We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Labels!
Baby Boomer, Gen X, Millennial, …
My son is a Millennial. He never leaves his room except to go to school, to go to work, or to eat. He doesn’t watch TV. He listens to Podcasts and watches YouTube videos. He has never listened to an entire album, but he has a phone full of individual songs in MP3 format. The other day, he played the first few notes of a cool, new song he discovered, and I said immediately, “Fortunate Son by CCR.” He couldn’t believe that I guessed his “new” song from the first few drum beats. Guess this old dog knows a few things!
I don’t think of my son as a Millennial. He is just a young person that will change like I did as he gets older.
There are scores of articles about the generation categories. Each category covers 20 years, and, to be honest, most of what I have read on this topic is not very kind or flattering. Most of the material focuses on the negative attributes of the individuals in these categories and how to manage around those less than optimal traits.
Let’s face it. It is in our nature to categorize people into groups. Why? Well, it makes our lives easier, right? We don’t have to actually get to know each individual personally. Who has time for that? After all, there has been all of that research done on what motivates professionals in each age group, so why should we spend the time to confirm what has already been proven to be fact?
Take a look at these phrases, and think about which age group you associate them with:
- Hard Working
- Craves Stability
- Craves Work/Life Balance
- Tech Savvy
- Socially Aware
Pretty easy exercise, right? Well, not for me. I have identified with most of these labels in some respect over the course of my career, and I’m a Baby Boomer. In fact, I have seen these characteristics in employees and colleagues across all age groups, genders, and cultures over the years. The fact that we are willing to lump people into groups that span 20 years is kind of ridiculous. It’s kind of like saying you are going to develop an opinion of people based on their zodiac sign or their Myers Briggs results. I once had an employee on my team that said she was afraid of me after learning my Myers Briggs profile. What?! Crazy.
Recently, I decided to do a quick survey of people in my network crossing generations and industries. The goal was to see how each participant felt about their careers and what was (and continues to be) most important to them. I asked four questions, and each respondent answered in their own words. I took their responses and summarized the key words they used. The questions and results follow. Where the circles overlap, there was commonality between the groups. If there is a dark circle in the center of the graph, all of the groups said that the word/phrase applied to them.
1. What are the most important things you need from your job/career?
2. What bugs you the most in business as relates to your age or perception of your age?
3. What would make you leave a job?
4. How do you define success in your career?
I was not really sure what to expect from the survey, but I was happy to see that there was a lot of overlap between age groups on what matters the most. Interestingly, the so-called Millennials and Baby Boomers seem to have some cool similarities in their definitions of success citing “passion” and “not wanting to do anything else.”
My son and I were talking the other night about all of this categorization stuff. In a truly wise moment, he said that he thought the bigger distinction is just where someone is in their career timeline. Perhaps that is why even a Baby Boomer like me identifies with many of the labels put on the other categories.
Perception and labels create barriers. Whether it is regarding generations or any other type of categorization, labels are dangerous, and, at a minimum, they diminish our ability to maximize talent and build the best teams possible. I don’t believe in labels. It takes more work to know the desires and motivations of each person, but doing so has allowed me to know some incredible individuals over the years.
I’m attaching two short videos that highlight this topic well. Enjoy them, and I hope you get to know at least one new great individual this week!
Millennials vs. Baby Boomers:
What Old Looks Like: