The Millennial Mind – High Tech, Low Touch

November 3, 2009

This past weekend my wife and I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott with the new GoBoards – basically large flat screens that you can touch to access news, weather, and maps. As we were waiting to check in, I was drawn to this large, bright screen like a bug to a bug zapper and immediately started going to work on it. At the same time a  young boomer couple was with the front desk clerk with a large paper fold out map and a half-dozen questions on where this was or how to get to that. In less time I not only knew where this was and how to get to that, I read the US Today news feed and checked the weather during our stay.

It amazed me how I went directly to the computer and really had no desire to speak to the clerk and the boomer couple had no desire to even look at the computer but went right to the clerk. Given the choice I would have preferred an automated check-in and bypassed the clerk all-together.


Web 2.0 as a Concept

June 22, 2008

I had an epiphany of sorts this past week while I was away at school.  For every new technology trend to hit the market there is both the technology and the underlying concepts of said technology.  Basically, the technology is just the tool and the concept is what defines the tool.  This seems somewhat obvious but I think I’ve taken it for granted.

A fellow Millennial had the idea of creating a flickr account to capture all of the pictures from our year long graduate school adventure.  As we all know, flickr is a an online community for sharing pictures and video.  The key words here are online community.  Online to me represents the centralization of these digital assets in the cloud and not hiding them on the desktops of 90 individuals.  Community is defined as ‘common, public, shared by all or many’ and represents the ability for those 90 individuals to contribute to and view these centralized digital assets.  So online is our Web 1.0 concept and community is our Web 2.0 concept.

So our Millennial friend was the first to start a community and notified the class on the 12th of this month.  Following that we had another individual post pictures to SharePoint on the 17th and then a different person added pictures to Picasa on the 21st.  Both of these individuals are not of the Millennial variety.  So now we have three individuals building three separate communities with assets in three different tools. 

I believe each of these individuals made great Web 2.0 tool decisions however they missed the boat on some key Web 2.0 concepts.  Now we have three communities with the same intent, essentially creating a competitive environment.  This either forces folks to share with not one community, but all three, or even worse, not share at all because the the process has been convoluted.

In our situation the usefulness of the tools is evident but the concepts of the social computing was lost on some folks.  This is a small example with a big take away.  I learned that regarless of how cool or interesting a technology may be, it’s the concept that is important. 


Millennials at School

June 7, 2008

Last month I started a few new chapters in my life.  I got married and I started grad school.  The Millennial marriage was good times but a topic for a different day.  This post is about my reintroduction to academia and how in the next twelve months I will be working very closely with a diverse group of individuals from three generations.  I do not have demographic information for this years program yet but I would say the group is predominately of the Xer variety with a handful each of Boomers and Millennials.

After our first weekend of class I can say one thing for sure.  Regardless of how tech savvy our generation is, we cannot compete against the years of experience the other two generations have.  In three days I heard more stories about successes and failures within the enterprise than I could ever imagine.  I guess in ten to twenty years I’ll have as many stories, but right now, fact is, I don’t.

This just reminded me how important it is for diversity withing work groups.  Not just of race, gender, and nationality, but of generation.  Each generation has something beneficial to offer the group as a whole.  Wisdom, experience, and lessons learned coupled with fresh ideas and technical know how is a powerful combination for any organization.

Look for more to come about Millenials at School over the next year.


Networking 101

March 12, 2008

Generation Y is the known as the most networked generation ever. Meaning we maintain connections with persons from our past over longer periods of time and often look for opportunities to connect with new folks. Facebook and LinkedIn are standards at this point and we use them to reach out and digitally touch (or poke in Facebook speak) friends from past, present, and into the future.

Unfortunatley for the enterprise, all this personal networking is one factor that leads to higher turnover of younger employees. It is nothing new to get a job through a close friend but what has changed is the medium job inquiries are received and how close that friend actually is. It is not uncommon for me to get a Facebook invite from a “friend” in my network looking for applicants or to get a LinkedIn question from a headhunter who queried something in my profile. I think part of being so highly networked is our willingness to post personal information all over the Web in various forms and locations. The social networks facilitate the sharing of this information and opens the discussion about employment opportunities.

It’s not just social networks either. Maybe some of you out in the blogosphere have given or received job offers based on a blog. Maybe you’ve initiated a conversation with someone based on their expertise shown in a discussion forum.  Simply put, Millennials continue to make their mark all over the Web, continually expanding their networks; one page, one profile, one post at a time.


Harsh Words for “Old Folk” in CIO Magazine

January 12, 2008

Until very recently this blog has done a good job of facilitating my flow if ideas on generational differences in the workplace while not trying to antagonize or attack any generation or any individual. However, comments were made by ‘Paul’ that my views are naive and some of my thoughts are off base because I don’t have a spouse (inaccurate) or children. He even went as far as to question my ability to think independently and insinuated I am just pushing the agenda of some sociologists. Though his comments were somewhat harsh for my liking (but I am a whiny Millennial) and seemed to be more off topic per post than on, all contributions are appreciated. Furthermore his comments reminded me of the confrontational tone from a November article of CIO Magazine titled ‘In Defense of Gen Y Workers‘.

