E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

From the blog

The Younger Generations & Their Impact on the Corporate World – Sacha Chua & Andy Burman

As we are starting to wrap up the summer and as I am getting started myself with another round of business travelling (Starting this week with a trip to Rotterdam, The Netherlands), I thought I would share with you folks a reflection that I have been pondering about during the course of the last couple of months and which keeps coming back. Over and over again.

To my surprise and amazement, it looks like time and time again a number of different articles keep popping up on how the younger generations, while entering the workforce, are surely changing the way the corporate world operates and perhaps not in the best of terms. I am sure you may have been reading one of those articles lately which would possibly make you wonder where things stand with such generation and yourself (If you have got one of those links to those articles, feel free to go ahead and share it in the comments section! I would love to read some more on the topic!).

Most of those articles seem to be portraying a real threat from such generation for the rest of the workforce, possibly including you and me, when I am actually thinking it is going to be quite the opposite. It’s going to be a huge opportunity for us all. We just need to grab it and here is why.

As a starter, however, I surely am glad to point out there are also a number of really good and thoughtful articles, fortunately, that certainly hint how we can best get the most out that younger generation of knowledge workers and how we can engage with them from the first day they enter the workplace! Nevertheless, I am going to take another approach and share with you my story on how I have been getting involved with such younger generations as it would highlight some of that potential and amazing talent they bring with them!

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you would know how for the last few months I have been following a new reality of mine, which has been giving up e-mail at work, and instead use various social software tools to collaborate and share knowledge with other knowledge workers. However, very few people know, unless you have attended live one of the various conference events I have participated in over the last few months, that one of the main sources that inspired that blunt move were actually the several folks belonging to that younger generation that I have been working with all along.

Yes, that is right! That younger generation inside the company I work for, IBM, that I have been exposed to over the last couple of years, taught me how it is ok not being obsessed with (Or addicted to!) e-mail (They just don’t use it! At least, not as much as the rest of us have been doing all along!); how there are hundreds of other (Social) tools out there that make interactions happen much easier and much more efficient and effectively. And faster!

They surely have taught me through the hard way, in most cases, how content is no longer key, more than anything else, because as soon as you hit that save / publish button it is already out of date! Instead, they have taught me how you can get so much more done by nurturing the relationships of those folks you connect with. Yes, those social networks, those communities that provide a strong sense of belonging, ownership and responsibility for getting things done in a proper way. They have brought a new meaning to the concept of social capital; perhaps the one that should have been there from the very beginning when Knowledge Management started talking about it over a decade ago! Yes, that kind of social capital that has been neglected over the years by most businesses.

They have been the ones who have made me understand that playing political games while at work, through the use, and abuse, of .CC and .BCC, is not only a waste of time, but also of energy and effort with the immediate consequence of deteriorating relationships incredibly fast! In short, they have shown me how collaboration and knowledge sharing happen, in most cases, faster than ever, in real-time; how content is not the end goal behind sharing what you know, but who you share it with and what gets done with it afterwards!

For the last few years, that has been the kind of interactions I have been exposed to all along. And in most cases throughout the summer! Yes, that’s right! Summertime, for me, is one of the busiest times of the year. Why? Because I keep getting approached by a good number of those folks from younger generations who are doing their PhDs, while at IBM, around the topic of social software, social computing and Enterprise 2.0, and how they are all changing the way the corporate world operates through them.

And, instead of turning them away, because, you know, we are all busy people, and, after all, they are just interns or people working on their PhD (They will go away!), I prefer to stick around and learn about what they will be working on. Main reason being me getting the opportunity to get an exposure on how they think and how they work, and, most importantly, how they connect with others! They are the new blood of any other smart company listening up out there and whoever is turning away that opportunity from finding out more about who they are, they are just missing out big time!

That’s why in most cases I get to interact with them making use of everything else than just e-mail. We hang out in Facebook, in microsharing sites like Twitter, Last.fm, ma.gnolia, Slideshare, blogs, wikis, Skype, etc. etc. Not even mentioning the plethora of Enterprise social software tools we have got inside IBM and which I have been mentioning over here somewhat over the last couple of years.

