This generation thinks differently, behaves differently and is already aggressively starting to demand 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, 2003. Participants included a Silicon Valley high school teacher, a couple of child techno-prodigies and a pair of father-son CIOs, one in middle age and the other now retired. Most participants agreed that the N-generation will alter the balance of power between managers and workers, forcing today's leaders to forge new partnerships with employees. Authority will be based less on seniority than on the demonstrated abilities of people or teams, regardless of age, to execute change, promote new skills and harness emerging technologies in the service of business goals.
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 oganizations. Those who resist? They'll be forced out, or banished to the sidelines. What follows is a fuller transcript of the roundtable than what appears in the print version of CIO Insight.
Don Tapscott, let's start with you. You wrote the book, literally, on what you identified as the Net generation in Growing Up Digitial: the Rise of the Net Generation. Who are these people and what makes them different from previous generations?
Tapscott: Well, the first thing is, demographically, they're the echo of the Baby Boom. If you were born between 1946 and 1965, you're part of the Boom. That was the biggest generation ever. Then 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 producing children, and between 1977 and 1997, inclusive, they produced this huge generation. In the United States it's 80 million youngsters, and on the basis of the demographic muscle alone, they'll dominate the 21st Century. They're actually the biggest generation ever. And they're the first generation pretty much 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 are prodigies, and then I realized that all their friends were like them, and [to think] that all their friends are prodigies is a bit of a stretch.
So I started looking at them as a generation. I worked with these 300 kids for a period of a year. Michael Furdyk, who's a fellow participant today on this roundtable, is one of them. Michael was actually the project manager on my Web site when he was 13 years old. We made him project manager because he was the oldest and most experienced engineer on the team. Kids, generally, know more about the Internet and the new technology than their parents.
Don, briefly, what's the challenge to the workplace?
Tapscott: Well, this is the first time in history when kids are in 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 it's, 'Hello, I'm your boss, the boss who's supposed to be someone 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 different view of what authority means and how many ways that we can each have an area of authority when we work together. Or, you know, 'Work real hard here and we'll give you the big corner office after 10 years.' Well, just a sec, said the youngster, I've grown up interacting and creating wealth.
The main thing that time online is taking away from is not time kids spend playing soccer or hanging out with friends. It's television. These kids have grown up as the actors and initiators as opposed to passive recipients. So I think here's a generation that is going to want to share in the wealth it creates. These youngsters are going to want to be treated as investors of their intellectual capital rather than as a variable cost, which is how we think of labor today.
A recent study by the Pew Internet & American Life Project in Washington,
D.C., produced some rather unsettling statistics, unsettling particularly
to some older folks. The study, entitled, "The Digital Disconnect: The
Widening Gap between Internet-Savvy Students and Their Schools," suggested
that a large majority of students think their teachers often don't know how,
or don't want to know, or aren't able to use online tools to help kids learn
or enrich their studies. One of the students summed it up when he said that
he and his classmates think it's a pity their schools don't "get it"
the way they do about how to use the Internet.
John Patrick, is this a generation that's going to tell corporate America the same thing when it comes of age? Are these young people going to come into the workplace and say, "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 they'd ask, how much am I going to make? How long's your training program? When do I get to be a manager? 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 a laptop are you going to give me? Do you have Wi-Fi access everywhere in the company? What kind of PDA are you going to give me? So their value system has changed quite dramatically, and they don't ask so much, How much are you going to pay me? It's more about these other things. 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.
So, John, what is the challenge for the workplace?
Patrick: Well, the challenge is that in order to recruit these kids, companies have got to have good answers to those questions, and you can't BS the answers. And 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 had started and sold for millions of dollars two or
three Web companies before you were the age of 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? What is the attitude of your
generation, do you think, and what do you think it's going to demand of the
workplace, what kind of changes?
Furdyk: Yeah, I just turned 21, so I'm not that old yet.
Sorry. Younger than we thought. (Laughter)
Furdyk: Yeah, I think they definitely are right, although I think I would probably add that people of my generation also expect not only just to be able to share in the wealth they create but also share in the decisions that are made about what's going to happen there.
One of the things I was also involved in a couple of years ago was a project with Microsoft that led off some work that Don did where a couple of us went inside the company and worked in various product groups and looked at how these companies understood youth when we started, and then tried to better cross-pollinate that information.
