The Cart Blog

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The next battlefield

Filed under: News — thatsoftwareguy @ 11:18 am

We’ve been through the gender wars of the 80′s and the culture wars of the 90′s. Is the next battlefield intergenerational conflict? Clay Collins somehow managed to convince the usually sensible Penelope Trunk to post this absurd screed called “Why my generation is more productive than yours.” Leaving aside

a) the age-discrimination lawsuit this statement would inspire if made in a formal context, and
b) the inanity of collectivism – particularly collectivism based on immutable factors (astrology, anyone?)

I think it would be useful to dissect these arguments – because you’re likely to hear them if you have younger staff.

The most foundational of the problems with Clay’s reasoning is a hard, hard truth that most people don’t learn until mid-life:

If you don’t own the company, you don’t get to make the decisions.

This is really how it is. The people who put their own money at risk starting the business and keeping it going are the ones who get to call the shots. Not the employees. Not the “stakeholders.” Not even the government. The owners.

Now if this seems unfair, the thing to do is start your own business. Put your entire life savings at risk and hang out a shingle. You’ll quickly find that you won’t be that understanding when people who have no skin in the game tell you how you should be doing this or that. This feeling intensifies when you have to skip paying yourself a few times in order to pay your staff and suppliers.

Running a business is hard. Really, really hard. That’s why being an employee is so attractive to so many people.

With your status as an employee non-owner clearly in mind, let’s go through the arguments:

Reason 1: We use the best tools

“… we’re not afraid to rely on nearly-free, online productivity tools from unknown companies.”

Like the Web 2.0 tools that introduce viruses and malware to your company’s network? There might be a reason your company chose the tools it did. Is it possible that someone else knows more about this than you do?

Reason 2. We’re good at automating
If something can be automated it should be. But it’s not clear to me why the date of your birth would be somehow correlated with your ability to accomplish this. And even if it were: without the deep business knowledge that old-timers have in abundance, you might be automating the wrong thing.

Reason 3. We get better sleep

“… you’re more productive when you follow your biologically determined circadian rhythms and get up when your body tells you to.”

Problem: I might actually need you to be there for a 9 am conference call. Your coworkers might need to talk to you. A task requiring your input might be waiting.

Bottom line: The world really doesn’t revolve around you. You need to conform to the needs of the business, not the other way around.

Reason 4: We’re much more likely to love our jobs

“All the job switching and repositioning we do means we’re much more likely to end up with professions that are actually suited to our passions and talents.”

No, all the job switching and repositioning means you’ll look like a job-hopper that I can’t depend on and thus don’t want to hire. I need to see that you can deal with adversity, because work is not a bowl of cherries.

Reason 5: We stay up to date in our fields
You’re 25, for heaven’s sakes! Of course you’re up to date. Let’s talk when you’re 50.

The flip side of this is that you’re going to make a bunch of expensive mistakes on my dime as a result of your inexperience. Adopting a more humble attitude will attract seasoned mentors who can help you avoid these pitfalls – but you’re too clever for that, aren’t you.

Reason 6: We’re experimental

“While this experimental approach might not result in quantifiable productivity, it leads to the kind of shifts in thinking that save time and money over the long haul.”

It might! It might also lead to a bunch of wasted time. Here’s a secret: an experienced hand who has seen a few things over the years might be able to give you some insights about what might not work with your “experimental approach.”

Reason 7: We don’t “go through the motions”

“We’ve seen our washed up parents work shit jobs they hate, and we won’t go through the motions for the sake of job security.”

Uh, your “washed up parents” didn’t “do it for the sake of job security” – they did it to keep food for you on the table.

By the way, did I miss a meeting where it was decided that the purpose of work was fun? If fun is a byproduct of work, then that’s great! But the purpose of work is ultimately to make money. The less fuzzy thinking there is on this topic, the better.

It is worrisome to me that there are so many people in the United States today like Clay Collins, who think the world owes them something.   And this is by no means isolated to “Generation Y” – the entitlement mentality of our senior population is the mirror image of the narcissism of youth.

Will taking on a mortgage and having a family cause Clay to wake up from his delusions? We can only hope so.

2 Comments »

  1. Interesting commentary. I’d like to point out two things, however.

    First, I didn’t convince Penelope to let me write the article. She approached me about it.

    Second, I don’t feel that the world owe’s me anything. And my article didn’t imply that I feel that I’m owed anything. It was an article about productivity levels.

    Productivity levels have been steadily increasing with each generation. And it is for this reason that productivity in the U.S. has doubled since WWII.

    The title of my article was tongue-in-cheek.

    Thanks for your analysis.

    –Clay

    Comment by Clay — Sunday, August 3, 2008 @ 11:14 am

  2. I’d like to also point out that I do own my own company. So my article wasn’t an appeal for more respect from my superiors.

    Comment by Clay — Sunday, August 3, 2008 @ 11:16 am

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