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February 19, 2008

Changing Tides and Gen Y

Do a search through any online news aggregator and you will find hundreds of stories related to how Generation Y is changing the rules of the workplace. Stories about how they don't stay with the same company for long periods, how they don't want to come in at the entry level but start with responsibility, and how they question everything. I've grown up as part of this new generation. I went to school with other people of this generation and I'm finally in my third year of real work. I'd say that I may have some insights into why things are the way they are.

First, every 15 years or so when a new generation comes along there are huge obstacles that must be overcome. The difference this time around is the swiftness of the change. Gen X was just fine sitting back and waiting for their turn because they had better things to do. Gen Y wants to change the world from day 1. There is a reason that Google has no problem hiring as many smart young people as they want, they give them opportunity to change things and make a difference.

Your typical company has a structure with positions filled by people with experience and certain skills. Those people got there by one of two ways: 1) worked their way up by proving themselves internally or 2) were hired from the outside because of previous experience. Generation Y is looking to change all of that and are surprised to meet resistance. The funny thing about it is that they don't mind the resistance since they simply find another way around. We are the most entrepreneurial generation ever. If you don't want to hire us for the job we'll simply go out and do it ourselves.

There are very few ties that keep us in one place or in one job. The internet allows us the ability to be instant experts on any given topic - learn about a topic one day, spend the next researching it, teach it the third. With the right resources and determination it is a very easy process. Sure, we won't be experienced experts but we'll know what the tools are, what the problems look like and some general idea of how to mix the two. Creativity will fill in the gaps.

Top that off with the fact that Gen Y are a generation of networkers. How hard is it to transform an active group of 100 friends and acquaintances into a business network. The connections that we make in our network are easy to retrace and remember. Conversations are stored on computers or phones in multiple locations. Pictures are abundant thanks to digital cameras and free online storage. If we need an expert in obscure applications of the third law of thermodynamics they aren't that difficult to find with a quick search or two.

The problem for the generations ahead of us is that we move very quickly. Before you know there is a major issue the person involved has blown past it and either moved on or resolved it. Flexibility is the goal of the day. Let us do what we know we can do. Sure, we will stumble and sometimes fall as things get rough but we will also perform great works before we are 25. We will change the world by 30. Make no mistake, we have lofty goals and strong beliefs that we can and will achieve them. Right or wrong, the only path we know is to chase down those dreams until we succeed.

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