This year I have been engaging with various folks from that younger generation of the workforce and the fascinating thing from being able to participate in their PhDs is that this year I have been working with folks from Germany, France, UK, the U.S., Sweden, The Netherlands, Switzerland, amongst several others, and let me share with you one single tidbit I have learned all along: the potential differences you may be thinking about with that group of folks from all over the place are just not there! To them it is all about part of that global village, where most of their friends and connections are scattered all over the place, but still within the same kind of work environment: The Global (Integrated) Enterprise! Their globally integrated enterprise!

And guess what? We will have to decide whether we would want to be part of it, or not, because if there is one thing coming out very obvious from them is the fact that they are not stopping for us to catch the bandwagon, We better do it or, if not, we will see how they move on faster than we can breathe in and out!

Want to see an example? I have got one for you. Two actually.

Check out Sacha Chua. Sacha is one of those millennials, one of those Gen Yers (I cannot believe I am using such term at this stage of the blog post! heh) who has recently entered the corporate space, in this case, that one of IBM, and way from the beginning she has been making quite an impression  difficult to forget! She is incredibly smart, with one of the most extensive social networks I have seen (I wish I had the kind of in-depth from hers at her age!!), very committed towards getting things done for everyone with a huge boost of their own productivity. She has got a passion for her job that I find it very difficult to surpass it on other folks, even to the point where it is contagious! And big time!

And, if you don’t believe me, check out the following blog post she put together under the title "Squee! Won Slideshare’s Best Presentation Contest!", where she mentioned how she made it through and won the Slideshare Best Presentation Contest Category for "About Me"!, which, not sure what you would think, but seeing the panel of judges, is quite an achievement on its own! Here you have got the reason why she won the contest:

Hello, I’m Sacha Chua!

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: sketches self)

(Here is a bonus tip on another presentation she has put together which will help you understand where they come from and where they are going …)

And if Sacha’s example is not enough proof of it, here is another one with which I am going to end this, rather long, weblog post. Check out Group Persona Visualization. This is a recent new entry into alphaWorks, which will also be appearing in IBM’s Technology Adoption Program (a.k.a. TAP), that enters in full force the realm of Web 2.0 visualisations. Here is an excerpt of what it is:

"Group Persona Visualization builds a foundation for analysis of group interactions. The service collects and interprets randomly distributed data from individuals to create a summary of a group’s overall feelings, perceptions, and activities. Group Persona Visualization is intended to inspire communication and collaboration among groups in which status information is often fragmented across a wide variety of Web locations.

The service interprets the status and activities of groups by collecting data from a range of social networking sources. Users create groups on the Web site and put in the sources where they personally express their thoughts, feelings, and activities (blogs, twitter, instant messaging, etc.). The software then pulls information from those feeds, interprets it according to defined standards, and displays an overall conclusion of the group’s status."

Some pretty amazing and interesting stuff, right? Well, let me share with you that such project came together over the course of the last three months under one of the BizTech teams, in concrete the one from the UK, where Andy Burman and a few other college students have been doing some stunning piece of work in helping understand usage of 2.0 by visualising it in very powerful ways to improve and increase collaboration and knowledge sharing amongst knowledge workers.

Yes, indeed, if you still think that these younger generations are wasting their time goofing around in their favourite social networking sites with their friends and connections while at work, think again! It is not happening now and doubt it would ever do. They are smarter than that and the couple of examples I have mentioned above, Sacha Chua and Andy Burman’s team and their efforts, are just a tiny proof of the kind of talent that is changing the way the workplace has been operating all along. And not sure about you, but I just can’t wait for it to take place!

There is just so much for us all to learn mutually from one another!

Ever thought about introducing reverse mentoring at your company? Now it may well be a good time for it!

(I am hoping as well that over the next few days I may be able to share with you some of the really good stuff that those folks I have been helping out during the summer have been doing and which they are almost wrapping up in most cases … Stay tuned!

And get ready for next summer when they come over to your door and ask for your participation. Take the challenge!)

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  1. A great post. I recently wrote some observations regarding working virtual on my blog. A key benefit in my eyes, is connecting to like minded people, wherever they are located, to improve thought leadership.

    I’m seeing the older generations of managers, having trouble with understanding how to manage by output as opposed to attendance.

  2. I know that blogging is so incredibly old hat, but here I am writing a COMMENT on a blog!

    Anyway, I would like to point out that slide number 7 on Sacha’s presentation deals with that old, moldy, retro, obsolescent tool we call a (I hide my head in consternation) BOOK. [Images of papyrus, scrolls, and illuminated manuscripts…]

    I am SHOCKED that you are promoting such old values, Luis!

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