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But the youth movement can be positive, too, bringing new energy and better ways of doing business to the enterprise, giving companies that manage the generational transition well a leg up on their rivals. "The ability of companies to understand these changes and not just look askance at them will help attract bright, creative people," says Chuck Cornelio, CIO at Lincoln Financial, the $9 billion Philadelphia insurer. "The more you can channel the positive aspects into the corporate world, the more you create a competitive advantage."
And managing across generations is an area in which technology organizations, rarely seen as hotbeds of social aptitude, have some built-in advantages in terms of adjusting to new ways and helping companies in transition. Tech culture, often informal and built around constant change, overlaps in significant ways with the worldview of younger workers. "There is a style of technology management that matches the expectations of younger workers," says Mike Sutten, CIO of Royal Caribbean Cruises, the $5.2 billion Miami cruise line. "Trends like casual dress and adapting the latest technologies are the way it's always been here."
The nature of technology work, which is often project-oriented, allows people more flexibility than other jobs. "Solutions may be easier to find in the technology world," says Erickson.
A word of caution: Making sweeping statements about tens of millions of individuals, however close in age they are, is a dangerous game. "It's degrading to that generation, as it would be to any group, to just pull out stereotypes, add some stats and flash to them, and think you've said something meaningful," says Corey Jamison, president of the Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group, which specializes in diversity issues. "If someone made generalizations about, say, African-American women or Asian men, you'd be like, 'What?'"
Point taken. The anecdotes and observations in this article do not define a generation. They do, however, reveal something of the real-life experiences of IT managers, academics and consultants as they cope with actual issues in a changing workplace.