Wrong Medium, No Message

Last month, in Learn the language before you speak to me, I said that you have to understand what it’s like to be a node in a social network and that there is almost nothing like it in the industrial workplace or school system to prepare you for this. The basic premise is that you have to walk the talk before you can criticize.

A recent post by Dave Pollard highlights what can happen when the older generation [my age cohort of which many are in positions of authority] does not engage with the same media as the younger generation. It seems that most young people in the workplace (generation millennium) use IM, text messages and especially their mobile devices to connect with their peers. This generation is ignoring the desktop and the organisational knowledge bases and turning to their own age cohort for timely help and advice. This is a real cultural and age gap that can have a detrimental impact on our organisations:

Aside from the wasted content effort, this means that most young people will learn from peers, not from mentors. How much of what senior people know will never be learned by younger workers, simply because the networks of trust necessary for valuable conversations will not have been forged (and given that Gen Millennium workers are expected to change jobs on average every four years, might never be forged)?

Our generation should know better than to just ignore this situation. It is up to us to engage younger workers, not to complain that they don’t get it. Leadership by example is required, but first we have to be able to communicate. That means observing communication behaviours in our organisations and seeing how we can best connect. It may mean getting a Twitter account and a mobile device so that we can see that quick post about an issue that someone is facing.

5 Responses to “Wrong Medium, No Message”

  1. Karyn Romeis

    One barrier is arrogance on both sides. The younger generation thinks they have nothing to learn from the un-hip unconnected ones, while the older generation sees this as ‘nonsense’ (“In my day…” or variations on that theme). We need to recognise that we all have something to learn from one another.

    I’ll probably get shot down in flames for saying this, but I wonder if this loss of mutual respect isn’t a natural outworking of the breakdown of the family unit. Where there is no precedent for inter-generational collaboration and co-operation, how does the idividual transfer that experience to the work place?

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  2. Doug Symington

    No questions that all stand to lose when generations don’t interact w/ one another. Seeing administrators like Chris Lehmann of the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia engage his students via Facebook, as an example, gives me hope all not lost.

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  3. Matthias Schwenk

    Very true and well written. Reflecting on this matter I come to the conclusion that it is the older generation that has to move first and overcome arrogance.

    But the younger generation should be taught, too. It’s up to them to learn that “unconnectedness” is not only due to a lack of technical understanding but also following sometimes live long used patterns that are not easily changed over night.

    Anyway it will be difficult to come out with a “balanced” organization and smooth operations.

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  4. Virginia Yonkers

    I think part of this is a natural process that happens between generations. (The blog post I link here was the result of hearing over and over that older people don’t adopt technology unless they are told to. I wanted to see if anyone had researched this to see if it was really true)

    I remember the use of word processing changed the “accuracy” of drafts and the ability to write (work) collaboratively. There was also a fear that using PC’s or Mac’s would allow for some to have access to information. Meanwhile, those of us using it, would go ahead and show how these technologies could be used, often missing some of the “social processes” that face to face discussion and collaboration afforded.

    I do think, though, that leadership can bridge the generations, and what worked in the past needs to change with the skills and knowledge of new employees.

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