Based on the articles being published today, the generational war has finally whittled itself down into a workable dichotomy. It used to be that we waxed rhapsodic about the nuances of our nation’s four generations, each one a special snowflake of unique skills and talents. But now we’ve finally narrowed it down into the only two categories that actually make any sense – young people, and old people. That’s all there really is.
Now it should come as no surprise that everyone thinks everyone else has no idea what they’re doing. Most of what I’ve read comes in the form of angry old people (or embittered Gen Xers – my people!) scolding clueless young people for being idiots. To their credit, they’re right – young people are idiots. But fortunately for the purposes of this article, so are old people.
So let’s level the playing field. Here are 15 truths that apply to everyone, young and old. Some are these points are more relevant to young workers, others to older workers. But collectively, this list will hopefully put the world into perspective in a way that will end this stupid arguing and get us all focused on how to work together rather than spending all our energy talking about how dumb everyone is who wasn’t born within about five years of us.
1. Everyone Hates Everyone Else’s Music: That has been the case as far back as the Renaissance, when all the old people were like, “What’s with these young people and their stupid harpsichord?” I’m pretty sure old cavepeople thought that young cavepeople used all the wrong kinds of rocks and sticks when they beat those things against each other, and I’m also sure that young Romans thought that old Romans threw oppressively boring toga parties. The same is true for all elements of pop culture. We will never agree. I think we can all agree on that.
2. No Young Person Uses a Phone Book: If you’re spending money to advertise in the phone book, then your target demographic had better be 50+. I can’t remember the last time I opened a phone book – but they keep bringing them to me! Every year some mystical elf plops one on my doorstep. To pirate a Mitch Hedberg joke, I feel like every time I see that phone book on my door someone is saying, “Here, you throw this away.”
3. Social Media Is Not Actually Social: Or not in the way it claims to be. It creates theillusion of society, a collection of friends and colleagues that are always an arm’s length away. When you wonder why your social media strategy isn’t working, it’s because you’re not creating an honest society; you’re just posting a bunch of random stuff that people are pretending to like because we’ve all been trained to click on things. Focus on quality over quantity, on creating a real conversation instead of a bunch of disjointed posts, and you’ll get significantly better results.
4. It Should Not Be a Point of Pride To Have Mastered All the Shortcut Keys on Your Company’s Woefully Outdated Computer System: I spoke at a conference once where audience members literally shouted obscenities at their own vice president when he told them they were going to update their computer system. In their case, the computer system they were using looked like the Matrix – black screen, green characters, and almost certainly powered by steam and/or a reciprocating saw hooked up to a belt. Sometimes things need to be updated, which is probably why you’re not driving the same car you were when you turned 16. Remember that the next time someone talks about an upgrade.
5. Complex Thoughts Require More than 140 Characters: Brevity of speech leads to brevity of thought. Twitter doesn’t allow for much more than an aphorism or a haiku, and most of those are pretty worthless without a good long discussion to tease out the deeper meaning. If your writing skills are limited to posts, you’re actually limiting your ability to think intelligently. I would have made this point longer, but I ran out of witty-sounding things to say. Words are hard!
6. Advancement is a Process: It’s not a right. You don’t get a promotion, the way that youget a present. You earn promotions. Try to remember that the next time you ask about getting a promotion before you’ve actually been offered the job. Oh, and if you ever wonder why all the old people you work with are making more money than you are, it’s because….wait for it….they’ve worked longer than you have!!!!
7. Change Doesn’t Stop: In case this comes as an unpleasant shock to all of you old people trying to coast your last few working years into retirement, try to remember that you weren’t always old people. You changed into old people. You’re going to continue changing into ever older and older people, until someday you’re so old that you can do whatever you want because you’ll either be old enough to qualify for “eccentric” or people will assume you’re just flat-out crazy. Remember that the next time you wonder why things are changing so fast around the office. It’s because they always have been.
8. Your College Degree Means Nothing: Well, not nothing exactly. It actually means exactly one thing – that you have proven yourself to be capable of learning. You can be given a task and figure out, largely on your own, how to accomplish whatever it is you’re being asked to do. But it does not mean that you already have all the skills necessary to do whatever job you’re applying for. That’s why they have on-the-job training. You remember how I said ‘change doesn’t stop’ and you were like, “That’s right, old people! Get with the program already!” Well, your education doesn’t stop once you graduate. Surprise!
