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Getting past generation-based conversations

| gen-y

I’ve talked about generations in the workplace, from myths to organizational shapes to moving forward. I’m with Luis Suarez on this one: can we move on from the generation-based conversations?

People are well-meaning, but it’s interesting to look at what we accept when we have these conversations. I think we’re much better off focusing on workplaces that can deal with all sorts of diversity – age, gender, race, lifestyle, and so on.

Take this post from the Harvard Business Review discussion threads:

Create Mutual Mentoring Relationships

Conflicts between Boomers and GenYs may feel inevitable. They have different approaches to getting work done, assumptions about how to do things, and philosophies about what work means. They also have a lot to teach each other. To help bridge the generation gap, pair people of these generations up and ask them to share what they know. This shouldn't be a "Teach me, Oh Wise Boomer" relationship but one in which the parties exchange knowledge and expertise. Gen Ys can show Boomers different uses for technology and how to integrate it into their work. More experienced Boomers can help Gen Ys better understand the history and culture of the organization. Creating mutually beneficial relationships can demonstrate what these generations have in common: a need to learn.

It’s a good point. I’m a fan of mentoring, and both people grow in the process. But it’s interesting to think about the dialogue we’re having, and the assumptions we accept. If we replaced age with, say, gender:

Conflicts between men and women may feel inevitable. They have different approaches to getting work done, assumptions about how to do things, and philosophies about what work means. They also have a lot to teach each other. To help bridge the gender gap, pair people of these genders up and ask them to share what they know. This shouldn't be a "Teach me, Oh Wise Man" relationship but one in which the parties exchange knowledge and expertise. Women can show men different uses for ______ and how to integrate it into their work. More experienced men can help women better understand the history and culture of the organization. Creating mutually beneficial relationships can demonstrate what these genders have in common: a need to learn.

… doesn’t that feel weird? What about race or culture?

Conflicts between Caucasians and Asians may feel inevitable. They have different approaches to getting work done, assumptions about how to do things, and philosophies about what work means. They also have a lot to teach each other. To help bridge the racial gap, pair people of these races up and ask them to share what they know. This shouldn't be a "Teach me, Oh Wise White" relationship but one in which the parties exchange knowledge and expertise. Asians can show Caucasians different uses for ______ and how to integrate it into their work. More experienced Caucasians can help Asians better understand the history and culture of the organization. Creating mutually beneficial relationships can demonstrate what these races have in common: a need to learn.

That just gave me the heebiejeebies. =)

Where’s the line? Where do we let generation-based discussions turn people into “others”? Where do we let age become an excuse? Wouldn’t it be cool to build a workplace where these things just aren’t issues, where we’re used to working with people who aren’t like us?

Talking about this stuff is better than not talking about this stuff. People have stereotypes about age, and those stereotypes affect all generations. (The ageism of the technology industry, the ageism of society in general…)

But we can do better than that, you know. We can treat it as normal that we work with people who are different from us and who have different experiences from what we have, and we can get better at recognizing not only the value other people bring to the organization, but also the value of the diversity of people in an organization.

Brainstorming around Smart Work

Posted: - Modified: | gen-y, ibm, leadership, presentation, sketches, web2.0

IBM’s holding another one of its awesome collaboration jams (72-hour web-based brainstorming/discussion), this time on Smart Work.

I’m passionate about helping people connect and collaborate. All the topics highlighted are things I’m deeply interested in: teams, Gen Y, collaboration…. After I get through my 9-12 AM leadership development class (whee!), I’m looking forward to joining the Jam.

Anyway, I was inspired to make this:

There’s so much more to say, but I still have to figure out how to say it… =)

Join us for the Jam and/or the videocast!

Purple carrots

Posted: - Modified: | gardening, gen-y

Last week, W- told me that he’d been thinking about what house-related tasks we might try delegating. He’s been helping me learn more about delegation in my experiments with virtual assistance, and he thought it might be fun to give real-life delegation a try too. We decided that housekeeping and gardening were easy ways to get started.

I checked the Toronto Craigslist section for household services, and I came across this ad for organic vegetable gardening:

Backyard Harvesting offers a full range of customizable services from
seed to harvest to solve your backyard dilemmas and put fresh, organic
produce on your table at reasonable prices. We take care of all the
heavy lifting and you enjoy the fruits of our labour. Check out for more information.

I found a number of other gardening services, too. I asked one of my virtual assistants to send e-mail and call the services without websites, and I e-mailed the Backyard Harvesting service to set up an appointment so that we could see what the process was like.
We set up an appointment with Backyard Harvesting for this Saturday at 2.

I came home to find W- chatting with Laura, the gardener from Backyard Harvesting–a young woman with a notebook and some sheets of paper. As she was going through the list of plants she could get from her suppliers, I asked, “By the way, did you bring a portfolio?”

Laura replied, “This is my first summer, actually. I’m a student. I couldn’t find a summer job, so I made one.”


