Recently I attended the Knowledge Management 2010 Conference and Exhibition produced by the 1105 Government Information Group in Washington DC. It was a robust event, with three simultaneous “conferences” including KM, Open Government, and Cloud Computing. I think there were approximately 1000 attendees mostly from federal government civilian and DOD agencies. The topics covered and the presentations provided by both practitioners, consultants and vendors were highly engaging and full of good examples, demo’s, and case studies. It was well worth the investment.
There was a theme though that began to grate on my nerves throughout the different sessions. That theme was the discussion of the baby boomer generation, Gen X, Gen Y, etc. Multiple presentations (provided by totally different presenters on different topics) repeated the differences between these groups. They spoke in sweeping generalizations of digital dinosaurs, digital natives, and digital immigrants. I heard all about the differences of how they interact in the work place and their attitudes towards using social media, collaboration tools, and their approach to training and management. I’ve heard all this before, and I am tired of being told I am a dinosaur.
Yes, I am of the baby boomer generation. Yes, I grew up in a different culture than my 31 year old daughter and my 10 year old grandson. Guess what? I know how to be effective at work in 2010. I know how to blog and wiki. I can tweet and text. I also have business acumen and know when I should see someone face-to-face, call them on the phone, email them, or send them an IM. I am not a technology buffoon or neophyte. During one presentation I was sitting between two other “boomers” and we all expressed our impatience with the generalization that we aren’t effective in today’s work environment.
Has there ever been a time when the current generation thought the past generations were as “hip” (I just used that term to irritate the younger folks) as they were? What did great grandma say about great great grandma not wanting to use this new technology called the telephone because you should speak to someone face-to-face as to not be rude? In the past 100 years technology has driven behavior change. Yes, the pace of change has significantly increased and it is harder to keep up. But keep up we do even us old veterans and boomers.
I concede that there are those who fit the classic descriptions presented in the sessions. I also concede that many are set in their ways. But I still think the majority are adapting and changing in order to stay relevant and effective as leaders, managers¸ coaches, and mentors to the younger generations. We adapt to work in ways in which the younger generations can learn and work, but we expect them to meet us half-way so they can learn the “art of business” from us. Technology and the work environment will continue to change. But subjects such as learning how to deal with office politics, influencing outcomes, understanding the organizational culture, and how to be effective span all the generations.
In today’s world we live longer and work longer. Never before has there been a workplace with four generations of employees sharing the same space. This can either be seen as a positive or a negative. From a KM perspective I think it is a wonderful opportunity for all to learn and grow. I may be old, but I have knowledge you can use to help you succeed. I also have the capacity to change how I distribute that knowledge so you youngsters can best learn it. I am not too old for Web 2.0!