So right now companies are just starting, as Microsoft was, to realize young people are really important, they're obviously a big market segment, and that's kind of the first thing I think people realize: Wow, they're a big group of people. But then I think when they dig a little bit deeper, they start to realize that there are a lot of other trends kind of underneath that that are actually different about this generation. They're not just bigger, but they do things in different ways. They expect different things from companies.
I think the whole idea of transparency is really going to be important to them. The idea that companies can't really hide anything from them, both as consumers and as employees, is something that will really start to become visible.
Glenn Kelman, 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 company and the software it built, to build some trust across
generations. Do you think the N-generation is going to have the same patience
you had at 22 or 23 to negotiate the generation gap within corporations? What
are some of the lessons you can share with us from your experiences?
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. And at the time there was certainly an anxiety among people of one generation that they were missing out on something. And some of them feel vindicated by the turn in the economy or the turn of events, so that they're less willing to do that. I'm not sure that if we had started the company and we had had some corporate bigwigs from Procter & Gamble or Ford Motor Co. into a small facility and had them meet so many people that were under the age of 27 or 28, that they would have been as easily convinced.
So I felt that we had benefited from sort of an historical oddity that allowed us to mature from some larval stage into a company that's better able to do that. So now we're able to talk about those companies and we've matured and grown and everything else, and it's less of an issue for us. But having talked to friends who are starting companies who are younger, I think they have the challenge that we did but less historical circumstance on their side.
Jory Marino, you're a recruiter at Heidrick & Struggles. Is the workplace
ready for this?
Marino: That's an interesting question. I think, first of all, let me say that the world in which I live, from an executive search perspective, is a very different world from the world we're talking about here today. My world involves the large cap, global company, and the work that we do in the CIO space is for the very experienced CIO who either has grown up in the technology channel or has grown up in a business channel and somewhere, mid-career, thought that technology and running technology from a management perspective would be interesting. So my comments are going to be slightly different I think from those of some of colleagues here on this panel.
I think the workplace, as I see it in dealing with the companies we do, has certainly made some systemic changes to accommodate people at different levels of experience, people from different academic and cultural backgrounds, and who have different demands on the company for interacting with the organization.
So, for example, many clients today, a new employee, regardless of level, the first experience is through the employee portal. So you show up on Day One, and instead of going through what I and some of the other panelists may have gone through, a three-day orientation that included filling out paper forms, and eventually somebody gives you a corporate American Express card, today you show up on Day One, you do all this electronically, you interact with the company in an electronic way, you order your PC, your PDA, any other tools that you need. You actually interact with the company from a training perspective early on in a much more interactive mode.
Jory, is it more about making accommodations or rather learning to embrace
Marino: I think it's learning to embrace. You have to create an environment where you build a certain amount of stickiness with your employee base, your associate base, and it's really more about embracing change. I would characterize it that way.
Jory, hold that thought. I want to go to Darwin John and his son, Steven
John. You're a father-son CIO team. Is the IT department ready for these changes?
Frankly, the whole role of the CIO came out of the fact that nobody at the
company knew much about this information technology stuff at first. What will
happen once this N-generation hits the workplace? Do you think the role of
the CIO is going to become obsolete? If not, how will it have to change to
meet these generational challenges?
Darwin John: Steve, I'll respond first and then you can join. Two or three ideas, quickly. My sense is the CIO role or requirement will always be there because there will be a need for an integration point, and you can think about that integration point as being on several levels. There is the technical integration point, which has to do with setting architecture and figuring out what choices you have and how they're going to work, and then there are some ideas around information integration points. So there will always be that requirement or need. That's sort of one idea.
The second is clearly that there's the ideal which we have been speaking of, and then there's the practicality of huge enterprise organizations that haven't made it out of the last generation yet, let alone positioning themselves for the next generation. And so there's going to be a spectrum, and maybe a growing spectrum in terms of where people are at or where they could be that you're going to have to traverse. You're going to have to live, maybe, in several generations at one time within an organization.
As I'm just coming from my focus in the Bureau [FBI], 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 world; 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. This sense could be growing in a number of enterprises.
Steven, are you feeling a push from some of the younger generations coming
in? Are older generations being forced to march to a new agenda? Or, do you
find more of an attitude from some of the middle to older generations toward
the younger generations that says, "Hey, wait, we're not quite ready
for this. We're going to go a little more slowly before giving you the reigns
to take over."?
Steven John: I might be uniquely placed if you talk in terms of Baby Boom. I've been mentored throughout 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 CIO stays in place. Some of what they're helping management, senior management 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 helping them understand the new engine, which are these young people who understand and are familiar and comfortable with the new technologies.
