Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Arguing for Generational Superiority

This is another one of those posts challenging the assumption that as Millennials storm their way into the workforce they're going to radically change the landscape and force organizations to adapt to their idiosyncratic ideals in order to harness their power and survive. It's a good post as these posts go, and Andrew McAfee throws in the obligatory pop culture reference to make sure you're paying attention.

But what always fascinates me about these posts is how many comments they get. McAfee got 91 comments with this one. 91! The average on HBR seems to be about 10.

Not that I'm jealous or anything.

If you take time to start reading through those comments, you discover that the majority are from a much smaller group of people--people from different generations--arguing back and forth over whether Millennials are special or not. Here's how it typically goes:

Millennial: I'm a Millennial and I'm different!

Xer: Oh yeah? Well, I'm an Xer, and twenty years ago I was just like you. Millennials aren't any different.

Millennial: Yes we are! We're more experienced and more marketable than previous generations at our age. We deserve rewards for the skills we're bringing to the table. And we're not content with the status quo. We want to shake things up and create new ways of doing things.

Xer: We wanted the same things when we were your age. Ugh! We still want those things! But we learned that those things don't come without making sacrifices to exitsing power structures. You need to learn the same thing.

Millennial: But we shouldn't have to! We're special!

Xer: No you're not. Now wait your turn.

Boomer: I don't know what you two are arguing about. Nobody's getting nothing till I get mine.

And so it goes. Let me sum up with this comment:

Ninety percent of the talk about the new generation changing the way we work is just that--talk. Millennials will have an impact. Just like Xers did and Boomers did before them. But that impact will be evolutionary, not revolutionary. It won't be realized until Millennials are fully integrated into the workforce and hold a significant number leadership positions. And by that time everyone will be talking about a new generation of youngsters coming into the workplace to shake things up.


Sue Miller said...

I agree. Although I would add that I suspect the size of the Millenial generation will cause it to have a greater impact than we Xers. (Plus I'm losing hope that the Boomers will retire in time to give the Xers a chance to lead.)

Eric Lanke said...

We've talked about your loss of hope on Hourglass before, Sue. I sometimes think some Boomers are hanging on until they can feel comfortable turning things over to a qualified Millennial. The Xers are just too untrustworthy from their perspective.

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