Dear Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Gen Yers … Can We Please Move On?

14 thoughts on “Dear Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Gen Yers … Can We Please Move On?”

  1. While I agree email may be like getting a newspaper in some ways, it also is THE only way to sometimes reach people.
    I could leave a vmail or a DM but of my clients I can only think of 2 on Twitter, 3 on Facebook but numerous using IM.
    Age is the culprit, no question.
    but they all have a phone and email and do reply to them.
    It will take a long time for email to die but in its current format it has reached a plateau, no question.

    The other discussion, which rarely gets touched on is around speed.
    IT and most companies do not work at internet speed.
    Startups do and therein lies some issues as well.
    Old CIO’s can’t work in a new world easily and it will possibly create companies that can change overnight but provide no long term feelings to customers, a la Microsoft applications.

  2. This is all getting very silly.

    No-one denies the right of ‘Millenials’ (or indeed any generation) to add their 2c to the conversation around corporate IT policies – that sort of input is expected of every employee.

    However the vast majority of millenials entering the workforce will not be the uber-geeks headed for a CIO role sometime in the next ten years – they will be the interns, the secretaries, the call-centre operators, the bank tellers (and all similar entry-level positions) and their role will be to “Work as Directed” from 9 till 5 and then they can go home.

    Sure the golden-eyed grads from MIT can demand whatever electronic toy they want, but the other 99% of the millenial population will be told to go with the flow or they can start looking for another job even if that flow means IE6 and Notes 6.5 running on Win XP.

    I agree that there are serious transformations coming for email and related technologies over the next ten years, but those decisions will be made by the Gen X / Gen Y / Baby Boomers who are currently running the show, not by the newly-hired Millenials who will be sharpening the pencils and fetching the coffees for another few years yet.

    By the time the Millenials start calling the shots there will be a new generation coming through the education system wanting to bring their own electronic teddy bears to work and they will meet the same reception that the Millenials are getting now ie “Log out of Facebook and get back to work or you’re fired!”

    Coincidentally I sat in on an IT meeting for a 2,000 seat corporate yesterday and that was EXACTLY the message that was given to the 60+ IT technicians in the room. That corporate is running Notes R851, Quikr and Sametime and they striving to live at the forefront of information technology. They are also the researchers, designers and manufacturers of a world-beating electronic product so they are quite sensitive to the needs of their own R&D staff.

    There’s nothing special about Millenials. They need to acknowledge that their personal expectations must adjust to the corporate environment or they will all be tweeting each other from their reserved seats at the dole office.

  3. I appreciate that each generation has different values and expectations, and that each generation will have an opportunity to stamp their mark on society as a whole, but many procedures are dictated by law.

    So until Government and regulators make some significant changes to these laws and regulations, all generations will need to comply.

    Any by the time that changes, the Gen-Y and Millenials will have seriously grey hair anyway.


  4. I think you’re overstating the demise of e-mail. It’s not a perfect collaboration tool, granted, but it means something that the most common use of the smartphone today is for e-mail. Our research of our own community/audience is that e-mail is still a highly preferred channel for every age group, in spite of its annoying and frustrating aspects.

  5. Luis, I think you hit it right on the head that the issue should be about working styles more than what environment you came up in. It’s true that there are stereotypes and that goodly percentages of the generational stereotypes apply. In a sidebar during our session with Rawn today, my client asked the two 23-year-old interns how well they fit the millennial stereotype. One said, not so much, because I grew up in a military family. The other said it fit pretty well.

    Fact is, there are many things that influence us besides our year of birth. Yes, I was born before color TV, but I also had access to a teletype in my home to start learning FORTRAN.

    I think the key message here is we need to listen to each other and to the extent we need to work together, we need to learn each other’s styles so we effectively work together. We need to build the trust and live up to our commitments.

    That said, there’s nothing wrong with reinforcing your preferences. Just today, I reminded a colleague that it would really be better to put that document in the collaboration space.

    Thanks for stimulating the conversation!

  6. Several of Dee Hock’s Chaordic Leadership Principles came to mind while reading your post. I’ll mention three that I think are particularly here:

    Human Relations: First, last, and only principle — when dealing with subordinates, repeat silently to yourself, “You are as great to you as I am to me, therefore, we are equal.” When dealing with superiors, repeat silently to yourself, “I am as great to me as you are to you, therefore we are equal.”