9. The Disappearance of Pensions is Actually Quite a Big Deal: If you grew up in an era with any amount of guaranteed retirement income, then you might be flatly incapable of appreciating how big a deal it is to everyone younger than you who realizes that they’re never going to have the same luxury. As far as I’m concerned, it borders on insanity that anyone ever said, “So we’re going to give you X dollars a year, forever, until you die, no matter what the market does. That seems like sound fiscal policy.” But they did it, and then they wised up and said, “Nope – that was dumb, let’s just give people nothing.” If you ever wonder why young workers are occasionally jaded right out of the gate, it might be because they’re being asked to do the same work as everyone else but for less reward.
10. Creativity Matters More Now Than Ever: In a world where almost every job can be replaced by computers, the jobs that will survive are the ones that computers can’t replace – specifically, the creative ones. We are nowhere close to the day when computers can come up with creative, innovative solutions to problems that aren’t clearly stated, and we’re even farther away from the day when computers can solve problems that aren’t even recognized as problems (i.e. holes in the market begging to be filled). If you do not strive to be creative in whatever field you work in, you are simply biding your time until your job gets automated. That is not my opinion. That is the function of technology throughout the course of human history. It’s just happening a lot quicker now.
11. Your Company’s Processes Are Really, Really Good: That’s why your company exists. Turns out that the people who work there actually do know what they’re doing! They know what they’re doing so well, in fact, that they keep having to hire new people to keep it going. Try to remember that, young people, whenever you tell some corporate lifer that everything needs to be overhauled.
12. Your Company’s Processes Are About to Become Outdated: That is always true. Things are always great until they’re not great anymore – and unfortunately, your competitors have an annoying habit of coming up with new products in an effort to try and put you out of business. The nerve of those people! They should be thrown in prison for forcing you to innovate. And as soon as I’m elected dictator for life, that’s exactly what will happen. Until then, though…
13. The Way You Dress Actually Matters: It’s the first thing people notice about you – unless you smell really bad, in which case there’s really no hope for you. If you dress like you’re about to go to your next class in college, people will treat you like you’re still in college. They won’t say they’re doing it, and they probably won’t even think they’re doing it. But they are. In the history of forever, nobody has ever been penalized for dressing slightly better than is absolutely necessary, but approximately a billion people have been penalized for dressing slightly worse. And don’t even get me started on neck tattoos. You may as well just write, “I don’t want a good job!” right there on your neck. In calligraphy.
14. Everyone Has A Short Attention Span: College kids stare at their phones when they’re on a date, new employees play on Facebook while they’re supposed to be working, and CEOs send emails while they’re in board meetings. I’m starting to hear stories of people who inadvertently agreed with policies they completely disagreed with, because when the time for raising objections came up in the team meeting they were so engrossed in their iPad that they ended up raising their hand in favor of the policy. It’s not just young people doing it. All of us think we’re more important than we are. And in case you think you actually are that important, remember the last time you took a flight across the country. Three hours without your phone, and the world somehow managed not to explode. Who’d’ve thought?
15. No One Group of People Has a Monopoly on Knowledge: Socrates said that the only thing he knew was that he didn’t know anything, and that was true – he didn’t know hemlock was poisonous, and that’s why he drank it and died. But I think a more accurate statement is that no one group of people knows everything. I deliver presentations for a living – 60 or so a year, 47 states, 2 countries and counting. I’ve spoken at tech conferences, agricultural expos, health care summits, women’s business symposia, and bankers associations. I’ve met rich people, poor people, hard-line Republicans, hard-line Democrats, city folk, country folk, capitalists, Libertarians, and every other group of people imaginable. And I can say with perfect confidence that if any one of those groups of people were suddenly endowed with the ability to impose their will on the rest of us, our world would immediately spiral toward its doom. If our country were run entirely, at every level, by uncompromising Republicans or uncompromising Democrats, we probably wouldn’t even have a country anymore. If your marriage is dominated entirely, in every decision, by the wishes of only one of you, I think it’s safe to say that you have a horrifically unhealthy marriage. I hate to break this to you, but it turns out that other people occasionally have good ideas.
And there you are. I’m sure you already know what side of the generational divide you identify with. But before you go into battle, try to remember that you are exactly as dumb as they are. You’re just dumb in different ways. Fortunately for all of us, though, our respective idiocies cancel each other out.