Speaking from experience, I can attest that the older you get, the more likely you are to adopt the adage that “age is just a number.” If that’s the case, it follows that you can be in your 50s or 60s and have the mindset and outlook of a millennial rather than that of a baby boomer, right?
That’s certainly the case in the view of T. Scott Gross, a business consultant, speaker and author who has taken a deep dive into what he calls millennial “culture” to understand the impact that millennials are having on business. That deep dive resulted in his most recent book, “Invisible: How Millennials Are Changing the Way We Sell.”
After speaking with Gross, I can tell you that at the age of 63, he doesn’t want to be labeled as a boomer. He contends that a generation shouldn’t be defined in terms of years:
A generation is defined by the values and experiences that you’ve had. … So it’s quite possible that somebody who is a millennial [in years] could easily be a boomer, depending on their experiences growing up. I’m 63 and a boomer [in years], but that doesn’t mean I can’t communicate with millennials, because I can. And the way I can do that is I’ve been sticking my nose into their culture, and I understand what they’re being exposed to.
Gross said he chooses not to label himself as belonging to a particular generation, and he explained why:
I actually believe that the last nameable generation is the millennials. The reason for that is we’re all so different. … Today, we have so many choices of what we experience and what can shape our values, that I think in the future, we won’t have names of generations, because we’ll all be different, and much too difficult to bucket.
OK, so let’s do the bucketing while we still can. I noted that boomers and millennials clearly accomplish their work in different ways. That understood, I asked Gross which generation he would say has the stronger work ethic. He said he would have to give those points to the boomers:
Boomers are [hard-working and] loyal because they’re supposed to be. Boomers screwed things up so big-time for themselves that millennials looked at their parents and said, “I don’t want that.” So boomers win those points by default. But I’m not even sure that you should call it “winning.” The millennials have something going for them when they say, “You know what? If you want me to be loyal, earn it.” And that’s not all bad.
I asked Gross what he sees as the single most valuable contribution that millennials tend to bring to the workplace, and he said it’s their sense of independence:
They don’t follow blindly, and I think that’s a good thing, long-term. Short-term, it can be a bit of a problem. They do have a sense of entitlement, and I’m not really sure that’s all bad, either. A lot of their sense of entitlement is born out of ignorance. I have to say, millennials as a generation are just totally money-ignorant. They don’t know where things come from, how things work. But I don’t think that’s unusual for anybody who’s just coming into the work force.
I asked Gross to identify some of the characteristics of millennials that boomers would be well-advised to adopt, and he cited their approach to training:
One that I really like is they want matrix training—they do want to be trained, but they don’t want to be trained until they need the information or the skill. They recognize that there is this idea called “retention of learning.” The best way to put training to use is to be trained as close to the time when you’re going to use it as possible. Millennials understand that they’re not going to retain training, so they would prefer to be trained when they need the information, not before. Outwardly, it looks as if they’re saying, “I’m not interested in training.” That’s not the case at all. They are interested in training. But millennials, like any other generation, don’t want to go to work and look stupid. And they’re smart enough to say, “Don’t train me until I need it.” I like that.
And what are some of the characteristics of boomers that millennials would be well-advised to adopt? Gross said he’s not sure it’s characteristics they need:
I think they need to be informed. If millennials are guilty of anything, it’s the tendency to go half-cocked and not really understand the processes. Millennials want an open door to the boss. They want immediate and direct communication to the top level. They don’t see any reason whatsoever why there should be a protocol. But you know, when I think about it, I don’t see any reason, either. What boomers need to take from that is they need to have a clear understanding of how a product is developed, how new ideas are put into work, and then communicate that to the millennials. By the way, it’s really important not to think that if you’re a millennial you are new or untrained or unworthy or whatever. Because that’s not the case. You may be a millennial, but you might be the boss, or you may be the founder of the company. So when I talk about millennials, I’m not talking about entry-level, young employees. Your generation is not so much a matter of years as it is a matter of circumstance.