Roundtable: Exploring the Generation GapBy CIOinsight | Posted 09-15-2003
Roundtable: Exploring the Generation Gap
The digital generation the largest in historyis just starting to step into the workplace, bringing with it dramatically new demands, ideas and attitudes. Are you ready for the revolution?
Just as the post-World war II Baby Boomers of the TV generation dictated the economic, political and business agenda of its time, today's Net generationthe first to be born into an all-digital worldis developing its own culture and is just starting to impose it on the workplace.
Some 80 million strong in the U.S. alone, the N-generation is the offspring of the children of the boomers. They're the Baby Boom "echo." Yet what makes them formidable is not so much their sheer numbers or technology acumen as much as their attitude toward authority. This generation, now between the ages of 6 and 26, thinks differently, behaves differently and is already starting to demand, aggressively, big changes in the way society, business and individuals interact. Is your workplace prepared for the changes?
To discuss the coming revolution, CIO Insight Executive Editor Marcia Stepanek convened a roundtable on youth and the future of the workplace at the magazine's editorial offices in Manhattan on July 24. The ten participants included a Silicon Valley high school teacher, a couple of child techno-prodigies and a father-son CIO duo in middle-age and retirement. Most agreed the N-generation will alter the power balance between managers and workers, forcing today's leaders to forge new partnerships with employees in which authority will be based less on seniority than on the negotiated abilities of people or teams, regardless of age, to execute change, promote new skills and harness emerging technologies in the service of business goals.
Darwin A. John
Jory J. Marino
The good news? CIOs will be at the center of the changes, given fresh opportunities to integrate new ideas and technologies into the business fabric of their organizations. Those who resist? They'll be forced out, or banished to the sidelines. What follows is an edited version of the roundtable. For a complete transcript, click here.
CIO Insight: Don Tapscott, let's start with you. You wrote the bookliterallyon what you identified as the Net generation in your 1998 book, Growing Up Digital. Who are these people and what makes them so vastly different from previous generations?
Tapscott: First, demographically, they're the echo of the Baby Boom. If you were born between 1946 and 1965, you're part of the Boom, the biggest generation ever until now. After the Boom, the birth rate dropped for 12 years as the Boomers delayed having kids, the first generation to do that. Then in 1977, the Boomers started having children, and between 1977 and 1997 they produced this huge new generation. In the United States, it's 80 million youngsters, and on the basis of the demographic muscle alone, this generation will dominate the 21st century. This new generation is now the biggest generation ever. And it's the first generation to be surrounded by digital media. I started studying these kids as a generation when I noticed that my own kids were effortlessly able to use all this technology. At first I thought my children were prodigies, and then I realized that all their friends were just like them.
What's the challenge to CIOs and others in the workplace?
Tapscott: Well, this is the first time in history when kids are an authority about something really important. I was an authority on model trains when I was a kid. Today, these kids are authorities on the big revolution that's changing every institution in society.
So imagine this wave of kids coming into the workplace and you say, 'Hello, I'm your boss, who's an authority on everything.' 'Well, just a sec,' says this youngster, 'I'm used to being an authority on something important since I was 11, and I have a very different view of what authority means and how we can each have an area of authority where we work together.'
Or imagine I'm the older boss and I say, 'Work real hard here and we'll give you the big corner office after 10 years.' 'Well, just a sec,' says the youngster, 'I've grown up interacting and creating wealth.' The corner office isn't going to do it anymore.
This is, very soon, going to lead to profound changes not only in the nature of work systems, but also in the nature of management and compensation programs, and in the way we integrate IT into the business.
For example, a young person is going to want to be treated as an investor of his or her intellectual capital rather than as a variable cost, which is how we think of labor today.
The Pew Internet & American Life Project, in a recent survey, found that most teenagers today don't think their educators know how to use technology to help them learn or enrich their studies, and they're demanding change. John Patrick, you led IBM's Internet strategy for many years. Is this generation going to tell corporate America, 'You don't get it' and ask, 'What have you done for me lately?'
