Category Archives: gen-y

Generational differences

One last big post before I focus on my vacation preparations.

I’ve been thinking a lot about generational differences because of my upcoming presentation on I.B.Millennials. I had a hard time figuring out how to speak about my generation without dealing with too many generalizations, and what to say to people who think that oh, it’s just about age. Today, I finally came to understand why I want to talk about this topic. It’s not about drawing lines, it’s about connecting people.

No one will argue that society today is very different from society in the 1950s or in the 1900s, and that there have been massive technological and social changes. One way to see this is to look at ads and newspaper articles from fifty years ago, many of which would be unacceptable today.

Why is a discussion about generational differences important? You have lived through these changes and adapted your ways of thinking to them, but for people of my generation, this is all we know. We will have all sorts of assumptions. We will take all sorts of things for granted. We will understand some things intuitively, and be stumped by others. ("What was life like before the Net? before mobile phones? What’s job security? Why would you want to work for just one company? Wouldn’t that be boring? If I can do my job in half the time it takes other people to do it, why shouldn’t I get the rest of the day off?") Perhaps some of these differences come with being young. Perhaps some of these differences come with growing up in societies that are radically different from the ones you grew up in. Perhaps we face our own questions and challenges that we are only now learning how to articulate.

Most of us will have neither the experience nor the perspective to recognize these differences or work around them. That’s why it’s important for leaders to be aware of trends, to spot opportunities and weaknesses, to bring people together. And that’s why this conversation about generational differences is important: not to draw lines, not to praise one generation over the other, but to recognize potential conflicts and work around them, and to build on each other’s strengths.

I don’t want to make excuses for my generation. I want people to be able to challenge us to be all we can be instead of shrugging things off with "Oh, they’re kids, they’ll change as they grow up." But the world can’t wait until we grow up. We can’t wait until people of my generation are thirty or forty, settled, ‘normal’. We are here and there are more of us coming; how can we all work together more effectively?

People of my generation are coming into a workplace that’s very different from the workplace you started in. The long time between generations can make companies forget the lessons learned the last time around. Every generation brings unique strengths and weaknesses. That does not make a discussion of those challenges irrelevant. Indeed, it shows that if organizations can learn to manage this transition well, they will reap the benefits with succeeding generations.

And why is making the most of this generation important? Many organizations recognize a need for massive cultural change when it comes to adopting new collaborative and social technologies that can require not only changes in behavior, but even changes in corporate culture and values. It reminds me of the very things that bewilder many parents – my generation’s reliance on electronic communication and virtual social networks, collaboration despite previous norms in education and other areas, and an inescapably globalized world. If organizations can make the most of our energy and our skills, then they can ride that wave into organization-wide cultural change. If not, then they will miss opportunities that their competitors will take.

Generational differences is a political topic, an emotional topic. No one likes being reminded that they grow older each year. It is easy to dismiss it with the same words used to dismiss the voice of youth: "They’ll grow up eventually." But if we can harness those differences to bring us to where we want to go as an organization and as a society, if we can anticipate and deal with the potential conflicts that many might encounter, then wouldn’t that be a valuable conversation?

I need to revise my TLE presentation. I’ve just found the kernel of passion in my talk. I’m not going to have the time to link this to all the conversations happening around this topic, so please feel free to cross-reference the other great discussions happening around this. But anyway, that’s what I had to say.

Slidecast: New Media, New Generation

new media, new generation

View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: enterprise2.0 web2.0)

I gave a panel presentation entitled “New Media, New Generation” at the Corporate Voices meeting in Washington DC on September 9, 2008. Around 40 director- and partner-level people (many in HR) attended from private corporations and nonprofit organizations. On the panel with me were Paull Young (Senior Account Executive, Converseon) and John Wolf (Senior Director, PR, Marriott). Things that went well:

  • People loved the informal style of my hand-drawn presentation. They told me that the stick figures were both clear and engaging.
  • People also really appreciated my energy, enthusiasm, and passion.
  • I met lots of people and gave them tips on social media.
  • I enjoyed figuring out a good structure for the presentation. The symmetric structure (new media = social media, new generation = net generation, and a 2×2 matrix) was easy to remember, and I figured out how to make the topics flow into each other.
  • I told stories as part of my presentation, and those stories were easy to remember as well.
  • Joining people for dinner beforehand and listening to a number of the other presentations gave me not only a sense of what people were interested in, but enough rapport with people so that I felt comfortable chatting.
  • I remembered to record audio and video, and to ask someone to pay attention to the video camera. Most of the talk was captured on video – hooray! I’ve added the recorded audio to my presentation on Slideshare (see above), and I’ve synchronized it with the slides.

Things I can do even better next time:

  • I can update my Talks page before heading to the presentation.
  • I can ask the organizers for an attendee list so that I can get a better sense of who the audience members are.
  • With a little more polish, I can make the presentation handout a good opportunity for more branding and help.
  • I can work on pausing instead of using filler words like “right?”
  • A proper video camera set up on a tripod near the front would give me better-quality video recordings.
  • I can ask the organizers for tips on which airport I should use.
  • I can ask my frequent-flyer friends how they make the most of travel time. Two hours is too short to really get into code. Maybe I should go earlier? Maybe those frequent flyer clubs are useful for something after all. Maple Leaf Club Worldwide (Air Canada) is CA$599/year. How much would I need to travel in order to make something like that worthwhile, and do I want to travel that much?
  • I can bring a phone that isn’t on the fritz. =)

First impressions in an e-mail world

I really wish I could’ve spent more time in Washington–not only to spend a month or two in the Smithsonian Museum, but also to run into people like Jeff Widman, who’s normally based in Seattle but who happened to be in Washington when I was there.

Jeff e-mailed me last Tuesday to introduce himself and see if we could get together and chat about Gen Y and social media. That in itself was cool (I love connecting with other Gen Yers working in this space), but you know what was even cooler? He attached a PDF to introduce himself. Digging around on his blog, I came across an online version of it:

Neat idea! I’m tempted to make one myself (or refine my self-introduction in verse), because people often wonder (a) what I do for a living, and (b) how on earth I managed to get an opportunity to do that. =)

Good idea. Go out and make your own. =)

The Road to Me 2.0: How I Was the Chosen One « Personal Branding Blog – Dan Schawbel

In The Road to Me 2.0: How I Was the Chosen One, Dan Schawbel writes about how he got a book deal on Web 2.0 career development for Millennials. This of course makes me slightly envious, because I’m passionate about that topic too, but then I’m supposed to already be working on my Emacs book. Mrph.

But that’s okay, I can just keep writing blog posts…

Knowledge [shared] is power

Here’s an excerpt from Aaron Kim’s blog post about meritocracy and social media:

Furthermore, Web 2.0 and Social Media are leveling the professional playing field. Two quotes by Pauline Ores (who is the IBM personification of Social Media Marketing) during the O&M event caught my attention:

  1. In the Social Media world, the most powerful person is the one who shares the most.
  2. Control in Social Media is like grabbing water: the stronger you grab, the less you hold. There’s a right way to retain water, but not by being forceful.

Meritocracy, Pauline Ores and the multi-dimensional IT Professional « The bamboo raft

It reminded me of something that I learned while putting together a presentation on Generation Y and how work is changing.

Knowledge is still power. The old way was to keep knowledge secret, thus ensuring your power. The new way is to share it, and thus to make it grow.

Together with lots of other people in IBM and elsewhere, Aaron Kim helps me realize that I’m on to something good.