CHAPTER ONE: FROG STEW
THE GENERATIONAL REMIX
"Millennials Overtake Baby Boomers as America's Largest Generation."
If you want to pinpoint an exact moment when remixing became essential, the proverbial tipping point, I'd go with April 25, 2016. That is the day the above headline appeared on the Pew Research Center's website. What was reported that day was that Millennials (the generation born from approximately 1981 to 1996, also known as Generation Y, who are in their 20s and 30s today) overtook three other cohorts: the Traditionalists (born from approximately 1922 to 1945, also known as the Silent Generation), the Baby Boomers (born from 1946 to 1964), and Generation X (born from approximately 1965 to 1980).
And while everyone focused on Millennials, another group, Generation Z (the cohort born in 1997 and later, with no exact endpoint yet) entered the workplace picture, too, thus bringing us to five distinct generations in the U.S. workplace for the very first time in history.
As a Gen Xer like some of you, I couldn't help but notice that Millennials actually overtook our humble generation, not the Baby Boomers, as Pew announced in its headline, but we'll get to other generations' brazen disregard for us Gen Xers in a moment...
If you work for a "hip" tech start-up, whose halls are filled with Millennials, the growing dominance of younger workers isn't surprising. If you employ or do business with people in India, home to the youngest workforce in the world, you've likely been engaging with younger and younger employees for the past several years.
But for the vast majority of organizations from Main Street to Wall Street to TheStreet.com and beyond, the movement from a Boomer-dominated workplace to a Millennial one has often felt sudden and confusing. It's kind of like the (apocryphal) story about a frog in boiling water. If a frog (Baby Boomer) is suddenly dropped into boiling water (a workplace full of Millennials), it will jump out. But if you put the frog in cool water that is then brought to a boil slowly, it will burn and die.
The goal of this book is to keep you and your organization from becoming frog stew.
IT'S BEEN A BOOMER WORLD
The reason today's generational change is so shocking for so many individuals and organizations is the length and power of the Baby Boomer generation's dominance in almost all of American culture (see rock music, Oprah Winfrey, the U.S. Congress, suburbia, jeans) and particularly in our workplaces. Often without consciously realizing it, many of us have accepted as "normal" the communication preferences, management styles, work ethic, office layouts, career path preferences, and other practices that were created and/or perpetuated by the Boomers. When your boss tells you, "That's just the way things are," the more accurate truth is probably that's just the way people born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1964 tend to do things.
That was certainly true for a Generation Xer like me. For the first decade of my career, there were only three generations in the workplace, and Boomers were overwhelmingly dominant in terms of their sheer numbers. My peers and I pretty much had no choice but to adapt to Boomer preferences if we wanted to get ahead. My bosses and clients were Boomers, and their bosses' bosses were almost entirely Boomers, too. No one gave workshops or wrote books on how to appeal to Gen X workers or changed the workplace for us. We simply weren't populous enough as a demographic group to challenge the Boomer dominance. (Approximately 76 million people were born in the U.S. between 1946 and 1964; only 55 million were born between the smaller number of years assigned to Gen X by the Pew Research Center, 1965 and 1980.)
Case in point: in that first job I had after graduate school at WorkingWoman.com, I was honored to be invited to a lunch meeting with my new boss, Rick, and a consultant named Betsy, who was working with our team. Before we talked business, Rick and Betsy proceeded to spend twenty minutes talking about their mutual obsession with the Watergate trial. Although I was trying to slink down underneath the white tablecloth, they eventually turned their attention to me, at which point they asked if I was even alive during Watergate.
As it happens, I was born in September 1974, about a month after the "Smoking Gun" tape was released, which I admitted very quietly. But if you want any proof of how dominant the Baby Boomer experience was and often still is, can we pause to note that this business lunch was taking place approximately twenty-five years after Watergate and it was still a topic of conversation?
Of course, time moves fast, and the white tablecloth flipped a decade later. At this point I had launched my own business and was about to deliver a speech at a college in upstate New York, when I noticed a student sitting in the front row wearing a New York Mets T-shirt. Trying to bond with him and act cooler than I am—always a mistake—I said, "Hey, you're a Mets fan? I actually went to the '86 World Series!" He smiled uncomfortably and said, "Oh. That's the year I was born."
I felt ridiculous. Why didn't I just say, "I love the Mets, too!"?
Just as wealthy executives might talk about an expensive sport like golf in front of employees who can't afford to play, generational myopia is another type of unconscious bias that can harm workplace relationships and interfere with our ability to achieve success together. Even as someone who lives and breathes generational differences and advocates for generational diversity, I myself sometimes forget that not everyone is the same age I am. If you've found yourself in a similar situation, I empathize.
INTRODUCTION: From the Reorg to the Remix
1. Frog Stew
2. Rules for Remixers
3. The Talent Remix
4. The Leadership Remix
5. The People Management Remix
6. The Communication Remix
7. The Training and Development Remix
8. The Mentoring and Networking Remix
9. The Workspace Remix
10. The Culture Remix
CONCLUSION: Your Personal Career Remix