In the February 2012 edition of Fast Company magazine, the cover story titled, “Generation Flux,” highlights the “chaotic nature of change” in the world today for people and businesses. "What defines GenFlux is a mindset that embraces instability that tolerates - and even enjoys – recalibrating careers, business models and assumptions." While the article highlights the professional “adventures” of many people, the main message is that the bulk of our institutions -- educational, social service, cultural -- are not built for "flux."
The pace of change in the world today is accelerating. You will hear people say the advances in the past 10 years were greater than all the advances of the 20th century. So what will happen next becomes harder and harder to plan for, as well as predict. The article poses the following core questions: “Which competitive advantages have staying power? What skills matter most? How can you weigh risk and opportunity when the fundamentals of your business/organization may change overnight?”
In large, long-standing organizations, it is difficult to change fast enough. As we look toward the future I am unsure if a clear picture emerges. That is because the next few decades will be defined more by fluidity than by any new, settled pattern.
Our organizational structures and processes were built during a time when “filling a need” was top priority. Today, adapting to changing needs is harder. We have been successful in taking great ideas and replicating them. But inside "legacy institutions" changing direction is rough. We like order. We like stability. We are excellent at solving problems -- when the problem is easily identified. The challenge today is to solve "ambiguous problems -- when we do not know what we do not know. Faced with ambiguity, our gears grind to a halt." For example, how do we respond to those Jews not connected nor involved with the Jewish community? This is not a simple question, nor are there necessarily concrete answers.
Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, Executive Director of the Jewish Outreach Institute, recently spoke at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. In his talk he challenged the organized Jewish community – including Federations, JCCs, and synagogues – to undergo radical changes to remain relevant and reach the next generation of Jews. Rabbi Olitzky said communal leaders must be “willing to blow up the model that has brought us to this time.” The model of building Jewish identity on the memory of the Holocaust and the survival of the State of Israel is less applicable to the next generation of Jews. In addition, he noted, that the next generation has almost no interest in maintaining the buildings that their parents and grandparents built.
Rabbi Olitzky refers to this era as one of “transition.” Among the trends is the “decentralization” of the Jewish community. “We have entered a phase I call ‘playlist Judaism’ where people are no longer going to allow Jewish institutions to control the way they "Jew it." Rabbi Olitzky emphasized that the focus today must be on engaging and involving Jews – not getting them to affiliate. We live in a free market economy where Jewish institutions may no longer have a monopoly on programs, services, ideas, and ways to express one’s Jewish self.
Every Jewish organization today, including Federation, needs to find -- and evolve -- the structure, system, and culture that best allows it to stay "competitive" as the market shifts. Business leaders are learning to be creative, adaptive, and focused in their techniques, staffing and philosophy. We, too, must do the same thing.
Charles Darwin 150 years ago foreshadowed this era in his description of natural selection: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives; nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one most adaptable to change.”
Do we as a Jewish community truly understand the current trends? And are we prepared to take hold of our own future?
PS – Look for the new Community Connections e-newsletter coming out on Monday morning. This newsletter will include local/national/international news, upcoming community events, community announcements, and life cycle events. We look forward to your feedback as we develop this e-newsletter to further meet your interest and needs.