Thursday, July 31, 2008

Ververs - Gen-Y: An Owners Manual

by Carl Ververs - 31 July 2008

Just as the Baby Boomers are preparing for retirement and Generation X is licking its chops to take over, a new generation conflict has arisen: Generation Y is upon us.

We are told that today’s youth entering the workplace, also identified as “The Millennials,” is unmanageable. They are excruciatingly nonconformist, suspicious of authority, demand to spend their time in a meaningful, environmentally sound way and are strong believers in communal thinking.

Now hold on a minute! Isn’t that how the hippies of the late ‘60s were described? Those same unwashed idealists who are now captains of industry? Yes, spot-on. The only difference is that Generation Y is addicted to communications rather than cannabis.

Where the hippies were disenchanted with their pre-war parents’ prefab lifestyle, narrow-mindedness and geo-phobia, the Millennials are resisting their parents’ greed, excess, selfishness and arrogance. The defining events for the Boomers were the Vietnam War and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and the Kennedy’s. For Generation Y, they are the collapse of the dot-com bubble, the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the global economic recession that followed it.

So who are these Millennials anyway? Let’s take a look at the various generations of people that came before them. While the start and end years of each generation are sometimes disputed, even a rough approximation can give us some context for what shaped their psyche.

The parents of Generation Y are late Boomers, Jonesers and some Generation X’ers. One thing that these generations have in common is the unbridled drive for personal success, measured in assets and consumption. Introspective and, dare we say, self-centered as these generations are, they attempted to reinvent themselves through faux spiritualism, often ridiculed in Generation-Y movies. (One has only to think of Dustin Hoffman and Barbra Streisand as the post-hippie parents in the Ben Stiller farce, Meet The Fockers.) Another socio-economic factor they share is the loss of trust in institutions of any kind, be it government, religion, marriage and especially corporations. Corruption, scandals, mass layoffs, fraud and heinous abuse have all but broken down the pillars of western society in which the people who were parents in the 1950s believed.

As opposed to their “Greatest Generation” parents, who were for the most part unfamiliar and afraid of technology, pre-Gen-Y generations have seen modern marvels simplify and enhance their lives and remember well what it was like to write papers on a typewriter or prevent vinyl records from getting scratched. Their appreciation and awe for modern technology therefore is still great, which keeps them from fully capitalizing on all its benefits.

Finally, these generations grew up with the evolution of mass global media. Everyone from anywhere in the western world listened to the same music, watched the same TV shows and the same movies and played with the same toys. Media were limited, and content was controlled either by state-owned outlets or large international conglomerates.

So how would we expect Generation Y to behave, given these influences and rapid changes? Assuming that each generation vilifies the ones that came before it, we would expect Gen Y to reject self-centeredness, ergo be group-oriented. They should demand “meaning” over “compensation” in their occupation. We would expect them to roll their eyes at technical ineptness and associate less-than-24/7 use of gadgetry an indication of such. They should rebel against the limitation of media content set by their parents’ contemporaries, such as radio, television and record companies. And they should want to level the playing field with corporations so as to avoid the fate of their parents, who they saw work long hours only to be laid off for no other reason than to ease shareholders’ nerves. Finally, as a result of being raised by “helicopter parents” who have given them constant feedback and praise for simply being alive, we would expect them to seek a similar relationship with their managers.

Indeed, all these traits are recognized as characteristics of Generation Y. Fortune Magazine sounded the alarm bells, noting that Generation Y will be hard to handle. As a retort, the Washington Post posited that Fortune readers, a.k.a. The Man, simply can’t deal with the fact that people refuse to slave away for them. Corporate bosses have been complaining about this phenomenon since the advent of – oh, sweet irony - the Baby Boomers.

Rather than complain or bemoan the advent of “unmanageable Generation Y”, Generation Y: An Owner’s Manual will advise today’s managers on how to capitalize on the strengths of this new workforce and guide their perceived weaknesses into assets. We will examine their excessive multitasking, their connectedness, social fabric, work attitudes and socio-economic values, determine the pros and cons of these factors and evaluate some possible ways to use these traits to everyone’s benefit.

Quite possibly, we can recast Generation Y into Generation Why-Not.

About Carl Ververs: Carl has been a business transformer through technology since the start of his career two decades ago. Always at the vanguard of new thinking and creative application of systems, he built CRM systems, used SOA and applied Agile techniques well before they were named.

Carl's technical expertise lies mainly in high-performance computing for derivatives trading and business process management. His background spans a wide spectrum, including business application specialist, hierarchical storage system architect, customer management systems designer, trading operations manager, Agile project Management coach, SOA practice lead, PMO/QA director and deputy CIO. Carl is an avid musician and composer, computer graphics artist and geopolitical pundit. He lives in Chicago with his wife and son.

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