Confessions of a Baby Boomer: Up Hill Both Ways

Posted by on August 4, 2015

When I started my career way back in the ’80s, information was real power. You gained access to information in a few select ways; either by learning from others in the organization or through formal education or training. But the power came from owning or controlling the access to information. That has all changed, and fairly recently.

While in my first ‘real’ job they spoon-fed me information on a need-to-know basis. It was frustrating because I wanted to dictate the pace and direction of my career, however, my elaborate network of seven different bosses held all the cards. They owned access to the critical information I needed to advance my career. And most of the old guys I worked with (probably as I look back on it, forty-somethings) only shared the highly coveted tribal knowledge when they weren’t feeling threatened by a younger person like me. This is just how the progression of careers was typically handled for the last 100 years, until recently. The newest generation in the workforce, labeled Millenials, is navigating a completely new set of rules and changing the game.

Welcome to the workforce the Millennials. Right or wrong, Millennials are often described as entitled, impatient or even Generation Me (sounds similar to what my grandparents thought of the Baby Boomers). However the Millennials are demonstrating a desire for more purpose in their work, they have a different take on work/life integration and they’ve set big goals for what they want to achieve. And the time frame to achieve these lofty goals is much shorter than what most boomers are comfortable with or can comprehend. In the minds of many baby boomers, it’s scary to think that this generation is expected to surpass them this year as the largest group in the American workforce. “Dadgummit..”

So what makes the Millennials different? That’s easy, the Millennials are the first generation to have immediate access to nearly all the same information as their senior colleagues. It’s real time and there is no waiting. That is the game-changer. The Internet wasn’t around for me in the early ’80s, and today it’s a limitless fountain of legitimate insight, information and lots of cat videos. Since they were born, the Millenials have had an all-access pass to that information superhighway that Al Gore promised us, and it enables them to move faster and do so much more. Their expectation is that all information is public domain. As people discover new things, the assumption is that they will post it somewhere, and most likely in multiple places, and everyone can learn from it. Millenials have been brought up in an era where they feel like access to information is their right. But it’s even less confrontational than that; access to information is just a given.

Sadly it’s just human nature, but subconsciously we all want younger people to suffer through some of what we did. Fight for it, wait for it, and most of all earn it. My great grandfather probably thought it was somehow unfair and that his grandkids were soft because they got to ride in a bus to go to school. Reference the “up hill both ways” story that was handed down from generation to generation.

The Millennnial generation has high expectations of everyone, including and probably more importantly, themselves. They’ve all been told since they were born that they can do anything, and there is a lot of pressure in that simple statement once they get beyond their college years. The bar is incredibly high for them to contribute original thought, innovation and creativity. Expectations for them are off the chart based on the real-world needs and demands of today’s business environment.

The complexity of the worlds’ bigger problems are far beyond me and it is without hesitation that I say who better to answer the call than that bearded guy in the wrinkled plaid shirt, drinking a shot glass of bright green juice, sitting by himself in the corner taking a selfie.

And take heart baby boomers, this generation is still going to have to earn it, just not the way we did. But I’m confident they will. I’m depending on it.

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