The auther of that article was a 21 year old editorial assistant at CIO. She had some very good commentary that I agreed with including her thoughts regarding our early adoption of technology and collaborative tools as well as our use of these and other tools to multi task our way through life. Her view that companies continue to push outdated applications and non-technical business processes in lieu of newer more agile solutions. Most importantly, her views on work life integration where she stated “I need to be connected to be happy. And that means connected in all areas of my life, work and play, not that I think there’s much difference between them.

So where I did agree with some of her comments, just like our friend Paul’s, I did not agree with the confontational and demeaning tone. She seems to be antaganizing older generations with comments like these:

Old folk, like you, experience technology as a disruption of the familiar. You Boomers talk about the warm sound of vinyl records. Excuse me? You think that hissing crackle is warm? Gen X talks about claymation and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Breakfast Club and other sappy John Hughes movies celebrating slackers and losers…

The fact is, I’m different, I’m better and I’m tired of hearing otherwise.

Now, I completely agree that we are different, but I am not willing to assert that we are better. Every generation, just like every person, has both good and bad qualities. I don’t think it’s anyones place to start ranking or trying to quantify a generations worth to a company or society as a whole. So keep in mind folks, regardless of which generation you come from, keep it professional. Try not to blast the thoughts of one person or bring down a whole group of people just to lift yourself, or your group to a higher level.


We Are Not Google!

September 13, 2007

You don’t say? I thought I just left my dog at home today, overlooked the pool tables, and donated the rest of my salary to charity. Regardless, the clarification may have been necessary for me as a Millennial and fan of all things Google. However necessary, it should not be an excuse from a Boomer to a Millennial regarding a companies lack of desire to accept change.

Since earlier this year when Fortune named Google the Best Company to Work For in America, Google has been brought up many times in the workplace outside of the context of just search and their suite of Web tools. Now their name is being thrown around the workplace by different generations as a form of reference.

Around the same time my Boomer colleague mentioned that our company was not Google, I had a Millennial coworker attempt to negotiate a perk popularized by Google referred to as “twenty percent” time. This is the practice in which Google encourages all of it’s engineers to spend one day a week on projects that interest them regardless of their project team. This has proven to be quite the successful practice for Google which estimates that half of new product launches originated from the 20% time. Alas, as my Boomer friend mentioned, we are not Google and consequently my Millennial friend’s request was denied.

As Google continues it’s path of domination and it’s influence over members of the Google Generation (just made that up, not offical), I believe we will see more and more pressure from Millennials to make the workplace more Google like and give the power to the lowly worker bees to push change and be creative and not just be cogs in the corporate machine.


Wiki Woes

August 3, 2007

A wiki is not a Wikipedia, Wikipedia is a wiki. Wiki’s are not an inherently useless collection of Web pages with lackluster or nonexistent security, history, and versioning features. With that said, is the concept of a wiki that hard to grasp? I mean, its just a simple application that takes inputs through a Web form, stores them, then makes that content visible and readily editable through a browser. Blogs and wikis are technically some of the most simple applications but yet seem to be some of the more controversial collaborative tools that Millennials are using and hoping to share with other generations. Don’t get me wrong, Millennials did not create the wiki concept or technology (see Ward Cunningham) but they have made it an integral part of their collaborative arsenal.

Recently I started a corporate softball team for the IT department at my company. There was an obvious need for some sort of Web presence to hold all necessary information such as rosters, schedules, recaps, pictures, etc. I chose the wiki engine stikipad.com for its simplicity, ease of access, and the fact that it was free. By the end of the season I ended up being the only content generator aside form the blog like comments left by a few team members. I created and maintained all of the pages, I uploaded and linked all of the pictures. I’m fine with putting in the leg work but I was hoping to facilitate collaboration and distribution of content generation. That was not so much the case.

There were very few comments, and some of the comments were there to simply mock the concept of the wiki as if it were a joke. I am still ridiculed from time to time by coworkers for my support of the wiki concept yet no one can tell me why. InfoWorld.com deemed 2004 as the year of the enterprise wiki, yet its 2007 and I’m being taunted. Its as if members of older generations are afraid of wikis and other Web 2.o technologies, like its a bits and bytes version of the plague. In retrospect I think if I never told anyone that our team site was powered by a wiki engine and just let them have at it, the site would have received a much warmer welcome and it would have achieved my goals of collaboration and distribution of content generation. So I’ve learned my lesson, in the future when discussing the wiki concept with seasoned members of a large corporate IT department, refer to it as an enterprise grade content management system with lackluster permissions and oversight.


