Next Gen. Summit focuses on multi-generational workplace

Photo courtesy of Photos By Harmony

By Pat Shaver

CORALVILLE—Are you a traditionalist, baby boomer, Generation Xer or millennial?

Kim Lear, generational consultant for BridgeWorks Consulting, identified, described and compared each generation during her keynote address Oct. 1 at the Next Gen. Summit at the Coralville Marriott. Ms. Lear is a speaker, writer, strategist and researcher on the topic of generations.

Traditionalists were born before 1946 and include about 75 million of the U.S. population. They remember the Korean War, John Wayne, Hiroshima and the Cold War from their upbringing.

Baby boomers, born between 1946-1964, account for about 80 million of the U.S. population. They remember events such as Watergate, the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement; and notable people like Gloria Steinem, Elvis, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Bob Dylan and Walter Cronkite.

The nearly 60 million Generation Xers were born between 1965-1979. Michael Jackson, Pac Man, Star Wars, Title IX and the Challenger shuttle disaster are memorable events and figures for them.

Those born between 1980-1995, about 80 million people, are considered millennials. The youngest generation in the workplace, millennials recall Columbine, Princess Diana’s death, 9/11 and the Iraq War.

“In six-and-a-half years, about half of the American workforce will be comprised of millennials,” Ms. Lear said.

Looking at the events and culture that happened during those generations can help understand how various generations are different.

For example, traditionalists lived through World War II, the Great Depression and the Korean War.

“They really understood the idea of putting aside individual needs for the needs of the greater good,” Ms. Lear said.

Baby boomers lived through a time of social change and a competitive workforce.

“A lot of the rights we have today were a result of that boomer fight. For a generation to see the fruits of their labor, that’s a very rare thing,” she said.

With 80 million people and not as many jobs, baby boomers became the most competitive generation. Because of the social change, though, they are also the most optimistic, Ms. Lear noted.

Generation Xers were the first to experience the emergence of 24-hour media.

“Everything happening in the world was right in front of your 12-year old eyes. They saw a lot of broken promises—the U.S. divorce rate tripled,” Ms. Lear said. “Gen Xers turned into sole survivors, latch-key kids.”

Those experiences have led that generation to be very independent.

“Gen Xers are fiercely independent, independent but skeptical,” she said. “The No. 1 thing Gen Xers tell us is ‘prove it.’”

Other generations should accept that and be prepared to prove it in the workplace, she said.

“Some companies have changed their entire culture to cater to 22-year olds; that’s not the way to do it. We found that groups can come together and look at the world from different vantage points are the ones that come out ahead,” Ms. Lear said. “When people understand each other, they have more fun together.”

The millennials, most raised by baby boomers, are looking to find meaning in their careers, Ms. Lear said.

“Baby boomers were telling their kids ‘if you’re going to work as hard as I did, you want it to have meaning,’” Ms. Lear said. “Millennials have taken that to heart. Meaning is the new money.”

After 9/11, there was a large influx of funding in education going toward guidance counselors.

“They had people telling them to speak up and that their voice mattered,” she said. “Millennials are hyper-collaborative—two heads are better than one, three heads are better than two. Gen Xers heard if you want to get something done, you do it yourself.”

Millennials have proven to be technology savvy and have embraced social networking.

“You can’t talk about millennials without talking about technology. The Internet changes the way we do everything. It really changed the rate of change itself.”

The next generation, born after 1995, is showing some patterns, Ms. Lear noted.

“Lightning fast may not be fast enough,” she said.

People in that generation are able to work effectively doing several things at once in different mediums.

“They fundamentally work different than the rest of us,” she said.

That generation has also grown up with the ability to communicate with friends and family through a screen, which has changed communication, she said.

David Gould

University of Iowa Professor David Gould also gave a keynote address at the Next Gen. Summit.

“Right now there are 50 million 20-somethings in the U.S., many who are functioning in uncertainty,” Mr. Gould said.

He spoke about the Life Design course he started at the university, which encourages students to reflect on the link between personal lives, careers and happiness.

Most recently, the class was involved in Reimagining Downtown Las Vegas, which encouraged the students to add purpose to their passion.

The Downtown Project is a $350 million investment to rebuild and re-energize the Las Vegas that exists beyond the Vegas Strip. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, who founded the project, gave the students $50,000. Mr. Gould gave them free rein and the chance to make an impact. Together, they brought the students to Vegas over spring and summer breaks.

The result was a vegan food trailer selling smoothies and snacks, called Sugarcoat.

“When given a chance, young adults will do amazing things,” Mr. Gould said.

Mr. Gould is an associate director for student development in the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences, and a lecturer in the Health and Human Physiology Department at the University of Iowa.

He read “Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose” by Mr. Hsieh. He later asked Mr. Hsieh to participate in a video chat interview with his class. Mr. Hsieh was going to be in Iowa City in a few weeks on his book tour and offered to do the interview in person.

“Tony’s visit was a defining day in my academic life,” Mr. Gould said.

Mr. Gould now holds the title director of imagination for the Downtown Project, which is led by Mr. Hsieh.

In 1999, at the age of 24, Mr. Hsieh sold LinkExchange, the company he co-founded, to Microsoft for $265 million. He then joined Zappos as an adviser and investor, and eventually became CEO, where he helped Zappos grow from almost no sales to over $1 billion in gross merchandise sales annually.