Blurring the Lines

Note: Enjoy! In mid-June of this year, my colleague, Josh Schuler, gave a Front Range TEDx talk. His topic was “So Close and Yet So Far Away” and it got me thinking......... As always, you can find all my blog posts from 2013 to the present on my website at http://stevemarshallassociates.com/steves-blog/.

There are four generations in the workplace today

Those 4 generations are comprised of:
1. Baby Boomers -1946 to 1964
2. Generation X  - 1965 to 1976
3. Generation Y  - 1977 to 1994
4. Generation Z  - 1995 to 2012
I won't be spending much time today on Gen Z (future posts) but rather let me focus on the single largest segment of these four groups - the Generation Y cohort; totaling 86 million people. Many have written about this group, including myself two weeks ago with "Millennials, Sma-llennials." And, I think we all have singled out this group enough for now - in fact - they have been analyzed to death. Why? Most likely it is because of their critical market mass and the abundance of marketing opportunities and the mediums that exist for reaching them that never existed before the present day. 

Josh's TEDx topic intrigued me, but I was left with some questions
Josh and I met for coffee last week to discuss his thoughts on how to blur the lines (and distinctions) between these groups to get them to work effectively together. Why? Because there is a real problem in communication between 3 out of 4 of these groups. And, because we see it as a bigger problem than solely communication, we see it as presenting itself as a way to turn it into an opportunity. This conversation then grew into what we began to see as an incredible, but possibly perishable, opportunity to produce immense social change.

Have we got your attention? Read on............
As a nation (and a world!), our societal challenges are becoming too overwhelming to be solved by solo efforts. As a result, we, as a society, are moving away from the traditional culture of individual success (I call this the "John Wayne" approach) toward a culture of collective impact. This may be a cause and effect situation, but, it just so happens that this fits right into the "Millennial" agenda and their persona as a group.

They have been criticized by the Baby Boomers as being too dispassionate about the workplace, but, having spent some amount of time interviewing these folks in my work, they are actually smarter than my peer group. They want work-life balance, a character trait that my generation eschewed for greater individual success in the single-minded pursuit of the almighty dollar. And, many of us discovered this had a very high cost - my generation has the distinction of pioneering the societal norm of divorce as as a tolerable reality. Not to mention that I blame my generation entirely for the single largest recession in 2008 since the 1929 stock market debacle.

Instead of chasing only the money, Millennials want to achieve a number of admirable goals; to find meaning in their work, to be recognized for doing good work, to be compensated fairly, and to work for a company that is doing something about the world's challenges. Here is a factoid about this group that is heartening; 78% of them (remember, there are 86 million of them!) want to work for a company where corporate social responsibility is very important. Why? Because they are aware of the many challenges in our world and want to do something about them and they are increasingly drawn to employers that feel the same way.

Here comes the culture clash
OK - now we have established that this group is powerful, in constant touch with what's going on and want to make a difference for themselves and the world. What's the problem? They are not in charge - yet. The group that still has control of the purse strings and the power in business and commerce is my generation - the fat, old, white guys. At 75 million strong, the constant lament I hear from the FWOG's - they are the ones that engage me to help them - is that the Millennials don't want to work.

What happened to Generation X?
Totaling only 55 million, the Gen X'ers are caught between the two larger generations of the Boomers and the Millennials. However, they do have one quality, as a group, that is important to not only my thesis today, but to all of us. That is - they can communicate with their peers in both Gen Y and in the Baby Boomer cohort, whereas it doesn't work very well when Boomers and Y's try to talk directly. Not only can X'ers communicate but they can also understand the two other groups standing on either side of them.

What's the big opportunity?
We have now circled back to Josh and my conversation of 10 days ago.....all the way to convening? Yes, that is exactly what's needed now as we tackle problems that affect not only the 325 million of us in America but also the 7.2 billion of us on the planet. And the best part of this perfect storm is not just that doing things together is the collective trait of this Millennial generation, but it just so happens to be the best societal trait that we could have in this day and age of solving problems such as climate change, potential global impact from the financial collapse of just one country (Greece), and seemingly never ending wars between countries over land, resources, and religion. Add to that the real magic bullet that will fuel this opportunity to convene people all over the planet; today 2.35 billion people (1/3 of the Earth's population) own a smart phone! And that number is growing rapidly as technology improves and the cost of owning a smart phone becomes more affordable.

The value of FWOG's
As a demographic group, my generation is not quite ready to head to the barn just yet and, with a few years of experience under our belts, we still have something of substance to offer. How do we bring everyone together to optimize our co-habitation in the workplace and on the planet? I think the answer lies with the Gen X group - they are the perfect generation to convene the other two generations to achieve an effective hand-off. My generation is not accustomed to doing anything collaboratively; we were taught to and want to achieve individual success. But, we are smart; we were the single largest group in history in our time to go to college and use our education's to our benefit. Now, it is time to pay it forward and pass down what we can to this "wunderkind" generation that actually wants to work collaboratively, and not by themselves, to solve problems bigger than themselves. Go get busy, Gen X'ers!

A Baby Boomer Joke
Let me finish this post with a little humor...........A self-important Millennial attending a football game took it upon himself to explain to a Baby Boomer sitting next to him why it was impossible for his older generation to understand his generation. 'You grew up in a different world, actually an almost primitive one', the student said, loud enough for many of those nearby to hear. 'My generation grew up with television, jet planes, space travel, man walking on the moon. Our space probes have visited Mars. We have nuclear energy, ships and electric and hydrogen cars, smart phones, computers with light-speed processing...and more.'

After a brief silence, the Boomer responded as follows: 'You're right, son. We didn't have those things when we were young........so we invented them. Now, you arrogant little shit, what are you going to do for the next generation?'

Thanks, Josh.

Next Week: Who is this Gen Z
group?