Thursday, January 08, 2009

We're In This Boat Together by Camille F. Bishop, Ph.D.

We're In This Boat Together:
Leadership Succession Between the Generations by Camille F. Bishop, Ph. D.
Copyright 2008
Authentic Books/Business
203 pages, incl. end notes

From the cover:

George, Brad, Brianna and Nate are connected by their jobs: the four of them make up the IT department at Handover Corporation. They also represent four distinct generations: The Silent Generation (1925-1942), Boomers (1943-1960), GenXers (1961-1981), and Millennials (1982-2002). They all have their own specialty, and when the day is done they go their separate ways--that is, until the company sends them on a white-water rafting trip to encourage team building. Surviving the rapids, they return to work to discover that their CEO is stepping down, sending the company into a tumultuous transition. They rely on the skills they just learned in order to survive and remain in the boat together.

This is a rather strange business book, but bear with me while I try to explain what I liked and disliked if you're interested in business books.

Instead of using real-life examples, the author created a fictional group of people to illustrate the different types of leadership one encounters across the four generations that are currently represented in the working world. "Business fiction" is how the cover blurb describes the book. Late in the book, when the author abruptly stops the story of Handover Corporation without truly giving it an ending, she says, "It would be easy to create a fairy-tale ending to this story. But in reality the future of this fictional company and its employees is yet to be determined." Wow, did I hate that. It was like jogging along and suddenly hitting a brick wall. Ouch.

Hang onto your hat, though. The story of those four characters is, in my opinion, uncomfortably simplistic and narrow-minded but the latter part of the book improves as the author delves into what can happen when the founder of a company plans well in advance and carefully chooses his successor. She gives several pertinent examples of successful changeovers in management. The final pages of the book are the best part, in my opinion, simply because at that point the author stopped sketching a set of characters that were far too crisply defined by their generations and began to get to the goal of the book: to explain how dangerous such shifts can be to a company and describe how one can avoid driving a company into the ground, basically hitting a place like the "Bus Stop" in the wrong way. The "Bus Stop"is a whirlpool in the white-water rapids where one can literally become stuck in place, going round and round with no chance for escape, and rafters must carefully circumnavigate the edges to successfully bypass the worst.

Problem: In reality I think there's a lot more blurring between the generations than the author allows for, so I found the reading of the fictional section made me bristle. When I was about a third of the way into the book, I told my husband I wasn't quite sure how to describe what it was that bothered me about We're In This Boat Together, apart from the fact that the lines between generations are too stiffly drawn to be realistic. The word "trite" came to mind.

Hubby read the cover blurb. "Books like this can be a little one-dimensional," he said. That's it! One-dimensional! See, the trouble is that the author says the cut-off point for Baby Boomers was 1960 and my husband and I are most definitely late Boomers, although we were born after 1960. None of the GenX descriptions fit either of us. We used punch cards in our computer classes in college and lean a little too heavily into the Luddite category to fit in with Generation X. Brad the Boomer was a little on the passive-agressive, belligerent side and that also bothered me. I guess it just rubbed me the wrong way, reading about a fictional character with whom I didn't want my generation associated. That and the fact that I thought that personality and leadership ability were confused. It seemed out of proportion that Brad was passed up for the opportunity to lead the group into transition because his shoulder locked up and he lost his paddle when he tried to show off. What, being middle-aged and having a bad shoulder means you'll be a wimpy leader? I don't buy that.

What would have made the book more palatable? My personal opinion is that the author could have done a much better job of illustrating her point by collaborating with someone who has worked in white-water rafting, telling true stories about rafting experiences and how people have shown leadership or the lack of it in times of crisis -- then applying those stories to the business world. Last year, my husband and I read High-Altitude Leadership and it was the real-life examples of the dangers of mountain-climbing and description of how principles of climbing sensibly can be used in business that really made the book rock. In fact, the husband went right out and ordered about 10 copies for his team, so I'm not just throwing this example out without reason. The book worked.

I've never been on a mountaineering trip and probably never will -- I've climbed a wimpy mountain in Colorado, but that's about it for me. Those guys who tackle the dangerous peaks are crazy. But, I've been white-water rafting and there were definitely some bracing moments; certainly, the expert in our raft had some wonderful stories to tell. She shared some before we began rafting and during the occasional lulls. I think there's some decent material in We're In This Boat Together. I simply think that it could have been much better if the author had taken the time to gather and analyze real-life situations in white-water rafting and apply them to her business model.

I'm iffy about recommending this one. Because We're In This Boat Together is a Wild Card tour book (although it doesn't appear to be remotely related to Christianity, apparently there are occasional true wild cards), I will post a chapter excerpt from this one, later in the month, and you can judge for yourself whether it appears to be worth reading on. I love that about Wild Card books. By the way, I absolutely adore that cover.