After some discussion (which mostly involved things like “Have you thought about growing heirloom plants?” “Oooh!” “Did you know carrots didn’t always come in orange? They were bred like that. You can get purple carrots and white carrots.” “Oooh!”), she filled up a page of notes and sketches. She promised to send us a plan and estimate by Wednesday.

There are other services like Under the Sun which also offer edible landscaping, and we might get other quotes. But if it all comes out similar, I wouldn’t mind supporting a Gen Y entrepreneur! =D

Learning from Gen Y: Help needed!

Posted: - Modified: | gen-y

In a few weeks, I’ll be giving a talk called I.B.Millennials: Working with and Learning From Generation Y at the IBM Technical Leadership Exchange. I want to help managers and technical leaders understand my generation better, get inspired by ways they can engage, coach and learn from younger members of their team, and find out how we can all work together to make something cool.

I’ve got lots of stories from my one and a half years at IBM, including:

  • how I got to know my team and they got to know me even before my first day at work
  • how my team’s learning from the way I search for information online, the way I reach out and connect, the way I give presentations, and the way I experiment with new things
  • how mentoring and reverse-mentoring are awesome
  • how Gen Yers at IBM are connecting online and in person, and how that’s different from other networking groups within IBM
  • what my manager, my team members and I have talked about
  • how we pulled together a panel of Gen Yers to help clients brainstorm ideas
  • what issues usually come up (face-time, communication, etc.) and how we’ve dealt with them

But I’d love to tell your stories, too. If you’re a Gen Yer, tell me a story about how working with your team has been, and how they’ve been learning from you too. If you’ve worked with Gen Yer, tell me what that’s been like, what you’ve learned, and what you’ve helped them learn as well. Leave your stories below in a comment, or post it on your blog and leave a link back, and I’ll look for a way to feature your story, name, and picture in my presentation to IBM technical leaders!

Best story will get a $25 Kiva gift certificate so that you can support an entrepreneur of your choice in a developing country!

Please post your stories or e-mail them to me by Wednesday, May 20, 2009 to be eligible for the Kiva gift certificate (and lots of thanks and gratitude). If you’re reading this after that date, feel free to share your stories anyway – it’ll be a great way to inspire others!

Young and savvy

| finance, gen-y

Over at My Two Dollars, Diane Hamilton wrote a post decrying how Millennials “have been raised to expect immediate gratification” and that “everyone is bending over backward to meet their needs” (which popular media has been harping on for a while). She proposes adding more financial courses to colleges and K12, developing personal finance books geared towards younger kids, and sharing mistakes and lessons learned with kids.

Heh. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but want to stick my tongue out at popular media when it paints Gen Y with too broad a brush (and yes, that applies even when they’re bringing out the “Gen Y Will Save the World!” stories).

Especially when it comes to Gen Y and money. It’s true that more and more people are struggling with student debt. In many countries, younger people felt locked out of the real estate market because older people had more assets and could bid up house prices. Now they feel locked out of the real estate market because of less access to capital and lower earning power. And of course, there are many younger people who have moved back with their parents in order to save money, a phenomenon much remarked-on in popular media.

Two words: sub-prime mortgages. Who got the economy into that mess, anyway? ;) But this is the world we’re growing up in, so we’ll just have to help fix it.

But you know, it’s not that bad. =) Here’s what I think about money and my generation: Most of us have seen way too many people make way too many mistakes about life, about money, about all sorts of things. It doesn’t mean that we won’t make our own set of mistakes, but it does mean that we’re generally not as clueless as media paint us to be. ;) The Gen Yers I’ve talked to keep tabs on their spending and plan long-term investment, look for ways to be frugal, and are pretty darn good at using all sorts of new tools to manage their money and learn more.

Then again, I’m weird, and maybe many of my friends are weird too. ;)

Schools: while I’m all for introducing more real-life education into schools, parents should take responsibility for teaching their children financial savvy. Children can have the best lessons in school, but if they come home to parents neck-deep in credit card debt and still spending on unnecessary things, or who laugh at the idea of saving for the long-term for people in their twenties, something’s wrong with that picture.

Don’t just share your mistakes. Share the good things you do. Share your decision-making process. Share your goals, too. Lead by example.

I’m really lucky to have money-savvy parents. My mom and my dad set up their own business, funding all of their growth from a little capital they had saved up and from reinvested profits. My mom taught me how to use the envelope method to manage my money without feeling constrained by a fixed budget. She also taught me never to carry a balance on my credit card, to resist the temptation to spend excessively on consumer goods, and to plan for the long term. Both my parents taught me to spend where it counts.

It’s not hard to do something like that too. Instead of getting all worried about Gen Y and immediate gratification, practice conscious spending and reflective action yourself, and you’ll teach people of all generations along the way.


