Sunday, August 7, 2016

Critical Millennial Thinking

This will be the first in a series of articles on leadership, the Millennial generation, and how it relates to business.

I have been spending quite a bit of time recently reading HR articles. Not that I ever haven't, ever since before participating in the National Urban Fellows program, and especially after successfully obtaining the PMP, I read across the curriculum so to speak in order to get a taste of how potential opportunities might view my particular batch of skills. I read a recent one from The Ladders President Marc Cendella about ageism and the American business community, a few things struck me. To begin, Cendella's article stressed strategies to prove the viability of the more seasoned,
more senior employee's mindset in the face of a fanaticism for hiring youth. To quote "it’s important for you to realize that youth is the symptom, not the cause, of age discrimination."

This is faulty in my view for a variety of reasons. While it is true that the business community hires youth more frequently in the current paradigm than seasoned professionals, it is not solely representative of an underlying, hidden mentality in the plans for an increased profit margin of each organization that employs an age gap in it hiring practices. It is inherently flawed because it has been the experience of more seasoned workers that youth carries with it the entitlement of pre-eminence in the office. Indeed, the generation presents a belief that Snapchats inserted into Prezis, the Uberization of everything, and happiness engineering will answer previously unaswered questions. Additionally, there is a steadfast credence in the idea that they will solve problems better simply because it is the new technology.

This too is faulty because for all of the technological literacy that the Millennial generation carries at its fingertips in the latest and greatest Samsung Edge 7 or iPhone 7 or pick your favorite model...none of that literacy represents actual creativity, but rather the current year's reiteration of processes that already existed. Creative optimization of business processes, innovation of future engineering methodologies, and even communication methodologies or pathways are concepts that have to be trained and experienced before they can be evolved. Moreover, in order to properly create some sort of advanced evolution of the process or pathway, a defined period of critical thinking has to be undertaken. The critical thinking deficiency has been the most salient complaint of employers, post-secondary educators, and large swaths of society coming into direct contact with Millennials far and wide, as evidenced by the quotes below:

"A 2012 report on the metro St. Louis workforce cited a Boeing official as saying, "New hires and younger workers certainly have a positive work ethic; however they often have an immature or impatient approach toward career development/progression. They have an expectation that their career development will somehow be on the fast track, without a full understanding of the commitment it takes beyond the 9-to-5 world. At times they seem to lack an understanding that you need to work until the work is done.""(1)

But the fallacy of being able to create a wholesale correction of the entirety of an organization's problems simply by throwing new technology at it was born out in evidence and scientific measurement presented in Jim Collins' seminal work From Good to Great. Those very same sentiments are echoed in a late 2015 'Entrepeneur' article:

"...in a digital-first world, where millennials obtain all their answers to problems at the click of a mouse or swipe of a finger, the reliance on technology to solve every question confuses people's perception of their own knowledge and intelligence. And that reliance may well lead to overconfidence and poor decision-making."(2)

Effectively, if your answer to social, procedural, human resources, time management, document control, or loss prevention issues (to name a few) is the introduction of technology to which the organization is largely unaccustomed and untrained without the root cause analysis of why the problems exist in the first place, the problems will persist, they will just persist in the digital space. This is not a problem resolution methodology. It is also not creativity. Creative solutions to problems happen because creativity has to be taught. Raw talent only accounts for so much until verifiable, accountable technique is required.

Technology, especially technology employed by a generation untrained and inexperienced in critical thinking exercises is not a poultice, or a cure all, or a silver bullet (there are no silver bullets.) It is, to use a forward thinking, visioning exercise, benefits mindset analysis - a strategy guaranteeing business non-continuity. American business has to begin understanding the value of paying for training and/or trained individuals. In a head-to-head matchup, the more highly trained, analytical, experienced problem solver [those with the initials PMP or MPA after their name, for example] is the one who will inevitably carry the strategy and benefit of each and every organization farther forward towards greater results or profitability (while figuring out where to most effectively deploy tech-savvy newcomers.) All three sectors are focused implicitly on benefits realization, and recognizing and monetizing opportunity. These are not intrinsic, genetically inherited traits, they are studied and learned capabilities that are the result of hard won knowledge skills.

In the end, Cendella's claim: "...it appears to me that age discrimination is mindset discrimination first
and foremost..." is indeed true. But if what the American business community seeks is an Agile mindest, there is training, dare I say - a certification for that.

1.) What millennials don't know about the job market, Kelley Holland, 2 May 2014, http://www.cnbc.com/2014/05/02/nials-dont-know-about-the-job-market.html

2.) Why Technology Is Affecting Critical Thought in the Workplace and How to Fix It, Rony Zarom, September 21, 2015 https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/248925

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