Would someone tell me what the heck happened to winter? Look what is happening in one of my planters:

Next up will be a review of A Civil General by David Stinebeck & Scannel Gill, although I may declare tomorrow a "Get off your butt" day. I need to do that, now and then. Have a peachy day!


  1. Ummmm... c'mon up and you can have all the winter you'd like! Lake effect snow advisories included!


  2. CJ,

    I think I'd prefer an Ann Arbor winter, but a little visit might fulfill my snow wishes. :)

  3. Anonymous8:32 AM

    Hmmm, looks like I need to take a look at the High-Altitude Leader. And even though I have lots of snow on my lawn and it's 20 degrees today, I still have brave persistent little johnnie-jumpups blooming between my mulch and house foundation. They won't die - I expect next spring my lawn will be yellow and purple.

  4. Care,

    I will have to look up johnnie jumpups. I don't have any idea what they are! We've got so many things popping up that I'm kind of sad. Winter is far, far too short. I never did find any spring bulbs (everyone was sold out, locally!) to plant, so I guess it's a wee bit too late. :)

    Hubby and I both liked High-Altitude Leadership. I don't regret reading We're in This Boat, but I didn't like the fictional aspect and that's about 2/3 of the book.

  5. Our winter weather is really mild, too. The onion and garlic bulbs I planted late fall for overwintering think it's spring already!

  6. "four distinct generations: The Silent Generation (1925-1942), Boomers (1943-1960), GenXers (1961-1981), and Millennials (1982-2002)."

    Boomers are usually dated from 1946 to 1964, at least in all the books I read while working on my doctorate. The "boom" in babies started after the daddies got home from the War, which ended in 1945. Nine months later would be 1946, right? My children were born in 1960 (twin daughters) and 1963 (son), near the end of the boom, and they DO fit the basic profile of Boomers. I was born in 1940, but most people would have a hard time thinking of me as part of a "Silent" Generation. We most certainly are NOT defined (simplistically) by generations.

  7. Jeane,

    I hate to see winter end because our summers last forever and are so, so hot and humid. But, I do like the wildlife that shows up, so I guess I should focus on taking photos of birds and getting ready to clean out the gardens for spring planting. :)


    I've always thought of myself as a late Boomer and I thought, if anything, her description of Boomers just proved my husband and I are a part of that generation. Shoot, I remember seeing hippies in Colorado and being afraid of them! LOL Yeah, I thought the author could have at least mentioned that generational guidelines were approximate. I didn't mention this in my review, but there's also a comment about the importance of knowing what a company's goals are, when they go into transition, and she said "That can be found in the mission statement." Oh, baby. I think mission statements are a crock.

  8. Anonymous5:59 PM

    Evidently some stereotyping is an acceptable thing to do? Did she classify them by gender and race too? Gah.

    I love that picture of Miss Spooky about to snack on the grasses.

  9. Johnie Jumpups are like violets, sort of, I'll post some pics soon, promise.

  10. Carrie,

    Hmmm, I didn't even notice that. I think I just assumed all 4 of the employees were white. Ooooh, that's not good!!! I can't believe I missed that.

    Thank you from Miss Spooky. She thinks the photo is unflattering, but as long as I feed her regularly and make sure to give her bottled water she'll forgive.


    Oh, good! It'll be fun to see them, thanks!

  11. A couple of years ago, the agency I work for hired a man to give a seminar about the generational differences in the workplace. It was really interesting on some levels, but, too simplistic in other respects. This book sounds interesting.

    My husband was asking the same thing today about winter.It's 83F outside right now. We do have Santa Ana wind condition, I told him, which means the temperatures will be up until they go away. I hate the cold, but I despise the high winds even more so I hope the winds go away soon.

  12. Wendy,

    That's about how I felt about the book -- interesting, but far too simplistic. The problem is that I don't believe generation alone accounts for leadership style and the character Brad exemplifies how personality enters into the equation (but that's not the intent of the book).

    It's actually kind of cold here, today! I'm glad because we have so little chance to cool off, down here, that I get a kick out of the long-pants-and-jackets days. They don't last long. :) I hope your high winds do go away soon.

  13. Well it sounds like a different way to get your point across but still not something I would read voluntarily.

    We've had the AC on here!

  14. Anonymous9:02 PM

    Thanks for posting an honest review. I was looking at this the other day, but decided on A Dog's Advice to Leaders instead. I really like the way the author makes it fun to read, but still offers great advice on how to lead – and live – better.


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