tool called Google Moderator to collect ideas from everyone in the company. Within a short amount of time, they had enough ideas to make the necessary budget cuts.

“If you create a trust environment within whatever organization you have, you can really cross-share a lot of information,” Megan said.

James noted that the military’s ability to create a trusting environment depends on the leadership of those who are creative, who care and who understand that resources are limited.

A trusting environment is one that cultivates talent and respect, Megan said, giving the example of a recent brainstorming session, called “Solve for X,” which she led at the Pier Building Tuesday evening. The session was only open to college-aged students, and the goal was to have them think of ideas on how to improve on the proposals of three speakers. The proposals included an idea for a rotating solar panel, a self-sustaining and efficient water-testing buoy and an interactive online-learning model.

“All three speakers went back with five or six great ideas from the Chautauqua youth, based on just putting this group together,” Megan said. “So remembering that everyone has a lot to contribute and figuring out how to structure yourself so that can come through in your organization is critical.”