Bridging the Generational Divide

June 27, 2007

Today the CIO of my company did a presentation titled ‘Generational Insight to Workforce Planning’ which described our companies (and many others) situation of an aging Boomer workforce and a growing demand for young knowledge workers. Obviously there wern’t too many surprises in that presentation since that is much of what this blog is devoted to, but what turned out to be very interesting was the conversation that ensued after the presentation.

The room was comprised of members of all four of the major generations currently in the workplace: Matures, Boomers, Xers, and Millennials. One gentlemen brought up the concept of retirment and the fact that very little has been done in terms of succession planning and knowledge management for his position. His concern was what is going to happen to all of the knowledge hat he has acquired over several decades of dedicated employment when he checks out. My immediate concern was not only what is going to happen to that knowledge, but how will it be managed?

I’m sure that a Mature or Boomer would prefer one means of documenting and handing off information and the growing number of Xers and Millennials would prefer an alternative. So how does the employer choose the most appropriate tools for these different generations? If those older workers are more comfortable with a Word doc or email message but the younger workers would prefer to access and upgrade that information through a wiki or have it incorporated in a mashup or team collaboration area; how do you bridge that gap? It was an eye opener for me as a Millennial in that I know what I want and how I want it. However, I often forget that Matures and Boomers also know what they want and how they want it and that their desires have become much more ingrained into their person over time.


Work-life Integration = New Hotness

May 5, 2007

Everyone seems to have there own opinion on what they feel work-life balance really means. Many believe that work should not interfere with ones personal life and vice versa. Based on my experience, these are the same individuals who you can generally set your watch by. Clock in at nine, clock out at five, eat lunch in between, by themselves, at their desk. There is certainly nothing wrong with this mentality which seems to be more associated with older generations. They have been conditioned by both society to be home in time for dinner regardless of issues at work and by employers to formulate routines and be accessible to bosses during normal working hours. Then comes along Gen Y with their mobile devices and demands for flexibility.

My opinion is that those members of the Millennial Generation are not interesting in the same work-life balance that their older coworkers are interested in. Those more seasoned generations are interested in a more harsh separation between work life and personal life. They prefer to leave work at work and check their personal lives at the company’s front door. I see younger workers less interested in a harsh separation and actually prefer to integrate personal and work into one entity, I guess we could just call that ‘life’. I want to be able to work from wherever, whenever. The thought is that work is something that you do, not a place that you go. I want to take personal phone calls while I’m at work, access my personal email, and better yet, access to members of my personal life.

I’m sure much of this cultural change can be associated with the rise of the Internet during our generation. We are the most networked generation thanks in large part to the MySpaces and Facebooks of the world; we are constantly connected and have access to information about everyone and everything. We have grown up with mobile devices and Web applications that have untethered us from a physical location and have granted us the flexibility to do what we want when we want. Now we are demanding the same of our workplace. I see work-life balance as a thing of the past and the future lies in work-life integration.


Who You Callin’ Special?

March 9, 2007

There are several key reasons why Millennials have and will continue to make a big impact on the workplace in the coming years.

  • Size: Gen Y or Millennials make up the largest generation since the Baby Boomers. With size comes power, as boomers phase out of the workplace Gen Xers will step up to the plate but Millennials will also be needed to back-fill the massive void generated by retiring boomers.
  • Technology: Millennials are the first generation to be completely comfortable with technology. We’ve grown up with it, particularly younger members of this generation. Millennials are fluent with technology and the older generations will always speak with an accent.
  • Thought Process: Since Millennials have grown up during the Digital Revolution and have grown dependent on the Internet and cell phones, the Millennial mind has morphed. Research has shown that younger minds have become multithreaded instead of a queue that can only effectively manage one input. It sounds a bit out there but just look around your office; those multithreaded thinkers are listening to iPods, tabbing through multiple Firefox tabs, chatting with several people on the office IM, while reading emails using multiple monitors.

So Millennials, count your blessings. We have been afforded the special tag by simply being born at the right time. As technology became mainstream and the home PC was the norm. In elementary school we played Oregon Trail and died of dysentery, in middle school we fell in love with the ‘You got mail’ sound clip and chatted with lovely ladies in the lesbian chat room (who were probably other 13 year old boys), and in high school we hung out in computer labs and developed our own Web sites. We never knew what it was like to not have access to a computer and all of the wonders that came with it.

Older generations have needed to learn technology and consequently many aspects of technology will always come more difficult to older members of the workforce. We all know that guy who can’t get his printer to work b/c he has his USB cord plugged into the network port or the coworker who is shocked over the power of the Alt + Tab combo.

However, please keep in mind these are generalizations. I have a gentleman at work who is in his fifties and is well above most Millennials on the technical curve and a lady who is a Millennial who killed a printer by putting scissors in the way of moving fan blades.