Generation Y was a topic I first touched upon a little over a year ago in early 2009, which was basically a rebellion against this extremist vision provided by ZDNet. While in hindsight it’s true in many aspects it shouldn’t be read without a crapload of salt along with it. Gen Y is a definition spurred and accelerated by technology – and as technology lags, so does Gen Y. This leads to the obvious conclusion of the diversity of the Gen Y. Their impact won’t be negligible and nor will it be a paradigm until the Gen Z come along.
In this case we’re pretty much stuck in the mix – the bridging between the generations to see exactly how the Gen Y see the world. Which may or may not be a bit like this:
(Image credit to XKCD)
It also so happened that I managed to get the opportunity to write an article about this for a multinational, which will understandably have to deal with this as a much more severe problem as it represents a greater number of people in the workforce and each country (like the Indians, Chinese and Americans) will have their sub-cultures. I then decided to share it here, yep, on the thinkMoult blog, in true Gen Y fashion. It’s quite condense (word limit, hey) and assumes the readers have had a good deal of time already looking into the issue. In other words inference and insight is a necessary evil when reading it.
Generation Y have a very different culture and follow different working practices. To put it into context exactly how great this social schism is, just the other day I read a blog post of a relatively young Gen Y – he had never sent snail mail before and was shocked to find out that a stamp cost 55 cents.
With Gen Y entering the workforce daily it’s important to not attribute lack of experience of these practices to incapability but instead to an understandable ignorance. Sooner or later we’ll have to embrace this culture and synergise it with the Generation X practices.
I have had the privilege to observe and participate in a few major and minor open-source projects. For the uninitiated, open-source has its roots in developing software that is both free to use and free to edit, but can be used generically as a way to describe any project where there are no barriers to entry. Anybody can contribute, everybody (ideally) has equal say, and there is no ownership.
Some of these larger projects can be compared to the workings of your average commercial company, except that work is only done in spare time and when people have a personal interest, much like a charity. However unlike most charities, the workforce is built up by a vast majority of Gen Y. This, of course, means that it’s a great way to see how these people think it’s best to run an organisation.
"So, how do you guys create your requirements spec, the concept documents and so on?”
“Oh, they just write a blog post”
This Gen Y organisation is fueled by the internet. They use the internet to recruit, to train, to discuss, to collaborate, to vote, and to organise. Blog posts are how visions and ideas are communicated internally, email discussion lists are used to assign and discuss the smaller details of tasks, chatrooms and instant messaging are used for real-time updates and meetings, editable wikis are used to archive the more common workplace topics, forums are used for customer service, and marketing is all done through social networking.
There are regular “real life” meetings, too – split rather unevenly into three categories: work, marketing, and having a few beers together. However even throughout these meetings are taking place they are routinely documented by all participants in their social networking accounts and respective blogs , aggregated through a “blog planet”, which filters blog posts of all developers based on topic.
From this we should understand the Gen Y dependence on the internet – they don’t write diaries, they write blog posts. Photo albums are served through Flickr. Business is email and keeping in touch is through social networks. The importance of this doesn’t lie in how information is stored but instead on how information can be retrieved – Gen Y expect to have all resources at their disposal at all times. More importantly, they will want to have the choice on how it’s used – if they prefer a chatroom rather than a phone conference, they will express it and use it with others if possible. Trying to tell others to use a social networking system doesn’t work – nurturing a drive to share progress, regardless of the medium, is what Gen Y believe in.
The organisational structure in an open-source organisation is an initiative-driven process. Newcomers watch the communication channels for tasks they have the time and experience to deal with, and over time as they make bigger impacts they gain influence”. This influence gives access to more information and the ability to coordinate others with lower influence. When up to a certain stage a person with a high enough impact will have influence over the entire organisation and whose responsibility is now to communicate a vision and steer the projects. Social inertia prevents constant challenges of power. This system ensures quality control over the products, that all workers are specialised, and is a form of on-the-job training. This causes the Gen Y to have an emotional attachment to the work at hand. It’s important to tap into this as they are all too willing to express it, as long as the environment is conducive.
As much internal information is made as transparent as possible. Anybody is able to edit wikis/online resources, participate in live chatrooms regardless of position but instead due to self-interest, and throw in their comments on social networks. People don’t believe in competition but instead in synergy. This keeps infighting between departments at a minimum and introduces a self-service feel towards getting things done. This likens the mentality of work to a self-service checkout system in a supermarket instead of a cashier, to use an analogy – people attending a self-service checkout have an internal drive to check themselves out as fast and efficiently as possible, but will always do it correctly due to the CCTV above – workers are presented with information and freedom and it is everybody’s responsibility to watch over everybody else.
The Gen Y workforce is incredibly diverse, technologically competent, tied towards a social and transparent environment, but most importantly highly sensitive to ethics. Misalignment of personal goals and company beliefs serves to repel Gen Y workers. They are loud-mouthed at times and will not hesitate to make their views known – with the power of social networking news travels fast and maintaining a reputation for a comfortable workforce environment where views are accommodated is vital. They are unafraid to switch and will do so. In open-source organisations a sign where this isn’t happening is seen where elitism and schisms in the community emerge. The Gen Y focus is always on the future and the possibilities for job development is what keeps them interested.
Technology has served as an accelerator to the generation gap. While the Gen X and the baby boomers have had time to adapt it’s perfectly understandable that the Gen Y are currently a mystery to the upper echelons. With this drastic difference in mentality we should see ignorance with potential where others see incapability – then cross-fertilise through generations as necessary.
For those that made it to the end without sleeping I’d like to recommend to take a peek at Jason Dorsey aka "The Gen Y Guy", who’s cashing in on this hot topic (view the little video bottom right "Jason in action")