Sunday, 13 February 2011 00:00

The Cloud, Social, Mobile Generation

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Recently, I surveyed a dozen or so students at three Portland area universities. Three-quarters of them replied. An adequate response, since the questions were open-ended, requiring a written answer. The students were all business majors and a majority of them in Management Information Systems (MIS). Although anonymous, I knew the group of northwest students well enough that the optimistic, upbeat tone of the responses were no wonder. The surprise was what was missing.

Fear of the Graduate

Before going into that, there needs to be some background. I attend a half-dozen professional events every month. A number of corporate professionals, primarily in IT and finance, regularly frequent these meetings. Their median age is well into the fifties. A regular conversation topic is college graduates, Gen-Y, or, what I most recently heard them referred to, the "Cloud-Social-Mobile" crowd. The consensus is that this group's cultural norms are going to be very difficult to manage and potentially disruptive to corporation environments. The often-cited concerns are texting, social media addiction, preference to virtual interactions, instant gratification, and work ethic.

In one meeting, the subject of texting elicited a gruff, "No one is going to be texting in one of my meetings!" I could not help responding, "If I find out that we have to hold a second meeting because someone did not send a text to get the answer, I will chew them a new one!" His gut level rejection of texting had been met with practicality; he had to take pause.

The underlying tone of all these conversations is fear. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. They see the younger generation being more adaptable to rapidly changing business and consumer needs and they are rightfully concerned that they will need to move out of their comfort zone. This new model is very different from the one we work in today.

At a presentation last week, the subject of cloud-social-mobile came up and the suggestions was to start "reverse mentoring"—have college new-hires mentor executives in new technology. This is a great idea, but underscores the inability of baby boomers to adapt and adopt. You do not need to use social media to comprehend its power, just as boomers did not need to be programmers to harness computing. Moving to virtual interactions strongly resembles the transition from face-to-face meetings to teleconferences. It is the same type problem faced by every generational shift. They remind me of the conversations my superiors used to have at Boeing in the mid-1980s. Us "kids" would start to talk about computer integrated manufacturing systems and the managers to switch the topic to the Bomarc missile— developed thirty years earlier.

The Student's Thoughts

What was missing from the student's responses was any reference to troglodyte managers that still think the biggest advantage to a thumb is its opposability. There was no mention of dealing with people instead of avatars or how slow businesses are to adopt new technology. Part of the reason for the absence of concern is that it may be incomprehensible to students that texting could be frowned upon, (let alone that an executive would not know how to do it), that anyone with a computer would not understand Facebook, or that in a global economy any form of virtualized meeting would be frowned upon. New hires could be walking into the most frustrating situation that they could have ever imagined—a world where it takes a year to decide to have a meeting on planning a strategy for giving access to Facebook or Twitter. The result of that meeting is a plan taking another year to implement.

Their collective impatience may be the infusion of energy and drive that gets the corporate world moving again. The survey's respondents do not think this way, however. When asked what their contribution will be, they respond hard work, ability to learn, and ethics. Ethics? Do they think corporations are lacking?

The Real Problem

The younger generation adjusting to corporate culture is not the problem; adjusting corporate culture to cloud-social-mobile is. The younger generation is just going to make that change easier. Texting is efficient. Social media expands the horizons of our information sphere. Comfort with virtual interactions improves remote team performance. As if we need to ask, since when is the glacial pace of business change a positive attribute? These metamorphosis will make business run better and the younger generation will be at the spearhead making this happen. The causalities will be a few dinosaurs stuck in their corporate culture tar pit.

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