Fred Crawford, Michael Roberts? Fred, let me start with you. You are certainly
younger than I am, and I guess maybe that makes you old. (Laughter)
Crawford: The word dinosaur comes to mind. (Laughter)
Michael is much younger. How do older generations stay relevant in this
kind of mix, not only as CIOs but certainly as people involved in technology
and IT and some of these changes on the front lines?
Crawford: I'm fascinated by the conversation so far because it's so germane to the things that I wrestle with every day. I'm 40 years old, so I'm at the very tail end of the Baby Boomers I think, 1962, and I've always kind of felt like a pioneer. You know, 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 I wake up to find-and it was, literally, an awakening to find-that I had responsibility in North America for like 8,000 people, and I'm a dinosaur. I mean, I literally am learning as fast as I can, and I feel like I'm on a treadmill running, you know, 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 is on-the-job training. What I'm learning is how to manage a generation that knows more than I do and deciding what's valuable and not valuable.
And I will say this, and then I think we should get Michael's perspective, I learned 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 who are in Michael's situation in his career don't yet have. Yet they have, Michael in person, has so much more wisdom and knowledge about technology than I do. And so we have kind of a symbiotic relationship.
And that's how I'm trying to manage the company in North America. I try to give everybody their due, give everybody their respect, treat them with respect, but expect that this knowledge will be traded for what I have. And I'm still learning every day. I actually think it's an amazing opportunity, and it's like a laboratory.
Michael, what do you find is most tough about this kind of generational
Roberts: Going back to something that the other Michael [Furdyk] said about empowerment and transparency, with that, as we've grown up with that expectation, it's almost become a mind-set of how we think about technology or how my generation thinks about technology, and it's integrated into how we learn. Technology is an essential part of a good liberal education, you know, teaching people how to think.
So the difficulty is when you're dealing with a generational divide in terms of how people learn to think, then it becomes frustrating and uncomfortable sometimes to catch people up, but at the same time, that's part of the job, I mean, that's part of expectation nowadays. And as Fred said, it's a symbiotic relationship. It gives me an opportunity to learn in a reciprocal manner about things that I have don't experience in business about.
Now explain your relationship. The younger Michael is the older Fred's mentor
in terms of technology, do I have that right?
Crawford: Absolutely, he's my guy. I mean, I say, hey, I need a new PDA, or, 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 that compromises our working relationship. In fact, I think it makes it stronger.
Can I tell a quick story? I don't want to take too much time, but I think this crystallizes what we're talking about. It just happened. So 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 we're very proud of what we had produced. And it just struck us before we took it to the next step, maybe we should get opinions.
And so we just ran out in the hallway and grabbed the nearest three consultants who were there, and they were all 25, 23 years old, in their 20s, and so we took them through it. And they were very puzzled, and I could tell they were just agitated. I was, maybe, 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 know, I'm looking for my dad-with due respect, you don't get what it's like to be a consultant anymore.
And I said what are you talking about? Because I'm literally consulting every day. They told me that I 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, they told me, but 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 like that stupid, I felt that it seemed so stupid and so simple, but I was blinded by my own paradigm. And so that's what it's about.
Darwin John, what does that mean for the CIO?
Darwin John: For me it moves quickly to the idea of a different leadership or different governance model, and it's not the control on all of that kind thing, but then you get to the overused word, collaboration, that someone commented on earlier. It's really about approaching leadership or governance in a whole different way, where diversity is good and you bring individual skills to whatever the question or issue or opportunity is, and then you work in a whole different way to complement capabilities and bring it together.
Darwin John: What the CIO needs to be very good at is leading 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, and you've got to recognize that you have to create a team in order to do that. And for me an example would be any initiative rather than trying to create an architecture or whether you're trying to develop a specific application, or maybe application isn't even an appropriate word anymore, but a specific capability to serve the enterprise or the business. You come at that process, governance, the leadership all happens in a different way.
Hold that thought. Felicia, I want to get you in here. You see kids on the
front line, and we're not talking about 20s, we're talking 13, 14, 15 years
old, roughly. Where do you think the pressure points are going to be coming
from in terms of the experiences these kids will have? What do they expect?
Some of these attitudes that we're identifying here today-the sense of impatience,
of empowerment-are all somewhat different than what older generations had
when they first entered the workplace. It seems to me that the idea of climbing
the corporate ladder, for example, might be very different now going forward.
