Focus on People, Not Generations, to Achieve Transformation in Culture

Ariana Gradow of CrowdChat and I on TheCube at IBMInterconnect #NewWayToWork - two generations working together!

When generations collide; silos are built. Has anything good ever come from a silo mentality? Let’s define silos to be clear:
silo: isolate (one system, process, department, etc.) from others
In business a silo mentality reduces efficiency and can be a contributing factor to a failing corporate culture. Silos between people proliferate discrimination, isolation, a lack of team play and cooperation. In the workplace, this attitude is just as destructive to synergy and progress.

Today, silos are being built between people in the 21st century, brick by brick, by both ends of the demographic spectrum. The Internet abounds with posts vehemently pitting one generation against the other; written in words that border on hate-speak. Name-calling has become an obsession. Why take responsibility for anything when we can blame our difficulties on someone else?

Millennials have been called lazy, selfish, entitled, rude; .Boomers were called radicals, dirty hippies and slackers. The disparity between the generations goes back as far as around the 4th Century BC, when Socrates denounced the young generation “Children are now tyrants.”

In this post, I'm skipping past Gen X because the most populous cohorts today are the baby boomer and the millennial. Boomers were born between 1946 and 1964-and they represent 23.7% of the population and most began to enter the workforce in 1970. Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, represent 28.7% according to 2014 U.S. Census data.

No one is that special: Workplace culture and Technology

While browsing the web, I found this, “I watched in horror as my baby boomer boss pounded on the keyboard in an attempt to figure out the e-mail." Agreed, there are those who are not well-versed in technology, but horror?

Before we arm up for generational confrontation, consider the points below to see the commonalities between the generations. While millennials have been immersed in technology since they were in diapers, who do you think developed all the devices that changed the way we work? Not everyone else on the planet is a luddite. Lets take a look at the workplace and a few of the innovations that led to the digital revolution that changed the way we work together.

In the Workplace

It wasn't until the 1930s that electric typewriters appeared. Proportional spacing didn't appear until 1944, but the most radical innovation was the IBM Selectric Typewriter in 1961. The Selectric mechanism used internal mechanical binary coding and mechanical digital-to-analog converters. Disruptive? Yes. Thomas Watson Jr., who commissioned the development, also believed that design was just as important as innovation. He hired the top mid century designers of the day to develop at style guide, to portray a modernistic motif. Having an IBM Selectric in an office was the ultimate cool factor; it eventually captured 75% of the typewriter market.

The Inbox

When boomers worked in an office, if they wanted to speak to a colleague, they’d call them or walk over to their desk ...and talk. If the person wasn't there they’d leave a little note on their desk. 

If you wanted to share a document, you’d have to put it in an “Inter-Office envelope”, address it (it could be reused multiple times) and put it in your Outbox. The outbox would be picked up once or twice a day by someone from the mailroom and delivered to the recipients Inbox. Archaic, isn't it?

I thought the last use of an interoffice envelope was in 2008 when Steve Jobs slipped a Macbook Air into one at MacWorld. I was wrong, when I posted on Twitter, asking for a picture of one of these envelopes I got tons of responses . Can you imagine an office using today’s email and these relics? Duplication in communication processes is more rampant than ever.

Digital revolution?

The digital revolution in media consumption could not have occurred without the introduction of television. In the pre-TV era, people got their news in newspapers, but “real-time” (changed twice weekly) images were shared on the big screen, in theaters via seven minute newsreels shown between movies. The disruption to real time media came in the 1960s when television became commonplace in American households and began to mold public opinion.
"The digital revolution is a digression, and television — the real video revolution that began in the 1950s — continues on." - The Hollywood Reporter

There are those who say television is dead, but it is “the screen” that carries its work in the digital age. What is your tablet but an alternative for consuming media? All forms of information appear, from fiction to news via a multitude of devices including OTT (over-the-top) content delivered through IP packets to “the screen.” As Stephen King so aptly put it, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.”

Work/Life Balance

Did the millennial generation invent the desire for work/life balance? Ask anyone from prior generations and I think you will find that having more personal time was something all human beings aspired to have. Previously there was no option for "me" time in the workplace. So before we condemn, consider that there were no sabbaticals and allotted vacation time rarely exceeded 10 working days. Just like today, very few people were able to enjoy this time off. When employees had children, mothers were lucky to be able to combine sick days and vacation to spend time with their new babies. Fathers were expected to be at work and pass out cigars

Boomer Cultural Deceptions

Boomers were exploited by the media with a broken promise of “the American Dream.” To achieve this dream, both parents had to go to work and the images seen on television of mom staying at home as a housewife and dad being the breadwinner went out the door. They became unwilling workaholics in order to achieve the dream and were sold up the river by marketers and banks with promises of easy credit and long term repayment.

As parents of older children (and caregivers to parents) today, they now carry higher expenses than their predecessors longer into life, thereby causing them to attempt to stay in the workplace longer. There is no way to find the “golden years” they were promised. Social Security (which they paid into their entire working lives) can’t be expected to maintain a status quo.

Millennial Educational Debt

A top ranked betrayal that millennials feel is mounting college debt. They face not only debt, but a depressed economy with unemployment rates that, in 2010, reached as high as 9.6%. The dream of graduating and getting a high paying job disappeared, so many left universities without attaining a degree.

The truth, albeit somewhat time delayed, is that despite debt, the ROI of a degree can be high. A 2015 report from PayScale, reveals the ROI of the various majors and the costs involved. In short, assuming one completes four years and gets a degree, a university educated man can expect to earn as much as 70% more than one without a degree; in 1972 that number was only 22%. An interactive chart including degrees can be found at The Economist, here.

If you're looking to make a decision on which colleges give you the most for your money, visit CollegeRaptor for an interactive, free analysis.

We are all victims of politics and societal influences. No generation ever set out to deliberately screw another. Boomers are just as scared of the future as are Millennials, if not more.Suicide among Baby Boomers is one of the leading causes of death, behind only cancer and heart disease.

Today’s technology and culture represents the building blocks placed by past generations. We have more in common than you think. And as we all move through the circle of life, future generations will blame the previous for their life issues. We need to be more flexible. each generation brings new tools to the box. So why not take this moment to take the high road, and work together for a better future and a productive workplace.

Please join me on Twitter for a #GenerationSilios chat on Wednesday, March 18 at 6pm PDT. Details here