Tag Archives: Generation Y

Is Generation X/Y/Z irrelevant?

Generational distinctions seem to make less and less sense every year. While my grandmother never learnt to drive a car, my mother happily uses a computer and the Internet. Yes, the pace of change has sped up, but it appears that so have we. Age is a very crude factor, and as we shift to increasing personalisation age looks less and less relevant as a driver for change.

Why then do we persist in reporting on how each generations’ habits and predilections will transform the workplace, school or retirement village, when in reality these institutions seem to becoming closer together rather than further apart? Competition in the workplace is the main driver for change, with individuals adopting the tools and techniques they need to get the job done, whatever generation they are from.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the next generation (whichever that happens to be) is going to change the world. We had it with the Greatest Generation. We had it with the Pre-Boomers and Baby Boomers. We had it with Gen X. Now we have it with Gen Y. This might have made sense some time ago, when changes in social mores and practices took longer than a single generation. Change takes time, and if the pressure is only gentle then we can expect significant time to pass before the change is substantial.

I remember my grandmother who never learn’t to drive. Back in the day, before World War II, women driving was not the done thing. My grandmother never learnt to use a video recorder, computer, or the Internet, either. The pressure to change was gentle, and she was happy with her lot.

Sociologists now tell to that the differences between populations is often less than the differences within populations. Or, put another way, on aggregate we’re all pretty much the same. The same is true for my grandmothers. While one never learn’t to drive (among other things), my other grandmother charted a different course. No, she never learnt to use the Internet, but she did take the time when her husband went off to war to learn how to drive, and the both had a bit of a crush on Cary Grant.

If we wizz forward to the present day, then we can see the same dynamics at work. My parents have, in the course of only a few years, leapt from a technology-free zone to the proud owners of laptops, a wireless network, and a passion for doing their own video editing. Even mother-in-law, who has zero experience with technology, bought a Wii recently. She also seems to have more luck with the Wii than her video recorder which she’s never been able to work.

The idea that technology adoption is generational seems to have eroded to the point of irrelevance. There was even a report recently (by Cisco I think, though I can’t find the link) where the researchers could find no significant correlation between new technology adoption and generational strata.

Why then do we persist in pigeon holing generations when it is proven to be counter productive? Not all Gen X’s want to kill themselves. I’m a Gen X, I even like Nirvana, and I’ve yet to have that urge. Not all Gen Y’s want to publish their lives on Facebook. And not all baby boomers want to be helicopter parents. The only accomplishment this type of media story achieves by promoting these stereotypes is to massage the ego of their target demographic. To divide people into generations and say that this generation likes certain tools and techniques, and this generation doesn’t, and will never adapt, is naive.

If we must categorise people, then it makes more sense to use something like NEOs to divide the population into vertical groups based on how we approach life. Do you like change? Do you not? Do you value your privacy? Are you willing to put everything out in public? And so on…

The pace of change has accelerated to the point that everyone’s challenge, from Pre-Boomers and Baby Boomers through to Generation Z, is how to cope with significant change over the next ten year. If we are, as some predict, moving to an innovation economy, then it is the ability to adapt that is most important. Those betting their organisation on a generational change will be sadly disappointed as no generation has a monopoly on coping with change.

A more productive approach is to seek out the people from all generations who thrive in change, and aim for a diverse workforce so that you can tap into the broad range of skills this diversity will provide. Ultimately competition in the workplace is the main determinant for change, with individuals adopting the tools and techniques they need to get the job done, whatever generation they are from.

Updated: Elliot Ross pointed out some interesting research and analysis by Forrester. Forrester coins the term Technographics in their Groundswell work, capture how different people adopt social technologies. There’s even a nice tool which enables you to slice-and-dice the demographics. I’ve added the tool below, and highly recommend taking a look at Forrester’s work.

Updated: Mark Bullen over at Net Gen Skeptic does a nice job of bring some evidence to the debate, with Six reasons to be sceptical.