Webb: First, I do teach students from age 14 to 18, and you guys are talking a lot about leading in different ways, being able to look at your jobs in a different way, and feeling like you don't have to be an authority on everything. And that is exactly what my students expect. In fact, in many cases, it's no longer that they sit and they listen and they 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, and I find that many of my students spend 12 hours a day working on computers, and they walk in and oftentimes they are teaching me things, and I'm one of the technology teachers. And I know that they are teaching other teachers things constantly, and they very much demand that the teachers are willing to be more of a coach rather than a leader and more of a team member rather than the be-all-end-all of all things.
So you're a facilitator and a facilitator alone? What do you bring to the
Webb: Well, definitely I bring a lot of knowledge, a lot of experience, but I have to let them I think there are students, students nowadays learn a little bit differently than I did when I was a kid.
Number one, it's not about stocking their brains with information. It's about teaching them how to think. Teaching them how to approach technology and not know how to use it because it's a PC and they've used it 400 times before, but because they understand how technology works and they have the confidence to sit down and explore and make what they want happen.
And so I bring in experience, I bring in ways of looking at technology, ways of using technology, but then I also it's very important that I'm able to open the forum and allow them to teach each other, to share things that make them go, 'Wow, did you know you can do this?' Sometimes I know it, sometimes I don't, but it's very important for me to let them discover things because that's how they are going to learn and that's how they are going to contribute.
Certainly, this all has implications for the workplace. John Patrick, you've
led for many years, of course, IBM's Internet strategy and you have some very
interesting thoughts about how some of the new information technology tools
might be accelerating some of the management challenges we're starting to
face. Talk to us a little bit about mobility. How do you think teenagers and
young professionals are changing our ideas of mobility and also how new technologies
are driving changes in the workplace?
Patrick: Okay, well, I think that's a really important topic. I'd just first like to make a quick comment about the CIO point. I think it's really important for the CIO to be the integrator. I think somebody made that point earlier. It's important because the kids know a lot but they don't know everything. There are a lot of things we need to learn from younger people, but there's a lot that they need to learn also about how enterprises work and how people work together. 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 that have been around the block a few times as well.
With regard to mobility, this is a really fast-moving target. Wi-Fi is changing the world now, and we've just really seen the beginning. So as soon as we get Wi-Fi chips in all the handheld devices, things we used to call cell phones, then the Internet's really going to be everywhere, and the kids are leading the charge on that.
Is the workplace then going to be everywhere too?
Patrick: Oh, yeah. I'm over here in Singapore, calling into this panel discussion, and everybody SMSes (short message service) everything here. It's much different than what's happening 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 they 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 the kids is 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.
Don Tapscott, how do you manage workers within the context of some of these
technologies and some of these demographic trends?
Tapscott: Well, my view is that this generation coming into the work force, the oldest are 24 now, that this is going to lead to profound changes in the nature of work systems, in the nature of management, in the nature of compensation programs, and in many ways, as John was alluding to, in terms of the nature of IT in business.
And I think Fred kind of hit the nail on the head when he said that you need to set your ego in the drawer. If you consider that young people are in authority for the first time ever, this has never happened before. The only thing that came close is immigrant kids, when they learned the English language, but it's never happened as a generalized phenomenon. The children and young people knew more about something really important than adults. So the reverse mentoring that somebody referred to, that kind of stuff is really important.
And if we don't listen to kids, don't listen to young people, then there could be a generation gap. I mean, there isn't one right now. We don't have the kind of gap that exists between kids and parents over ideology and values and so on that existed back in the 1960s. But if we continue to be threatened by young people, to try and manage in traditional ways, then we're going to have a lot of problems.
If I could just give one quick story, which 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 Sandy Roland and John Chambers and Bill Gates and Alan Greenspan were there. It was a pretty senior crowd. And I gave a talk, and then I had a panel of kids, of young people. I think Michael, I don't know, was about 15 or 16 years old at the time. And my recollection was that, because I wanted to sort of wake these people up, one of the questions to Michael was, What would we have to do to get you to come and work for our company? And I recall that Michael said something to the effect that, '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.
Michael, what did you mean by partnership?
Furdyk: Well, a lot has happened since then. But I think that, in general, the idea of working in partnership with younger people is an important one. John, you mentioned this generation takes its work everywhere. Well, how am I going to be differently rewarded from taking my work everywhere? Like, for example, now I've got an organization of about 22 people here, it's a non-profit, but it still runs very much like a company.
So how differently do I, as a manager, reward the people that hang around the office 'til 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.
