Age Determines Technology's Value

By Eric Chabrow  |  Posted 11-26-2007
Look at a PC and what do you see? Many baby boomers and older members of Generation X are conscious of the technology and infrastructure that make PCs work; then they see content. Generation Y and the Millennials see just content.

Younger generations rarely notice the technology in the devices they use. Baby boomers raised in the 1960s only saw the programming and didn't think much, if at all, about the technology and infrastructure that brought them Bonanza, The Ed Sullivan Show and Laugh-In. Not only do younger generations perceive technology differently from their elders, including the CIOs and other executives who manage IT organizations and corporations, but they use it differently, too.

Wikinomics author Don Tapscott tells a story of a young woman who doesn't use e-mail, instead relying on instant messaging, texting and posting on Facebook to communicate. "E-mail is for old people," she told Tapscott. "Maybe I'd send an e-mail as a thank you note to the parents of a friend."

Federal Express CIO Rob Carter shares a similar tale from his other career, as a restaurateur. In his mid-40s, Carter's first venture as a restaurant owner was "an exercise in futility." Undaunted, Carter tried again earlier this year, partnering with the 31-year-old chef Thomas Pak to open King Biscuit in a Memphis suburb. As the opening approached, Carter suggested to Pak that King Biscuit, which morphs into a club at 10 p.m., should establish a Web site. "He looked at me as if I were from Pluto and said, 'We really don't need a Web site.'"

"Everybody needs a Web site. Cool Web sites are how we reach the world, right?" Carter asked.

Pak replied: "We all have spaces out there [on MySpace]; we've got a lot of friends, and our friends have friends. Everybody's expecting the restaurant to open, and we're keeping them all posted on our spaces."

Without advertising or a Web site, King Biscuit did more business that first night than Carter's previous restaurant did on its best day.

Tapscott's and Carter's stories, told at last month's Society for Information Management conference, created a buzz among the mostly middle- age CIOs attending about how the workplace must adapt to attract talented young professionals. That lesson was reflected in a survey by Vistage, an association of small and midsize CEOs, with nearly half the respondents saying they're adapting their management styles to meet the needs of Generation Y.

Can IT executives afford to resist adapting, alienating the latest generation to join the workforce? Do they have a choice?