Can millennials teach boomers a thing or two or is it the other way around? Scott McCulloch reports.
We’ve all heard the myths – millennials are the selfie generation. They’re narcissistic job hoppers who expect a gold star for their efforts. They’re entitled. They’re lazy.
As for boomers, well, they don’t get tech. They’re self-righteous. They’re selfish and they’re wealthy.
What is true is that both cohorts – indeed all generations – are inevitably subjected to unfair mythology, dubious labelling, and misjudged by generations above them.
So what happens when boomers and millennials join forces? In a word, magic.
There is ample evidence that gender and ethically diverse companies are more effective, says Chip Conley an American hotelier and boomer. But what about age? He says:
There have been a number of European studies that have shown age-diverse teams are more effective and successful.
Indeed, Conley’s insights are the subject of a fascinating Ted Talk on how boomers and millennials can complement each other.
Conley recounts how he was intrigued by his millennial “tech translator” Laura, a former crack Google employee, “assigned” to him to help fulfill his mandate to deliver a hospitality department to Airbnb.
Laura was 27 years old.
Like many of her millennial cohorts, she had actually grown into a managerial role before she had got any formal leadership training.
Business is fundamentally H-to-H, human to human. And yet Laura’s approach to leadership was really formed in the technocratic world, and it was purely metric driven.
One of the things (Laura) said to me in the first few months was: "I love the fact that your approach to leadership is to create a compelling vision that becomes a North Star for us."
A boomer and millennial in harmony. Why not? Were it a family business, Conley would play the role of retired father advising up-and-coming daughter, who in turn could teach him a thing or two.
Boomers are retiring in droves. This has given rise to concerns over the “dependency ratio” or the rise in healthcare spending as large numbers exit the labour force.
What’s more urgent is the impact this transition is having on businesses in terms of skills shortages and wisdom.
A recent study from the University of California found that there are two distinct forms of intelligence: fluid intelligence, which is our ability to think logically and process information, and crystallized intelligence, which is gained through accumulated knowledge and experience.
The researchers found that increases in crystallized intelligence were roughly twice as valuable as increases in fluid intelligence.
Fluid intelligence, like reaction time, typically peaks in young adulthood and then steadily declines.
Which cohort is likely to possess more crystallized intelligence? Boomers. But that doesn’t imply that they, or Gen Xers for that matter, are to be revered.
Young or old, most workers believe they can learn from their colleagues of different ages, according to research from AARP, a retired workers interest group in the US.
The AARP study found that mentoring is powerful way to build a multigenerational workforce.
Lately, “reverse” mentoring, where junior employees share skills with senior workers, is picking up, mainly to address the fast pace of technology in business.
Some would call that good old-fashioned team work.
Maybe its time we retire the term "knowledge worker" and replace it with the term "wisdom worker?"
It’s time for us to actually look at how to change the physics of wisdom so it actually flows in both directions, from old to young and young to old.
The boomer, Gen-X, millennial rivalry is a myth. Teamwork is real. And it always will be.
Learn more and join our course Intrapreneurship in Enterprising Families.