Age vs. Youth – A True Story of Generation Differences

DispleasedInterviewer
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The young man approached the lobby of the New York offices of a progressive technology company with a sense of confidence that was partly based on belief in himself coupled with the knowledge that he and others of his generation were capable of changing the world. This job interview was not in a technical area of the company, but he grew up surrounded by technology and this place was acclaimed to be a culture of innovation from top to bottom. As it happens too often, the CEO ousted an inventive founder of the company to replace a seat-of-the-pants garage mentality with a proven model of process, structure, and business acumen. It was the best of all worlds… a dream-come-true opportunity. Business forecasters predicted a bright future for anyone who hitched their wagon to this rising star.

The interviews went well, or so he thought. The young man spoke in vivid detail of his passions and vision of adding value through his education, knowledge of technology, and work experience. After the candidate left the building, the team adjourned behind closed doors. They discussed how much of a disruption this personality would be to the existing mix. He had left some of the interviewers feeling insulted and perhaps a little confused. He inferred… no actually insisted… that even the non-technical units of the organization needed to be tech savvy to further the company mission. The unanimous decision was a resounding “No!” It would be easier to hire someone more like them than to go with a young upstart with radical ideas.

Where has your mind taken you so far with this story? Are you thinking about how the stereotypes of millennials are unfair? In your mind’s eye do you see cultural stagnation in a company destined to fail? Here is a little more detail that may blow away some of the fog: That young man was me 25 years ago, the company was Apple, and the interview was in an HR department where people were not technology minded. With perfect 20/20 hindsight, I probably should not have mentioned that I would never hire anyone in HR that was afraid of using the latest technology! Instead of proving my expertise as I had intended, it served to point out that I was, well… different. Today I am happy that I didn’t get a job where I would have failed miserably. I acted on my concept of the culture without really understanding. I never considered that I might also have to adapt. I was also clueless about how to actually steer the cultural change I felt was needed.

There is a term for people that only see things through their own eyes – ethnocentrism: seeing the world from your own perspective to the exclusion of other perspectives. It is not only common in discussing generational differences it is inevitable. At the time of this interview, Gen-X was called the “Baby Bust Generation” simply to differentiate them from the already-named Baby Boomers. The word millennial had something to do with years and not people. I represented the young generation of boomers-with-attitudes setting out to conquer the world. My pilot light had been lit by technology and I was going to use it to set the world on fire. Crossing over from engineering into HR, targeting Apple as a place to carve out my career seemed to be logical, but imagine my disappointment when the people I met were virtually computer illiterate. Imagine their disappointment with me! Not only did I miss the point, I strutted away in full arrogant plumage wondering why I had wasted my time. How dare they get in my way! I am young, vibrant, smart, and know it all! Time passes. Apple survived; so did I.

As a result of this experience and countless others, my call to action today is for all generations to be open-minded about learning from others. When I challenge people perpetuating generational stereotypes… whether intentional or just stupid prejudice… it is hopefully not a sign that I am mired in my generation’s swamp of bias. We should all be focused on cross-generational communication for the betterment of everyone. This is the only way to erase stereotypical boundaries, identify organizational gaps, and engage everyone to pull together. Repeat after me: “Share your ideas honestly with me and I’ll share mine with you. If we disagree, let’s at least agree that it has to do with the whole body of human experience and is not solely dictated by the age of the thinker.”

By the way, my generation was the most cocky, arrogant, and foolish of all times. I hope everyone can admit that about their own generation when they look back.

Photo Credit.

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Comments

  1. Well said Tom! I believe that we can all learn a great deal from one another. I’m pretty sure that I learn something new every day from both older and younger co-workers and colleagues.

    Reply
    Casey
  2. Very nice article Tom! IMO, one of the best parts of seeing people fresh out of school interview is how they have such a fire and want to ignite change every chance they get. For them, the downside is they haven’t learned how to “implement it” yet because their emotional intelligence hasn’t developed fully. This said, I believe that anyone and everyone of any age can keep their personal fire burning by continuing to stoke the embers and always strive to learn and improve individually and collectively.

    Cyndy Trivella |
    Reply
  3. No one is born wise – development of “practical wisdom” is something that can only be gained through experience both good and bad. Even more is having an “internal guidance system” that allows one to not only introspect but also to bounce these thoughts off friends and mentors who aren’t fearful of reprisal when offering up honest feedback and insight.

    No one said it would be easy – too bad all those fake blue ribbons cloud the view for many…

    Reply
  4. What a coincidence that you posted this today. As that happened, I was in the process of writing my blog, which is a bunch of somewhat random thoughts, all in haiku. Here’s an excerpt that relates:

    Don’t generalize
    about the millennials
    Boomers were there once

    I’ve been trying to find a Time Magazine article that I saw referenced in a presentation. Similar to what you did in your blog post, Tom, the presenter gave the impression Time was writing about the millennial generation, but it was a story from the early to mid 70s. I think every young generation is viewed with somewhat of a negative lens by the older generation because we are, of course, now so damn smart!

    Reply
  5. Tom, Cyndy, and Rich, we were all Millennials once – just like Casey is now. And Casey, you’ll be a Boomer one day. It’s simply the Circle of Whine…

    Reply
  6. As a young engineer in Silicon Valley in the 1980s, I worked mostly with colleagues 20+ years my senior. Like you were, Tom, I was ready to set the world on fire. Instead, all I did was create a lot of smoke. My “peers” only saw me as a technology-savvy geek that lacked common sense and maturity. Not exactly a great start to a promising career.

    Yes, I was a Millennial, too. And I learned a lot from the experience; from my ethnocentrism. And many of the Millennials that have come along since fought the same battle; many more fight it today.

    Ultimately, Tom, your post is a reminder that everyone in their 20s with a little ambition, regardless of their birth year, is capable of strutting around the pen incessantly crowing like a rooster… but the smart ones simply choose not to strut at all, and let their contributions do the talking.

    Reply

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