Patrick: Yeah, I think they will. They already are. It used to be that kids would come looking for a job and their questions were, 'How much am I going to make?' and 'How long is your training program?' and 'When do I get to be a manager?' and 'How long will it take me to run the company?' Today, the kids come and they want to know, 'How much bandwidth will I have? What kind of laptop are you going to give me?' Or, 'You have Wi-Fi access everywhere in the company, so what kind of PDA are you going to give me?' The value system has changed quite dramatically, and they don't care so much about how much you're going to pay them. They've grown up connected, they are connected, and then they come to a company and they're not sure if they're going to be connected anymore.
In order to recruit these kids, you've got to have good answers to those questions, and you can't BS the answers. It means that if your infrastructure is old and creaky, like many infrastructures in major companies are today, it's going to not only impact morale but it's going to impact your ability to get these kids to come to work for you.
Michael Furdyk, you started and soldfor millions of dollarstwo or three Web companies before you were 16. You're now 22, and you're the co-founder of a nonprofit that seeks to help young people create opportunities for themselves. Do Don and John have it right?
Furdyk: Yeah, I just turned 21, so I'm not that old yet.
Sorry. You're younger than we thought. (laughter)
Furdyk: Yeah, I think they definitely are right, although I think I would add that my generation will expect not only just to be able to share in the wealth it creates, but also to share in the decisions that are made about what's going to happen with it.
One of the things I was involved in a couple of years ago was a project with Microsoft that involved going inside the company and working in various product groups and looking at how they understood youth. Right now, companies are just starting, as Microsoft was then, to realize that young people are really important, that they're obviously a big market segment. The first thing I think people realize is, wow, this generation represents a really big group of people. But then, when people dig a little bit deeper, they start to realize that this is not just a bigger generation. It also does things in really different ways. People of this generation expect different things from companies. I think the whole idea of transparency is really going to be important to this new generationyou know, the idea that companies can't really hide anything from these young people, both as consumers and as employees. I think that is something that will really start to become visible.
Darwin John and your son, Steven John, you're both CIOs. Darwin, you're 65, Steven, you're 42. Is the IT department ready for these changes? The rise of the CIO came largely out of the fact that nobody on the business side of the company knew much about information technology to begin with. How will the role of the CIO need to change?
Darwin John: Steve, I'll respond first and then you can join. Two ideas, quickly. First, my sense is that there will always be a role for the CIO because there will always be a need for an integration point, at several levelsthe technical integration point, which sets the architecture and figures out what the choices are and how it's all going to work, and the management integration point. It's going to be tough: Huge enterprises haven't made it out of the last generation yet, let alone positioned themselves for the next generation. And so you're going to have to traverse or maybe live in several generations at one time within an organizationand do so for a while. Technology changes so quickly, I don't see this as being a temporary demand.
I'm just coming from my focus as CIO at the FBI, and I would say that we're living in three worlds at once. We're living in a world which is very much a catch-up, we're living in a world of trying to keep current or stay caught up, and then we're in a world of trying to position for the future. These worlds are becoming increasingly different from each other, not increasingly the same.
What the CIO needs to be very good at now and going forward is learning to lead in a different way. For me, it's been years now since one person could get their mind around a whole, and I think it's physically not possible anymore. You've got to recognize that you have to create cross-generational teams comprised of different types of people and skills in order to do that.
Steven John: I might be uniquely placed if you talk in terms of Baby Boom. I've been mentored through my career by people at the front end of the Baby Boom. I actually come out of the tail end of the Baby Boom, and I spent my years managing the echo. And so I think that the role of the CIO stays in place. Some of what CIOs are helping senior management to understand is the resource, and maybe it's not so much nowadays helping them understand the iron as the people that are creating the IP. And it's also now about the CIO helping the business understand the new engine, which is represented by this new generationpeople who understand and are familiar and comfortable with new technologies.
Glenn Kelman, in the mid-1990s while in your 20s, you had to convince some Boomers running some pretty conservative companies like Procter & Gamble to take a chance on you and your new company. Will this new generation have the same patience you had at 22 or 23 to negotiate the generation gap within corporations?
Kelman: Well, I think that I wouldn't have been able to do that on my own if we didn't have some gray-haired salespeople helping us. It would have been a problem otherwise. But I think we benefited from the anxiety of the time, among people of older generations, that they were missing out on something. That's not so much the case today. I feel that when we founded the company, we were able to benefit from an historical oddity, the information technology boom, that allowed us to mature from some larval stage into a company that's now matured and grown. I'm not sure that if we were to start our company today and invite some corporate bigwigs from Procter & Gamble or Ford Motor Co. to meet us todaythe "us" being a bunch of people under 30that these older people would have been as easily convinced that we could do something for them. I think some older people now feel vindicated by the turn in the economy, so they're now less willing to listen and less willing to help.