So I think it creates a different concept of partnership in that they're really kind of stepping up to another level of work and productivity. If they're 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 a partner 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: I think that's absolutely right, that the business partnership thing is also relevant. Like if we don't listen to these kids, they'll be a generation of entrepreneurs. That's a real possibility.
Furdyk: What a tragedy that would be.
Are we looking at a situation where younger people hold a new competitive
edge in the workplace? Will the corporations that have been leading today
be challenged by the kinds of companies that the N-generation may start because
they don't want to work in the big corporations? Or will the big corporations
be forced to change to accommodate the new thinking of these young people?
Furdyk: I think what Don is kind of getting to, and what I kind of meant to conclude on, is that 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-versus just going off and starting their own companies. This wouldn't be a bad thing either, but that's the challenge for the traditional company.
Well, wait a minute, now, this infers that the economy is going to be such
that there's going to be enough room to accommodate younger people on their
terms. The employment pie is only so big. What are the trade-offs both generations
are going to have to make, simply to be able to work with one another? I mean,
the younger generations just can't demand everything, can they? I mean, there
has to be some push-back to accommodate everyone in terms of a job-
Kelman: Maybe I can answer that? So I almost have a fetish of hiring people that are 20 to 24, and what's interesting to me about those people and how they're different is we've always talked about what peer-to-peer technology would do to the workplace, and it hasn't done much in terms of adding productivity, but it has changed the mind-set of younger people who were once more receptive, but now I think are more interactive, as the educator was talking about earlier. So you just come to people who are much more empowered at a younger age to see how they can make a contribution.
But at the same time I would say that we give them all the gizmos in the world, I'm as much of a freak for that as anyone, and yet once you settle down into a cube and you're 20 years old or 21 years old and you find out that the 22-year-old next to you makes $8,000 more a year than you do, simple avarice becomes the overwhelming force. And I think we've built an amazing culture upon what people really care about, and they are very motivated and believe in what they do, are very motivated to make contributions for psychological reasons and emotional reasons and all the rest. But at the same time, that psychological income is far more important than a PDA or a computer or anything else, and, in fact, I would suggest that [compared with] the gizmos, they'd rather have the money by far.
And I know that sounds cynical, but I think the change is, you know, it's sort of like giving a kid a lollipop instead of his $5 allowance. That might work when they're nine years old, but what surprises me is how quickly they're very oriented about that.
But I would say that the change is that people expect to believe in what they're doing, and they expect to be more contributory or interactive because, in fact, they've been able to do that at so much younger an age. So that to me is the more significant profound change, is the entrepreneurial approach that people take when they come into the job, not whether they expect to have Internet access here, or their boss on IM, or what have you.
Marino: I actually disagree with one of your points there. It's interesting, while perhaps there is a certain group of people who is entering into the workplace-younger people who, you know, the incremental $8,000 is going to be a bigger motivator than perhaps the company that they work for, the type of work that they're doing, or the-
Kelman: I didn't say that actually. I said gizmos versus money. The way they work and what they do and whether they believe in it is a totally different issue.
Marino: But the flip side of that is that the novocaine of your paycheck wears off if you're not doing interesting work and work that you feel-
Kelman: Absolutely agree.
Marino: Okay, so I wanted to clarify that because I thought you were going down a path that says money versus gizmos or work, you know, they chose money, and I think there is an inflection point in one's career where the work becomes infinitely more important, and that's hopefully at the beginning, but certainly it is as you move forward in your career.
Darwin John: Having just got into an organization where the IT budget is toward a billion dollars and having just brought in a chief technology officer who's 31, and who just had a successful software company of his own and sold it, let me tell you this: trying to manage that entrepreneur-in many ways the type of person that represents how the next generation is going to behave in a well-established institution-it's a tremendous challenge. For me, it comes all the way back to the leadership idea and to the CIO who is going to be able to have to traverse that whole generational spectrum within a given environment, where he can draw on the capability of the new and the bright and the different mind-set, and what motivates, and how work is done, and 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 and does work, and what the legal boundaries are, and all the rest that goes with that.
So what are the skills then that are becoming irrelevant or shall be less
important in tomorrow's workplace, and what types of skills-maybe it's the
softer ones-offer the most flexibility to continuous change?
Kelman: You know what I've noticed? I think there's a new kind of antisocial behavior 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's just so many ways to avoid direct confrontation. And confrontation is enormously important in bringing about decisions.
