Book designers are very clever – whenever I walk into my local book store, I am enticed to pick up a variety of wonderful volumes. The vividness of the cover, the style of the title, words all reach me before I have any idea about what is in the book. This was not always the case. I am embarrassed to say that as a young teenager I only selected books from the library that had black covers. For some reason, I thought the books with black covers would be far more engaging.
How limited my reading would have been if I had not discovered that the old saying “You can’t judge a book by its cover” is really to be true. It is the same with people – and that is something I didn’t really understand. In his book “Blink”, Malcolm Gladwell documents the human behavior of instantly “judging and assessing” what we see.
So the best advice I got from my first boss, the late Roger Maldague (my first job after university was with IBM in the US – Roger was my manager), was to take the time to discover who people really are. We were such an eclectic group of young graduates from all around the world – Roger was Belgian himself. Each person came to the team with no background, we only knew them for what they contributed to the team. We could not assume that they came with the same life experiences to the job.
He said we all have a natural bias toward people because of their appearance, background or position but he insisted that it’s essential to discover who the real person is. He said be aware of not categorising people by their age, dress or demeanor. To not put a label on whole groups of people – such as teenagers or “Generation Y”. [Years ago I wrote a blog about ‘Generation Why’ – claiming that I was very much a part of the “generation that questions everything.”]
Rather than labeling people, simply have an appreciation for people’s different experience of life – a different view. My teenage daughter, for instance, cannot fathom that homes used to have one phone line – ie only one person could use the phone at a time. Bear in mind she cannot remember a time before Facebook.
I attended a session called “De-coding the Next Generation” by Michael McQueen, an engaging and thought-provoking speaker. Rather than labeling people he suggested we see people’s world in context. He told us that people born after 1980 are likely to see the following areas differently than those born prior to the 80s.
The concept of truth
Truth is seen as fluid and often referred to as “my truth”, i.e. there are different points of view or versions. The word “should” is seen as a judgment and the best way to tell something is to show that it works – and this can be done through story telling.
The assumptions of respect
Respect is not automatic based on title or position – it is very important, however. It must be earned and it also must be mutual. “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.”
Language has become far more about function than form – “Why use 179 letters when you could use just 79?” Interestingly ‘OMG’ and ‘LOL’ have now been entered into the Oxford dictionary. Language has always evolved – it is just moving faster than it ever has before.
The value of patience
Life is meant to be easy, convenient and entertaining. Things do not come to those that wait – they come to those who ask. The downside of this is that often if things do not come easily then it could be considered that something is “wrong.”
The need for affirmation
Nowhere is this more the case than in China following the one child policy – in China it is referred to as the “Little Emperor” generation. The need for validation and recognition is paramount. I note that the recognition programs that RedBalloon designs say all recognition must be immediate and regular – Gallup claims that people have forgotten any acknowledgement within 7 days. Based on this paradigm shift I would argue the younger the employee the more recognition they will need before they will consider giving their discretionary effort.
The future
Most young people don’t have a 5-day plan let alone a 5-year plan (my teenagers drive me spare as I try to work out what the plans are for the weekend). They want to leave their options open until the last minute. There may be no future so living for the moment is paramount.
Work ethic
Laziness is NOT a generational difference – there are lazy people of all ages. People born after 1980 just have different priorities. Friends and leisure are important in the balance of life and as such become a priority. Having a sense of purpose and understanding why something is to be done is important.
So thank you Roger for giving me that advice when I was 20 – life has been far richer because of it. My best advice: Discover what is inside the book.
Photo: George Clooney and myself in 2011 – to illustrate my point as you probably clicked on this article because you thought I was going to write about the advice George Clooney gave me… Photo’s can be misleading – but so can headlines. How many times have you clicked on a sensational headline – and the content has little to do with it. (I also use this pic because of his great line in the movie Up in the Air “I’m not racist I’m just stereotyping.”

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