Fred Crawford, Michael Roberts, you're somewhat of a cross-generational team. You both work at the same company. Fred, let me start with you. You are older than Michael.
Crawford: The word dinosaur comes to mind.
Michael is much younger, yet you work with him closely. How do older generations stay relevant in this kind of mix, not only as CIOs but certainly as people involved in IT?
Crawford: I'm 40 years old, and if you check my career, I was always the guy with the newest idea, the hottest thing, and that's how I made my bones in business. Nowadays, though, I wake up to find that I have responsibility in North America for 8,000 people, and I'm a dinosaur. I mean, I literally am learning as fast as I can, and yet I feel like I'm on a treadmill running, you know, like in one of those cartoons where the treadmill is going and going and I'm falling off the back and climbing back on. And the reason Michael and I are here, really, is that what I'm learning, and it's on-the-job training, is how to manage a generation that knows more than I do about what's valuable and not valuable.
I learn from Michael every day, and I think he's cool with that because what I'm learning about managing is that you've got to set your ego in the drawer and throw it away. The truth is, I have a lot of experiences and others like me have experiences and insights and wisdom around doing deals and striking deals and managing complexity that guys that are in Michael's situation in his career don't yet have. Yet Michael has so much more wisdom and knowledge about technology than I do, so we have kind of a symbiotic relationship.
Michael, what do you find to be the most difficult aspect of this generational divide?
Roberts Let me answer that by going back to something that Michael Furdyk said about empowerment and transparency. Technology, or how my generation thinks about technology, is integrated into how we learn from the start. It's an essential part of a good liberal arts education. Technology and the approach to it is part of how you teach people to think. So the difficulty is when you're dealing with a generational divide in terms of how older people were taught how to think. Then it becomes frustrating and uncomfortable, sometimes, to catch people up.
Explain your relationship with Fred. The younger Michael is the older Fred's technology mentor, correct?
Crawford: Absolutely, he's my guy. I mean, I say, hey, I need a new PDA, hey, I don't understand this, etc., and literally, without reserve, I just reveal all my weaknesses and lack of understanding and I just ask for guidance. And I don't think that this compromises our working relationship. In fact, I think it makes it stronger.
Can I tell a quick story? I think this crystallizes what we're talking about. I'm working on a new product, and I'm working with other figurative graybeards like myself, and we're at the end of a long couple of days and we're very proud of what we just had produced. And it just struck us before we took it to the next step, maybe we should get some opinions.
So we ran out in the hallway and grabbed the nearest three consultants that were there, all in their 20s. We took them through it and they were very puzzled. I could tell they were just agitated a third of the way through the pitch, and I said, 'What's wrong?' and they said, 'You don't, I mean, with due respect, Mr. Crawford, you don't get what it's like to be a consultant anymore.' And I said, 'What are you talking about?' I asked that because I'm literally consulting every day. They said, 'You built this as though there's a business need and a business set of skills and a technology need and a technology set of skills. That might have been your reality. That's not ours. Our clients expect that we have all of that inside our heads and that each of us brings all of it.' So it's not a question of defining business, defining technology and merging. You've got to bring it all at once. And it was just that simple, but I was blinded by my own paradigm. And that's what it's about.
Felicia Webb: You guys are talking a lot this morning about your need to lead in different ways, how you have to look at your jobs differently, and how you're feeling like you don't have to be an authority on everything. And I think this is exactly right. I'm 29, and I teach high school students in Silicon Valley, technology students in the Cisco Academy technology program, and they're 14 to 18 years old. I would say that in my classroom, it's no longer that students sit and they listen and cross their hands and everything I say is perfect and good and wonderful.
My students demand that I be willing to admit that I don't know everything. They spend 12 hours a day working on computers, and they walk in and, oftentimes, they are teaching me things, and here I am, one of the technology teachers. I know that they are teaching other teachers things constantly, and that they demand that their teachers be willing to be a coach more than a leader and more of a team member rather than the be-all-and end-all of all things.