And so often you'll have people within eight feet of one another doing things that you know, you can say 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 don't know what kind of crack I'm on when I do that stuff. 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 wanted to frame Marcia's question. I couldn't agree more with what you just said, and I actually don't want to miss this opportunity to ask the opinions of the people here, because it's something that I've noticed that's bothering me, and I need to try to figure it out.
And that is, and I would just frame your question just slightly differently, I notice two things that are bothering me about the new technology-enabled generation. One is that, when I talk to them on college campuses, and when I'm recruiting and stuff, they do not-and I'm going to generalize, there are always the stars-but by and large they do not have the social skills that the people had just five short years ago. They don't make eye contact and they don't speak in complete sentences and they are, relatively speaking, unpolished, and I'm generalizing. To the geniuses that are here, I want to make clear that I'm generalizing. So that's the first thing.
Then the second thing is I notice that they kind of have, like, 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, you could probably feel it in my voice, I'm anxious to get some reactions and some coaching because it's a critical problem that I think actually could hinder our work force if we don't sort it out. And I don't mean just my work force, but ours, collectively.
Patrick: Let me comment on that. I think there's a lot of truth in it, and this is the opportunity we have to help these young people develop. So they bring a set of skills that many people that have been working for a number of years don't have, but as you point out, they have some deficiencies. So we can either just accept that and 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 this and help them develop. That's our job.
Tapscott: Yeah, I think that's true, that just because they're authorities on technology doesn't mean that they're authorities on everything. But let me push back on both of these points. In my research, I found that the time spent online was not taken away from social contact or playing soccer or hanging out with your friends or anything else. It was taken away from television. Comparing here, TV took away 24 hours of the week per Baby Boomer, so that's a big change. And so these kids, rather than being the passive recipients of this video, are interacting or communicating and collaborating, albeit online, but that to me is better than being the passive recipients of someone else's message. And I don't find that this makes them less social, somehow.
And as for the point about ADD, I'm not sure that's right either. 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 [software] windows with the radio on in the background and three magazines open, they're on the telephone, and they're doing their homework at the same time. I think it's incumbent upon us to try and understand that this is a different way of working that may actually be more effective.
So much has been said about the coming real-time economy and so much has
been pondered about the skill sets of the younger generation. Are we creating
a new generation, if you will, that is more comfortable with accelerated speed?
I've talked to a lot of CIOs, some of them considerably older, who say they're
feeling overwhelmed by the pace of change, amazed by younger people who find
it necessary, who prefer, multitasking. It's not a universal skill, yet it
seems so simple, basic, in a wired age. Now, I'm making a lot of generalizations
here, but as we bring our companies to the next level of automation with more
pervasive uses of information technology, are today's youth going to be more
skilled when it comes to embracing flexibility and speed? Steve John?
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 who was married and I was the only person with children. So it was a very young group, and they did work around the clock, and we brought in food and all those things for them to facilitate that. But one of the things I found, and the analogy's appropriate now that I'm in an agricultural companies, 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 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 is difficult.
They have a lot of expectations around dollars and freedom and power and recognition and speed, but I think some of those early pioneers of the generation that gave birth to these startups, they've learned to change, and they've gone through some of the hard lessons of the business realities and the failures that have taken place. I think those are some of the leaders that will go forward and teach the younger ones that are now coming up through those ranks and be their mentors. I think that's important and may have been a gift of the bust and boom that those people were trained and will pass that on.
Do you think the establishment, particularly in the IT department, is up
to the task of having to manage differently? I mean, many CIOs are having
a tough time just managing now some of the relationships between business
units and the IT department, much less relationships that span generations.
Steven John: I think we'll always be lacking in the full set of skills, and it's just kind of leveraging the strengths we have at that time to be more successful. And 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, or not spend all of our time focused on the weaknesses.
What is the role of the IT department in the future? In the past it's sort
of been a support shop, and now it's being charged with being more innovative
and strategic. What does it become when the skills of business and technology
reside in one person?
Marino: It would seem to me that-I think the question you're asking is how does the role of the CIO change over time to accommodate the future organization, and how does it deal with attracting, keeping and motivating young people, and growing them through the organization both within the IT function, the technology function, as well as more broadly across the company? Am I right? Because it would seem to me that fluidity of skill and experience is going to be there. You have to be able to operate at a variety of levels. You have to be able to operate at the board level, at the operating committee level, the executive level, and at the same time you're going to have to be able to operate and dig deep into the organization and reach out to a wider set of individuals with differing needs. So you have to have that diversity and fluidity of experience to be able to do that.
