“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for
authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in
place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they
contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food
and tyrannize their teachers.”
Socrates complained about the younger generation. St. Thomas Aquinas lamented that the world would be left to an ill-prepared and slovenly youth. A year after I was graduated from college, I read Steve Allen’s Dumbth which “humorously” recounted tales of how Generation X just didn’t know how to think.
Twenty years later it’s the Millennial Generation’s turn with The Dumbest Generation. “According to recent reports from government agencies, foundations, survey firms, and scholarly institutions, most young people in the United States neither read literature (or fully know how), work reliably (just ask employers), visit cultural institutions (of any sort), nor vote (most can’t even understand a simple ballot). They cannot explain basic scientific methods, recount foundations of American history, or name any of their local political representatives. What do they happen to excel at is – each other. They spend unbelievable amounts of time electronically passing stories, pictures, tunes, and texts back and forth, savoring the thrill of peer attention and dwelling in a world of puerile banter and coarse images.”
The crux of the “dumb generation” argument is that their generation just doesn’t have the knowledge that our generation has with the implication that our knowledge is inherently superior. It reminds me of summers that I spent at my grandparent’s farm where I was pitied because I didn’t know how to milk a cow, can vegetables, or could identify all the trees on the farm. “Didn’t I know anything?” they asked. Then we bought them a microwave oven, a VCR, and hooked their TV up to cable. Now I got to mutter under my breath, “didn’t my grandparents know anything?” As our workplaces become more multi-generational, I am sure there is a lot of muttering about the limitations of the different generations. And that is a misleading issue.
The real issue is how to transform our organizations into learning organizations so that we capture the knowledge we already have and determine the knowledge that we need. We produce new data and information at an astounding rate and it is growing faster every year. The challenge is to determine what knowledge we need to keep, what knowledge we need to discard, and how to find the new knowledge we need. Like the way I cling to 80s rock, knowledge we already have feels comforting and empowering but we need to have the courage to let some of that go and embrace the new knowledge that is being produced. Even so, we also need to recognize that not all old knowledge is useless and should be discarded.
Others on GovLoop have written that the best learning is in our workplaces and with conversations with our colleagues. We can learn a lot from each other and our organizations desperately need our efforts to keep the organizational memory growing and thriving. That means younger workers should not just immediately dismiss current practices and processes because that is how they used to do things. And older workers should not be defensive and dismissive when younger workers suggest new ways of doing the organization’s business.
Back when I worked at a state agency, I had a colleague who insisted on using Lotus 123 for his spreadsheets despite the fact that we had Microsoft Excel. He would complain bitterly when they tried to install Excel on his machine and we would have to support Lotus 123 even though it was getting harder to do so every year. I then hit upon a strategy of having him teach me his spreadsheets. I would go over to his cubicle and learn the macros that he created. I would recreate the macros in Excel and then show him how much more powerful they were and how the reports looked better with charting available to Excel. He was reluctant at first but I believe what sold him on upgrading is that he would not lose the original knowledge he had in his spreadsheets and macros but that they would be faster and more effective in a newer environment. A couple of years later, he relished his role as the “Excel Guru” who was the go-to guy about the intricacies of Excel spreadsheets.
So, maybe what is needed are less books about how stupid the other generations are and more books on how much we can learn from each other.