So you're a facilitator?
Webb: Well, definitely I bring a lot of knowledge and a lot of experience, but like Michael said, I think students nowadays learn differently than I did when I was a kid. First, it's not about stocking their brains with information. It's about teaching them how to think, teaching them how to approach technology. They know how to use it. It's giving them the confidence to sit down and explore how to make things happen with technology.
Therefore, it's very important that I allow them to teach each other, to share their discoveries with each other. Sometimes I'll know the things they discover, sometimes I won't. But letting them discover things and interact is how they learn, and that's how they will contribute.
Certainly, this has strong implications for the workplace.
Patrick: Yes, and for the CIO. I think it's really important for a CIO to be an integrator. These kids know a lot but they don't know everything. They think deeply and technically in many ways, but not necessarily across the expanse of an organization. So the CIO needs to know how to listen to what the kids have to offer, but they also need to rely on the experience of people who have been around the block a few times as well.
How will information technologies themselves, such as those that promote mobility, also change the game?
Patrick: I think that's a really important topic. Mobility is a fast-moving target. Wi-Fi is changing the world now, and we've really just seen the beginning. So as soon as we get Wi-Fi chips in all the handheld devicesthings we used to call cell phonesthen the Internet's going to be everywhere, and kids are leading the charge on that. I'm over here in Singapore right now, talking with you via telephone, but SMSshort message serviceis all over. Everybody SMSes everything here, much different than in the States. What I've discovered about kids lately is you can't reach them by e-mail anymore. It used to be you couldn't get them by phone, so you sent an e-mail, and grandparents are learning e-mail so they can reach the kids. Well, that isn't good enough anymore because kids don't answer e-mail. You have to get them through instant messaging. That's the only way they respond. And over here it's SMS. So the cycle time for communications with kids is getting a lot closer to Nintendo, which they grew up on, than it is to the way the rest of us grew up. This is a big change.
Tapscott: I think a key concept here is partnership. The reverse mentoring that Fred and Michael are doing, that kind of stuff is really importantbecause if we don't listen to young people, there could be a generation gap. I mean, we don't have the kind of gap that existed in the 1960s between kids and parents over ideology and values. But if we continue to be threatened by young people, to try and manage them in traditional ways, then we're going to have a lot of problems.
Could I just give one quick story? It has to do with Michael Furdyk, actually. I was giving a talk to a group called the Business Council. It's 125 of the top CEOs in America, so John Chambers and Bill Gates and Alan Greenspan were there, a pretty senior crowd. And I gave a talk, and then I had a panel of young people. I think Michael was about 15 or 16 at the time. One of the questions to Michael was, 'What would we have to do to get you to come and work for our company?' And then Michael said something like, 'Gee, I'd like to work for your company. The way to do it would be as a partnership. You know, my company will work with your company.' He says this like a 16-year-old. (laughter)
Furdyk: I was trying to learn how to drive. I don't think that Bill Gates would have thought that a year later I would be in Redmond working across his teams and exposed to all the strategy in the company, so it worked out.
I think this idea about mobility, that my generation takes its work everywhere, is really important. So is this concept of partnership. Okay, so how am I going to be differently rewarded for taking my work everywhere? For example, now I've got an organization of about 22 people in Toronto, it's a nonprofit, but it still runs very much like a company.
So how differently do I reward the people that hang around the office till two in the morning working with me than the people who go home at 5:01 in the afternoon, and how can I judge productivity by time and how does technology affect all that? Because although someone may not be there in the office, they're still, you know, when I'm in New York and they're online at two in the morning, they're still working.
I think it creates a different concept of partnership in that the new generation is really stepping up to another level of work and productivity. If young people are going to be rewarded for it, then it would really have to be a partnership. It's just not a one-way relationship where they serve me, because if it is, then they'll just put in the minimum. They have to be treated and valued and supported as partners in what we're doing, and if they are, and if they really feel that way, I think you can really get a lot more productivity out of people because work becomes fun, it just doesn't become work. It becomes something that they want to do 24/7, not just something they do to make money. So that idea of a partnership is not just a partnership in business, but a partnership in achieving everything that both sides want to achieve.
Tapscott: If we don't approach this new generation from the perspective of a business partnership, they'll become a generation of entrepreneurs. That's a real possibility.