So I think the demand side of this is going to be the successful CIO two, three, five, ten years from now is going to understand that, and is going in turn to be able to build an organizational framework for attracting, developing and retaining people that includes attachment to new technology, 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 matter.
I mean, the current context is one where people can make statements that information technology is just a utility like the power utility, and your goal should be to minimize costs as much as possible, that everybody has got the same thing and that any application can instantly be replicated, and, therefore, IT has become irrelevant.
Well, you're going to have the biggest generation ever in the work force that thinks very differently, and that's going to be constantly looking for opportunities to innovate, new business models, to change the way that products are brought to market, to use products with knowledge and services, to 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.
That's interesting. Felicia, what does the future look like from your perspective?
Webb: I've been enjoying listening to everybody, and there are a couple of things that were said about students, and I think the future looks exciting. The students are very excited about technology. They're excited about going out and becoming part of business and really developing and creating business and being entrepreneurs. And certainly those of you who said that they're concerned with money, that's very true, and, in fact, that's one of the selling points for the Cisco program. Cisco likes to say that, if you get this certification, you can start making money at age 18 at $50,000 a year. And they all love that because they know that that's more than I make. They think that's fabulous. And they're very concerned with that.
Well, are we hitting on a different notion of success, a different definition
Kelman: Yeah, I think that there's a different expectation. You have peers who've started companies at a very young age, and then you also have less downside. I remember-well, first of all, you just have so many examples of people who have done very well, but I think the other point you can make is that you can fail without consequences, or at least in the past you've been able to do that. And I remember when we decided to start our company, a key consideration for me was that, if I failed, I would lose nothing. I felt that there was no real consequence to trying to do something and failing at it, aside from my time and things like that. Whereas maybe ten years ago, I think there was more of a stigma to that.
I don't know quite how to put it, but the barrier to entry in starting your own company or doing something like that seems radically lower, and it's not just a financial issue, it's a cultural issue, a psychological issue.
Are folks in for a rude awakening as the economy goes into a different drive?
Kelman: Well, I think if you're trying to do this for money, it's always a rude awakening because the quick money isn't there. You have to have an emotional reason to do it or you're not going to be able to attract other people to the project and motivate them. And I think there are plenty of people that are interested in that.
Crawford: I wanted to put a point of view out and get a reaction or a potential point of view. I've run into, it could just be because I was sensitive to this upcoming event that we're in right now, but I've run into several people who made me think about this, which was a lot of stuff is moving from America to India and China and other places, at the same time the manpower required to do things in technology is dropping dramatically, just as a function of maturity and the capabilities getting better and better and cheaper and cheaper and faster and faster. Yet I assess from this conversation that we are churning out little mini-technologists at a pretty brisk pace. Are we going to run into a fundamental law imbalance of supply and demand in America?
Roberts: I'll respond to that because you've never actually said that to me, but I have a pretty strong reaction. 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. So I think the fact that the young people are growing up with technology is really just informing a way of thinking, and it'll have a big impact on the CIO because the CIO will have to reach out and will have probably more intelligent discussions around the rest of the organization about technology. But I think every single person is going to have a technology way of thinking, and that's going to be a requirement for every function within business.
Webb: I definitely agree-
Marino: The other piece on this outsourcing question, which I think you're touching on, Fred, is there is going to be a labor market shift from work done internal to corporations today that are users of technology versus companies that are developers of technology.To what extent is there going to be onshore versus offshore, and are we going to see a shift in labor market demographics as a result?
I think what we're seeing now, a lot of that drive toward outsourcing is a labor market arbitrage and is driven by cost of more so than necessarily innovation. And so-
Crawford: But that's a short-term issue. It won't be long before I already see it in my clients. They're starting to take strategic stuff offshore.
Marino: Absolutely, and you're going to see more of that, and part of it has to do with costs, part of it also has to do with, you know, if I got this right-and, Don, help me out on this-I think in America we graduate something on the order of about 25,000 computer science graduates a year. India, something on the order of 80,000 or 90,000 computer science graduates a year, and China, 300,000. So you've got a skill base that's shifting as well that will allow for more fungible skills in other parts of the world at lower costs, which perhaps will also translate to some innovation and strategic initiatives moving offshore as well.
Tapscott: I think that that's true, and, by the way, those people in China cost one-tenth of the cost of a white collar professional over here. But to me the previous point that was made was an important one, that it's not just about IT professionals that these kids are sort of infused with, not just knowledge about technology but a different way of thinking and working and collaborating. They have a different view of authority and so on. And my view is that this is going to cause a labor crisis. It's going to be the older people who won't listen to them who are going to be the victims, not this younger generation.