We can be our own worst enemy

The only certainties in life are death and taxes, or so we’ve been told on numerous occasions. I’d like to add “change” to the list. Change, be it business change or change in our personal lives, has accelerated to the point that we can expect the environment we inhabit to change significantly in the immediate future, let along over the length of our careers. If we want our business to remain competitive in this ever evolving landscape, then overcoming our (and our team’s) own resistance to change is our biggest challenge.

The rules we have built our careers on, rules forged back in the industrial revolution, are starting to come apart. Most folk—from the Baby Boomers through to Gen Y—expect the skills they acquired in their formative years to support them well through to retirement. How we conduct business might change radically, driven by technological and societal change, but what we did in business could be assumed to change at a slower than generational pace. We might order over the internet rather than via a physical catalogue, or call a person via a mobile rather than call a place via a landline, but skills we learnt in our formative years would still serve us well. For example, project managers manage ever increasingly complex projects over the length of their career, even though how they manage projects has migrated from paper GANTT charts to MS Project, and now onto BaseCamp.

Which is interesting, as it is this what, the doctrine, which most people use to define themselves. A project manager manages projects, and has (most likely) built their career by managing increasingly larger projects and, eventually, programs. Enterprise architects work their way toward managing ever larger transformation programs. Consultants work to become stream leads, team leaders, finally running large teams across entire sectors or geographies. An so on. The length of someones career sees them narrowing their focus to specialise in a particular doctrine, while expanding their management responsibilities. It is this doctrine which most people define themselves by, and their career is an constant investment in doctrine to enhance their skills, increasing their value with respect to the doctrine they chose to focus on.

This is fine in a world when the doctrines a business needs to operate change slower than the duration of a typical career. But what happens if the pace of change accelerates? When the length of the average career becomes significantly longer than the useful life of the doctrines the business requires.

We’ve reached an interesting technological inflection point. Information technology to date could be characterized as the race for automation. The vast bulk of enterprise applications have been focused on automating a previously manual task. This might be data management (general ledger, CRM, et al) or transforming data (SAP APO). The applications we developed were designed as bolt-ons to existing business models. Much like adding an after-market turbo charger to your faithful steed. Most (if not all) of the doctrines in the technology profession have grown to support this model: the development and deployment of large IT assets to support an existing business.

However, the role of technology in business is changing. The market of enterprise applications has matured to the point where a range of vendors can supply you with applications to automate any area of the business you care to name, making these applications ubiquitous and commoditized.The new, emerging, model has us looking beyond business technology alignment, trying and identify new business models which can exploit synergies between the two. A trend Forrester has termed, Business-Technology.

The focus has shifted from asset to outcome, changing the rules we built our careers on. Our tendency to define ourselves by the doctrine we learnt/developed yesterday has become a liability. We focus on how we do something, not why we do it, making it hard to change our habits when the assumptions they are founded on no longer apply. With our old doctrines founded on the development and management of large IT assets, we’re ill-equipped to adapt to the new engagement models Business-Technology requires.

The shift to an outcome focus is part of the acceleration of the pace of business. The winners in this environment are constantly inventing new doctrine as they look for better ways to achieve the same outcome. How we conduct business is changing so rapidly that we can’t expect to be doing the same thing in five years time, let alone for the rest of our career. What we learnt to do in our mid 20’s is no longer (entirely) relevant, and doesn’t deliver the same outcome as it used to. Isn’t the definition of insanity continuing to do something the we know doesn’t work? So why, then, do we continue to launch major transformation programmes when we know they have a low chance of success in the current business and social environment? Doctrine has become dogma.

We need to (re)define ourselves along the lines of “I solve problems”: identifying with the outcomes we deliver, at both personal and departmental levels. This allows us to consider a range of doctrines/options/alternatives and look for the best path forward. If we adopt “I am an TOGAF enterprise architect” (or SixSigma black belt, or Prince2, or …) then they will just crank the handle as the process has become more important than the goal. If we adopt “how can I effectively evolve this IT estate the with tools I have”, then we’ll be more successful.

Rolls-Royce and Craig’s List are good examples of organisations using a focus on outcomes to driver their businesses forward. Bruce Lee might even be the poster child of this problem solving mentality. He studies a wide range of fighting doctrines, and designed some of his own, in an attempt to break his habits and find a better way.