Furdyk: What a tragedy that would be! What companies really have to be challenged to do is to create an entrepreneurial environment so that these young people actually become attracted and interested in becoming a partner in that sense versus just going off and starting their own companies.
Darwin John: Okay, but managing for the entrepreneur type in the more traditional workplaces will be a tremendous challenge to existing companies. I just joined an organization where the IT budget is toward a billion dollars and it just brought in a CTO who is 31 who just had a successful software company of his own and sold it. Trying to manage that entrepreneurial approach to work is a tremendous challenge. For me, it comes back to leadership. The CIO is going to have to be able to traverse that whole generational spectrum within a given environment, to be able to draw on the capability of the new and the bright and the different mind-set and what motivates this new generationand also to accommodate the differences in how work is done. It's going to require identifying what's possible and blending that with some much more traditional kinds of individuals and team members who have the knowledge of how the business can work and does work, and what the legal boundaries are, and all of the rest that goes with that.
Are today's CIOs up to the task?
Steven John: I think we'll always be lacking in the full set of skills. One of the strengths we have coming is this next generation, and we need to know how to leverage that strength and not worry about some of the weaknesses that may come along with that.
So what are the skills that older people have that are becoming irrelevant? What skills do members of this new generation lack?
Kelman: You know what I've noticed? I think there's a new kind of antisocial behavior, I find in myself, and certainly that I observe in people who are younger than me, which is that you'd rather not talk to anyone, and that can be very counterproductive. You can e-mail, you can IM, you can SMS, there are just so many ways to avoid direct confrontation. And confrontation is enormously important in bringing about decisions. Yet so often, you'll have people within eight feet of one another saying things to people over IM or e-mail that you'd never say to their face, and you could probably make the decision faster in another way, but it's more pleasurable. I would pay $100 sometimes not to get up from my desk and go say, 'Dude, are we going to do this or not?' and settle it.
Crawford: I couldn't agree more with what you just said, and I actually don't want to miss this opportunity to bring up two things that are bothering me about the new technology-enabled generation. One is when I talk to them on college campuses, when I'm recruiting, they do notand I'm going to generalize, there are always the starsby and large they do not have the social skills that people had just five short years ago. And they don't make eye contact and they don't speak in complete sentences and they are, relatively speaking, unpolished. I'm generalizing, of course. The second thing I notice is that they kind of have ADD, attention deficit disorder. I mean, they can't stick on a point for more than five minutes, and you know what? Some points take a day. So I'm anxious to get some reactions and some coaching because it's a critical problem that I think actually could hinder our workforce if we don't sort it out. And I don't mean just mine. I mean ours, collectively.
Patrick: Let me comment on that. I think there's a lot of truth in it, and this is the opportunity we older people need to take to help these young people develop. We can either just let them sit in the corner and SMS all day or we can bring them into the conversations and help them see the value of engagement, and help them develop. That's our job.
Tapscott: Fred's point about ADD? I'm not sure that's right. I think kids can be very, very focused for very long periods of time. They're just doing a whole bunch of things at once because they've grown up in three windows with the radio on in the background and three magazines open, they're on the telephone, and they're doing their homeworkand all at the same time. But I think, therefore, that it's incumbent upon us to try and understand whether this is a different way of working that may actually be more effective.
Are these behavioral changes in younger people simply part of a larger, necessary shift to new sensibilities that will be critical to attain if we're to keep pace with the real-time companies we're just starting now to create?
Steven John: I was trying to chime in earlier on this. When I worked at Transora, I had an IT team of close to 100 people and I was the only person married with children. It was a very young group, they worked around the clock, and we brought in food and all those things to facilitate that. But one of the things I found, and the analogy's appropriate now that I'm in an agricultural company, is that I didn't understand the law of the harvest. Now, how do you keep waiting and working when the harvest seems delayed, where I'm swinging the axe but no chips are flying? I had to do a lot of counseling around how it doesn't always happen in a day, even in accelerated startup companies. Sometimes there are early harvests and sometimes there are late harvests. So helping and mentoring them to understand that delayed gratification is a reality of the workplace was difficult.
Okay, but now what does the role of the IT department become when business and technology skills reside in one person?