And in my book I refer to it as sort of generational displacement in the work force, that this wave of kids comes in, and rather than listening to them and trying to embrace them and to learn from them, we end up combating them or creating dissonance and conflict and so on. And it's not going to be the young people who are going to be the ones that will suffer from my perspective, because they're just better equipped for this new kind of organization and new kind of economy.
Webb: I just want to say something on that point. The students are now learning differently. We are going to laptop deployment in our school, all 1,300 of our students will have laptops next year, and teachers are right now working together to develop curriculum that is completely technology-dependent. We are completely wireless in our school, students will be doing things online constantly, online tests, online essays, submitting work online. And these are 14-year-olds who are going to be doing this next year, which means the work environment is going to have to accommodate those skills and that way of thinking about technology and working and thinking about productivity when they get there, and they're going to be there in four years.
Kelman: I have a strong reaction to that actually. And as I said, we hire people out of college very aggressively, we think it's absolutely strategic to our long-term survival to reinvent ourselves every year when we go out and hire the best and the brightest young people, we're acquisitive about it. But at the same time I would say what we acquire is not a facility with laptops. We're a high-technology company, so you would assume that would be what we're after. But every time I see a politician at a school where there's a laptop and an Internet connection and then they're talking about how someone can e-mail a document, I can show you how to do that in a few moments.
What takes a lifetime, and I know I sound like such a Luddite, is precise thinking, clear communication skills, math, science, writing. I mean, what always surprises me is it's almost like dealing with a savant sometimes when you're talking to people who are just amazingly facile with Friendster or Kazaa what have you but at the same time can't do some basic things. I mean, we've had to institute writing workshops and things like that.
There's one other thing that I have to add that I think is interesting, and this is on a slightly different topic on something somebody earlier said, I would say the most profound difference in business that the Net Generation or whatever you want to call it has Introduced is just a lack of intermediation.
As an example, I'm a little younger than most of my peers at the company, and I don't have an assistant, and it's not because we don't have the budget for one, although we probably don't anymore, it's more because I don't like the intermediation of having someone, a human being between me and other people. And there's just an ability to be, you know, we talked about just taking in more inputs. And I think that younger people are able to take in more inputs directly via different media and enjoy that.
William James once described the human brain as this thing that creates as many walls as it can to the outside world so that it can maintain its sense of self and its sense of how the world works, and it changes as little as possible to external stimuli. But I think there's, in general, more of a peer-to-peer way that people work with each other that are younger, that are able to take in more inputs, and people in turn that work with them feel like they can approach them on more issues via digital media versus approaching them directly.
I complained earlier about IM and SMS, but the flip side is the 19-year-old can get really worked up as an intern at Plumtree and say, 'I know that I'm not supposed to talk about this, but here's how I really feel,' and feel as if he could never come into my office and tell me that directly.
Roberts: Glenn, I want to respond to something you said. I do believe that there are some basics that the Net Generation has to have, and I think it falls to the educators to have an integrated perspective. And that's why, I mean, I'll go back to a comment I said earlier, is technology as a part of liberal education, it's a way of thinking that is integrated with all of the basic skills that everybody has to acquire.
I think the thing about education that gets a lot of press, and about companies as well as education within companies, is how it's enabled by technology. But I firmly believe, and I don't have a tremendous amount of experience in this, but the friends I have who are working in other companies all insist that there is no substitute for the basic skills. And the people I know, even if they are computer science graduates, are not necessarily going after positions in the IT world. They're going after CEO positions, they're going after business function positions because they have those skills, even though they've been brought up in an environment where they're thinking about technology a lot of the time.
So should current managers be scared? Are their jobs in jeopardy?
Roberts: I think absolutely, there's going to be a transition. There's definitely going to be a transition of people who can think about the who have integrated into their thought processes how technology will impact the business.
Kelman: The thing that I worried about when I was younger is this: You don't want to be the technology mascot, the whiz kid, the weirdo or "genius" who's wheeled in at the end of a presentation to prove that you can get the money. You want to be the guy giving the presentation. And I think that's one expectation that's changed. Ten years ago people wanted to be the VP of engineering or they wanted to be the chief technical officer or what have you. And I see more kids that really are open to completing themselves, if you will, that aren't willing to accept the stigma of being the dude wheeled in at the end that's going to go build this thing, whatever it is.
This article was originally published on 09-17-2003