    Hiring: Never hire or promote in your own image. It is foolish to replicate your strength. It is stupid to replicate your weakness. Employ, trust, and reward those whose perspective, ability and judgment are radically different from your own and recognize that it requires uncommon humility, tolerance, and wisdom.

    Leadership: Lead yourself, lead your superiors, lead your peers and free your people to do the same. All else is trivia.

  7. Bravo. It is time to move on from simplistic characterizations based on age bands alone. The conversations about digital natives at work were once interesting, but at some point you really have to question both the validity of the data and the utility of the conversation. I find that as much as I thought the idea was interesting, the feeling dissipated when I saw how weak this line of thought was.

    I’ll add that some of the research published in the area of age and work-style is technically pretty shoddy. There is a play on fear (younger workers will steal your job if you don’t do something about it). There is also a shifty way to define age bands — much like the way people play with boundaries and demographics to get the data to fit.

    I recall carefully studying the research data and methodology of a well-respected market research firm who published some papers about this topic a few years ago and was dismayed at the quality of research. Other research firms just seemed to echo each other too. I shared some thoughts about it here. Your readers might find this interesting too.

  8. The “millennials” comment that always drives me mad is when Gen Y’ers rant about how their generation wants to be heard instead of just spoken to. For example, they say they want to have a dialog with brands not just be pushed one-way advertising. Ummm, yeah… who doesn’t? That is not something unique to those born in the 80s or newer. How many Motrin Mom’s were in their 20s? How many people Tweeting to ComcastCares are in their 20s?

    I know a lot of 20 year olds that have zero interest in Facebook or Twitter. We in IT tend to think that our little echo chambers of like-minded-circles represents the masses, but they don’t.

    A more accurate assessment of needs should be based on working style and technical proficiency, not age.

    I get it, it is a normal cycle that every generation goes through. I’m sure our parents joke with each other about how we feel we’re so different from them.

  9. Great post, Luis, in predominant part I agree and I think, just to say what you’ve said in a few words, I hope, is that the big point and reason for this millennial/Gen X/etc. discussion is really that the generations are showing a (nearly exponential) movement to personal autonomy and workplace freedom of choice. Which to your point fits in some real way our human nature.

    But what I would dissent a bit about is that generations can and do change each way, and we may see a future generation wish for more command and control, for boundary-setting. In some ways – outside the very top-down workplace – we saw this in social mores with Gen X rejecting some big part of the less-defined boundaries that Baby Boomers had (not so clearly) established for those kids. So the generational concentration and the notion that we may in fact hit the wall re privacy and workplace freedom I think deserve ongoing focus as such, and therefore ongoing.

    That and I think we need to realize that for some people the harping on this being a generational change is of value if only for those people to realize that this change will become more pronounced, not less.

    Then again, I finally do want to say that I think most articles and analyses are over-reaching in saying such as “Millennials will be transparent and collaborative and demand it of others!” The missing part of this analysis is the observation of change a generation itself goes through. The hippies of the ’60s did not end up being live-and-let-live communal-style workers; rather they in some large part emulated the “Greatest Generation” before them with some tweaks and shifts. So we will also see, I posit, Millennials also change somewhat to suit the workplace and per social experiences they’ve yet to hit (or ones they are now such as the “Great Recession” which may be teaching some young knowledge workers to use knowledge as power to keep their jobs in unhealthy workplaces).

  10. @elsua I was led to this “Move On” post via Sacha Chua’s “Getting Past Generation Based Conversations” post. It led me to track down a 2007 post by Kevin Kelly extending Alan Kay. Kelly writes:

    “Technology,” Kay says, “is anything that was invented after you were born.” By that clever reckoning, automobiles, refrigerators, transistors, and nylon are not technologies in our eyes — just plain old stuff.

    There may still be a learning curve with interactive technologies, as we see in Web 2.0. Baby boomers don’t seem to have problems with new HD televisions or e-readers or iPads. The more persistent have adopted Tivos and iPods, which reduces the need for synchronous engagement, but are still mostly stuck on telephone and e-mail as the way of communicating.

    I’m still surprised how many businesses don’t use instant messaging, which has become one of the standard ways of communications in progressive companies.

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