Review: Activate Leadership by Jon Mertz ★★★★

activate Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths To Inspire Millennial Leaders by Jon Mertz sets out the confident and unusual philosophy that, due to the digital landscape, young leaders in business, known here as “Millennials” are connected like aspens on a ski slope, forever rooted together and never alone due to the Internet.

The book is more of an almost spiritual philosophy based on a demographic that the author is looking at from afar, comparing them in turn to the way an aspen tree grows and connects, and the take-homes from that. So while this is a look at an idea that occurred to the author one day, albeit a man with a heck of a lot of business experience, does that qualify as anything but a business philosophy? Maybe not.

These younger leaders may be ‘aspens’, but they are also geared to go it alone when they need to, against any kind of generalization or label. So the book seems hoisted by its own petard from the outset. The constant label of “Millennials” starts to grate, as does the ‘aspen’ allegory (sometimes at a reach), and Mertz’s writing inexplicably climbs into a place where he lays down a framework for “Millennials” that tells them exactly who they are, their value to business these days, and how they have to proceed to succeed.

Some of the information seems dated and slightly unaware of how younger people network and set up business – for example, suggesting Reddit or Quora is advice for much older, much less savvy Internet users than the under-30s of this world, as is suggesting sit-down discussion or exercises looking at diagrams. The generation this book is intended for probably don’t need or want someone to tell them what they are, by the very nature he recognizes — and champions — in his first chapters. It therefore remains a mystery why then the author would delve into the exact territory he rejects foremost, and advises against: that of the older generation dishing out unbending statements for the younger generation in business.

As my “Millennial” son always says when I proffer a career suggestion, “I’ll figure it out; I don’t need to be told.” After all, it’s for the older generation to learn how to catch up and become more collaborative, not the other way around, isn’t it? If you look at the way that Generation Y communicates, it’s through quick, bite-sized pieces of arresting information. This book requires a sit-down-and-study approach that’s maybe a little demanding for most social-media-focused leaders.

Having said that, I actually love the website Mertz has founded that is referred to in the book. I wonder if the format used on the site of interviews, images, and collections of information would have really made this book shine in the right way for the target audience. Mertz gets it so right on Thin Difference (click here) that I recommend it highly to anyone who hasn’t had a look.

There’s a grand job done on the book’s presentation, editing, and cover, but this book may end up falling between two chairs: the generation who wrote it, and the generation it’s intended for. Mertz knows his stuff, but it’s the style of address that doesn’t quite engage for the group he aimed for.

Having said that, the information is often useful as “things to remember” in business, and lays out solid, practical business basics for collaboration and creativity for any team to get busy, and many figures and diagrams explain classic concepts elegantly and succinctly. So as the book stands, it may help older colleagues looking for insights into how to work more effectively with younger leaders. I hope in future books Mertz can take all of the skills he conquered here and put together something more attuned to the ears that will want to listen, because he has some good sense to offer for teams to apply in their working day.

Author Site

Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders

Review Overview