Sunday, April 17, 2011

A generational imprint + shifting perspective

We are enjoying a visit with a 22-year old member of our family, from out of town. He's a smart guy, in his third year of university. Curious about the world around him and pretty perceptive overall. In generational terms he fits smack in the middle of "Generation Y", also called the "Millenials". There have been tomes written about his generation, interpreting all manner of research studies over the years.

We've had some great conversations and he's afforded us a peak through his window on the world. Fascinating. The absence of technology for anyone older than Gen Y has given us a whole different vocabulary. Like postage.

We were talking about a card that arrived in the mail, and he had no idea that the postage to get it here was the number on the stamp of the envelope. He asked me how much the stamp cost and how we knew. I explained the concept of postage and the differing value depending on origin and destination. He asked me how much more than the stamp postage cost. It was not something in his reality. His is a generation driven by technology in every way. "Snail mail" letters are not just a thing of the past, they are a thing that doesn't exist in current vocabulary. His birthday wishes come as e-cards or e-mails, his Mother's Day wishes are a phone call or a text, and all his banking is done online, no checks mailed to cover a payment.

I learned a lot from this short conversation and haven't stopped thinking about it since. His view on the world is no lesser or greater than mine - it's just different. Nothing can be taken for granted. If you are a boss, colleague or teacher of someone with a different generational imprint than you, listen, be patient and seek to understand. Look at the world from the outside-in, and it may reveal some new opportunities you'd miss if you march ahead, looking only through the window you know.


  1. Neat and thought-provoking. What I can't get used to about the 20-somethings is the constant texting and chatting to friends during the work day. How can I allow their freedom and new ideas, and what, if anything, should I share of my experience? What would they like to know? I notice my peers sharing their "hard work ethic" is not of interest to this generation so what IS of interest?

  2. Thanks for the comment. The two 20-somethings closest to me in my world want to know things like, should they call or email a thank you after a job interview? What should they say if they are asked their salary needs? And which job should they take if they have a choice between two? They've also asked and wanted discussion about whether to take more schooling or get out an get some work experience.

    "Work ethic" means something different to all of us. One thing I know to be true is we can't color any generation with absolutes. In other words, not all Gen Ys are slackers, and not all Boomers are hard workers. To find out what's of interest, try finding ways to ask them. Get behind what motivates them, what do they want out of this point in their lives? It's totally fair to have boundaries and expect them to be respected (ie. amount of social media time at work) and it's also important to remember that this has replaced what may have been "water cooler chatter time" for some of us. It's just another frame of reference. Patience and communication is key. Fun stuff.

  3. Hmmm...The 20 somethings in my life are also very 'technology' driven; however, they do use the postal service ;-). They do like things to be couriered to them if necessary though which is amusing and a sign of the here and now and not the planning ahead we had to do. What I find more interesting is how I have changed. I also text instead of write. I do still purchase cards but often forget to send them. I receive emails on my blackberry and suffer withdrawal if my phone needs to be charged. Hmmmm....Each of the 20-somethings in my life have different strengths and weaknesses to offer,and I agree the key is to stay open to learning from them. I love it!