Jory Marino: I think the successful CIO two, three, five, ten years from now is going to have to be able to build an organizational framework for attracting, developing and retaining people that includes attachment to new technology, along with the understanding that the complete piece around technology doesn't reside in the CIO organization but resides more ubiquitously across the company.
Tapscott: I think that's very true. And when you have people throughout the organization who have grown up using this stuff, they're going to think a lot differently in terms of how to solve business problems, how to interact with customers, how to collaborate and so on. And this is really good news for the CIO given the current context where you can have articles in the Harvard Business Review that are taken seriously that say IT doesn't matterthat your goal should be to minimize costs as much as possible, because everybody has got the same thing. It's the thought that any application can be replicated instantly, and, therefore, IT has become irrelevant.
Well, there's good news for the embattled CIO. You're going to have the biggest generation ever in the workforce that thinks very differently. They're going to be constantly looking for opportunities to innovate, create new business models, change the way that products are brought to market and build different kinds of technology-enabled relationships with customers and so on. And overall I think this is a really welcome development for the embattled CIO today.
Roberts: Yes, I envision a future where every conversation and every function of a business has a technology element to it, and it's just the way of thinking. I think every single personis going to have a technology way of thinking, and that's going to be a requirement for every function within business.
Tapscott: True, but let me make another point. We've talked here today about how it's not just a greater knowledge about technology that differentiates this new generation from any other, but also a different way of thinking and working and collaborating.
However, let's not overlook that this new generation also has a different view of authority and, in my view, this is going to cause a labor crisis. It's going to be the older people who won't listen to them that are going to be the victims, not this younger generation.
The danger is generational displacement in the workforce. This wave of kids comes in, and rather than listen to them and try to embrace them and learn from them, we end up combating them, or creating dissonance and conflict, and so on. I think it's not going to be the young people who are going to be the ones who will suffer, because they're much better equipped, naturally, for this new kind of organization and new kind of economy.
It sounds like there will be friction if things aren't managed right. Are we headed for war in the workplace?
Webb: There's already some friction in the schools. There are a lot of teachers who don't want more technology in the classroom. They want more time to get their kids ready. But the students demand the technology and, to be truthful, it's almost like the technology is the best way to communicate with them, to prepare them. Some of us hope we can speak to them through the technology, through a medium that they spend hours and hours on, and teach them those basic skills that they have to have later. The problem is, they're not listening to me when I tell them to take out a piece of paper and ask them to make the 50th rough draft. For my students, the computer and keyboard is more natural for them. Paper and pencils are unnatural, weird. Sure, educators are concerned about whether these kids will learn the basic skills but we need to use the technology to get them better preparednot think of technology as an impediment.
Crawford: Yeah, I notice that there is a bifurcation among more senior people, and it bifurcates much like you're talking about.
Patrick: Those who get it and those who don't.
Crawford: Yeah, it's pretty simplethose who get it and those who don't. And those who don't are being forced out, and they're being forced out of my clients, they're being forced out of my company, they're being forced out all over the place. I got a wake-up call a couple of years ago, and so I recommitted myself to learning. I hope that I can come up a learning curve at a reasonable pace so that if I don't get it now, I'll get it soon. I think that's an attitude that all of us better have.
Tapscott: I'd just like to end with that thought, that in terms of us older adults, be sure you're one of those who gets it. Yes, of course, there's a lot that we have to teach young people, but that's not the big problem. The dynamic of older people teaching younger people has always existed in the workforce. What's new, and what is the big new problem we all face today, is that we, the older ones, are going to have to listen to and learn from young people and embrace their new culture and their new way of working. This has to happen in every institution in society, and some societies will do this better [than others].
I know Michael, when he started out in school, wasn't allowed to use the Internet because he hadn't taken a prerequisite course on how to use the Internet. This kid has a Web site with 20 million page views a month, and he can't use the Internet at his school. So we fear what we don't understand, and fear gets in the way of doing the right thing. And rather than fearing Michael, they should have been hiring students to teach teachers how to use the big new innovation in learning.
This is a humbling thing, and it's tough, but I find that people who can get their heads around these coming trends, whether they're teachers or managers or CIOs or whoever, they think differently about this generation and can learn from that, and it can be a very exciting thing that can give people and their institutions a whole new lease on life.Click here for the full transcript
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