Coming of Age in the 21st Century


 As early as 1990, Ted Geisel knew important things about what it would take to successfully come of age in the 21st Century.

Ted Geisel was better known as Dr. Seuss, the author of some of the most famous children's books ever written. Ted was one of the most popular children's authors of all time. All together, his books sold more than 222 million copies. Sixteen of the top 100 best-selling children's books of all time were written by Geisel; Green Eggs and Ham at number 4, The Cat in the Hat at number 9, and One Fish Two Fish at number 13.

The last book that Ted Geisel wrote – Oh, the Places You'll Go! – is for TLO the book that speaks to us about what it will take to survive and thrive in the 21st Century. Oh, the Places You'll Go! is an intimate book, written with Dr. Seuss's patented, light-hearted style. It's built around wonderfully evocative illustrations. And, most importantly, especially for this book, it offers its message with plenty of Dr. Seuss's characteristic optimism:

"… will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed."

Ted wrote Oh, The Places You'll Go! during the last year of his life, at a time when he was battling cancer. And so, this book has a darker spirit, a tougher character. Those who knew Ted said 'Oh' was Dr. Seuss's swan song. It has his characteristic optimism and upbeat perspective, but for sure it also carries a darker, more realistic through line.

Here are the lines that set up Oh, the Places You'll Go!’s basic message:

"I'm afraid that some times
you'll play lonely games too.
Games you can't win
'cause you'll play against you."

At TLO, we love this book. First because overall it so perfectly portrays what we believe coming of age in the 21st Century is going to be all about; i.e., dealing with all the old and new cognitive mismatches that the 21st Century is unmasking for each of us. And second, because it, in three perfect vignettes, so poetically defines what, in response, we believe are the three learning journeys each one of us will inevitably need to pursue during our lives. Oh, the places you'll go!

Here's the way Dr. Seuss presents the first two of these three learning journeys:

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you…

 …Wherever you fly, you'll be best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.

 Except when you don't.
Because, sometimes you won't.

 I'm sorry to say so
but, sadly, it's true
that Bang-ups
and Hang-ups
can happen to you.

“Bang-ups” and “Hang-ups,” for Dr. Seuss, are our lives' first two learning journeys. And we agree.

Here's the way Dr. Seuss describes our third learning journey, a journey that's much more complex and difficult than the first two:

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. But mostly they're darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?

For Dr. Seuss, navigating our “Streets not marked” and our “Windows mostly darked” challenges are our toughest, most important 21st Century learning journeys. And we agree.

TLO's Three 21st Century Coming of Age Learning Journeys

In less poetic terms, our point is this. Right now, in the earliest years of the 21st Century, each one of us is most likely knee deep in three very personal learning journeys. I am, you are, every adult that either of us knows is probably immersed inextricably in these three journeys. Whether we know it or not, and whether or not we want to be, we are all active participants in situations, circumstances, and events that are asking us to either get better at something we already know how to do, learn something new we've never done before, or adopt a new perspective so we can address an opportunity we've never had before..

In TLO's Thought Partner language, we believe each of us, through the lives we're currently living, is being challenged to navigate three distinct, really important, learning tasks. We're each being ask to:

  1. Improve interpersonal skills we already have, like listening (non-judgmentally) and speaking (persuasively), or professional abilities like problem solving and leadership.

  2. Heighten our ability to respond more effectively to the chronic issues and persistent problems we regularly encounter, both at work and in our lives in general.

  3. Identify the mindsets we learned growing up that today we're just beginning to realize must be transformed if we’re going to respond effectively to the 21st Century's most dramatic challenges.

Everything we're suggesting in this blog is being offered to you as a set of propositions; hypotheses about what it's going to take for each one of us to recognize and respond to these three learning assignments in effective ways. If you have comments, criticisms, or questions about these ideas, please share what's on your mind. It's important to us to learn from you how you're hearing and receiving what we're beginning to think about.