  • Gen Y isn’t all that bad.
  • People can teach other people through example, and parents should definitely take responsibility for helping their kids learn. And it’s not that hard–just do the right thing yourselves, and share what you’re learning.
  • Try to avoid popular overgeneralizations. It’s easy to take one of the polarized perspectives from popular media (“Gen Y is bad!” “Gen Y is good!” “Gen Y is just the same as everyone else!”), but you can miss out on more thoughtful discussion.

As for Gen Y being spoiled kids at work–you have to wonder how many of the things we ask for are common-sense. ;) Work-life balance is something I think a lot about, but it’s good for everyone. Focusing on results rather than on face-time–again, that’s a business best practice. Wanting opportunities to be engaged, to do work that you’re passionate about? That makes sense for everyone, too.

My team would be the first to tell you that they adapt to me at least as much as I adapt to them, and they’d also be quick to reassure you that this is a Good Thing. ;)

Reality check! Things are awesome

| gen-y, happy, life, reflection

Dan Pink shares this reality check from the comedian Louis CK:

It’s easy to take progress for granted. Amazing things become commonplace. It’s even easier for Generation Yers like me to ignore all the leaps and bounds. We grew up with the Internet – how crazy is that?

But there are so many opportunities to experience wonder and gratitude, even for simple things like going to the supermarket, taking transit, borrowing books from the library. People wonder why I’m so happy–well, that’s it! Everything is amazing. =)

And heck, I’m still profoundly thankful that someone figured out how to domesticate cats. <grin>

Everything is amazing. Are you happy?

Notes from the City of Toronto Web 2.0 Summit

Posted: - Modified: | gen-y, talk, web2.0

Thanks to Aaron Kim’s referral, I participated on a panel about Generation Y and Government 2.0 at the City of Toronto’s Web 2.0 Summit. I told a couple of stories about characteristics of my generation and opportunities (for everyone!) opened up by Web 2.0, including Clay Shirky’s story about 4-year-olds and televisions (hmm, got the details wrong on that one). During the panel, I learned about the City of Toronto’s push towards citizen-centric views of information with their 311 project, some thoughts on using subscriptions, aggregation and filtering in order to deal with information overload, and concerns about digital divides and lack of access to computers or the Net. I also heard a story about how one company uses the Web 2.0 equivalent of a swear jar – people who send attachments through e-mail get poked about how they can be using more effective tools to collbaorate. =)

What went well?

  • People: I enjoyed getting to meet the organizers, the other panelists, and the audience members. People had interesting stories and questions. I particularly enjoyed Mark Surman’s talk about lessons from open source development that may help cities become more open and participative. =)
  • Webcast: There was a live webcast of the event, and Lan Nguyen told me that more than three hundred people from all over Canada logged in to watch the streaming video. Moderators also took questions from the online audience and brought them into the discussion. This was a terrific idea because it allowed more people to participate. People were interested in simultaneous webcasting for all city sessions, and I think that would be a Good Thing.
  • Twitter backchannel: Towards the end of our panel, I noticed that one of the online comments mentioned the #to20 Twitter backchannel. I pulled out my iPod Touch, keyed in the wireless user name and password the organizers gave me, and navigated to the #to20 search page. After I scanned through the previous discussions, I started bringing ideas from the backchannel into our panel conversation. People’s tweets reminded me of interesting points to bring up. I’m really glad I had access to the Twitter backchannel without doing something as awkward as bringing out a laptop, and that I could get to know different aspects of the people I’d just met in person. Good stuff! I’ll be relying on Twitter to keep me up to date tomorrow, as I won’t be able to attend in person and rumor has it that the live webcast requires Internet Explorer.
  • Experience: I’m usually anxious before panels and presentations like this because I don’t feel at all like an expert. Who am I to talk about Web 2.0, or Generation Y, or something like that? I make up for it by reading a _lot_ about the topic, collecting stories, and talking to a lot of people about the topic. This time, I was even more anxious because I’m not a citizen of Canada, I didn’t grow up in Toronto, and I don’t know much about the way the Canadian political system works. But the pre-event call reassured me that they’d be okay with my newcomer perspective, and during the panel, it turned out that I had plenty to share: stories from other organizations and people, ideas I’ve written and spoken about, experiences I’ve reflected on… It all worked out well, and I’m glad I got to share some of what I’d learned. =)
  • What would make this even better?

  • Focus: A development issue pulled my attention away during the last panel session, which was a pity because it seemed like an interesting one.
  • Planning: I really should get into the habit of asking for the registration list or even just looking speakers up so that I can have richer face-to-face conversations with them. Names alone are hard to search for. The next time I help organize a conference, I think I’ll ask everyone for blog addresses, Web addresses, profile links, or a short self-introduction… Hey, maybe I’ll do that for my tea party! =)
  • Linking: Should’ve found the webcast URL before the event and posted it on my blog, so that more people could tune in! I’ll keep an eye out for recordings. =)

Lots of people to follow up with, lots of conversations to continue…