2020: Generation Y and the rest of the world

Fast Company has an interesting article "Scenes from the Culture Clash" that refers to the thought patterns and social interaction habits of the so called Millenials or Generation Y – those born during the years 1978 to 2000. They touch upon the impact they are already having on the work culture and structure of American companies as the older ones are already in their twenties and in the workforce. Reading this article gave me pause, and much food for thought. After all, I had had my share of experiences with this generation, as prospective grad students and applicants during my three years as Director of Admissions for the Institute of Design, IIT in Chicago. This paragraph in particular caught my eye,

A 22-year-old pharmaceutical employee learned that he was not getting
the promotion he had been eyeing. His boss told him he needed to work
on his weaknesses first. The Harvard grad had excelled at everything he
had ever done, so he was crushed by the news. He told his parents about
the performance review, and they were convinced there was some
misunderstanding, some way they could fix it, as they’d been able to
fix everything before. His mother called the human-resources department
the next day. Seventeen times. She left increasingly frustrated
messages: "You’re purposely ignoring us"; "you fudged the evaluation";
"you have it in for my son." She demanded a mediation session with her,
her son, his boss, and HR–and got it. At one point, the 22-year-old
reprimanded the HR rep for being "rude to my mom."

And to be honest, the article, while highlighting the drawbacks of this coddled, plugged in generation, does end on an upbeat note, I’m not wholly convinced of the outcome. I’ve faced enough prospective students who visited the graduate school with their concerned parents in tow – even in their mid to late twenties – and had to field impassioned calls by parents, on the behalf of their pride and joy, calling to support their applications, when in all honesty, what could one do, when said pride and joy had a GRE score in the 2nd percentile. As in 98 percent of the test takers received better scores. Until I read this article, I didn’t know this was a widespread or documented phenomenon. One expects students to graduate programs – masters or doctoral degrees – to have some measure of maturity and responsibility. In fact, it hampered rather than helped the application of those students whose parents had interacted with the faculty or admissions staff to a greater degree – after all, we got to know the parent better than the actual applicant.

Fast Company’s article goes on to exhort companyies to adapt to this generation’s characteristics,

So if companies want to attract, retain, manage, and motivate the next generation of workers, they’re going to have to adapt.

And if they don’t want to–well, they’ll have to, because this is our
future workforce. Eighty million boomers will retire over the next 25
years, and there are only 46 million gen-Xers. Millennials will
dominate the workforce for, oh, the next 70 years.

and this raises some concern in my mind. If this is an American phenomenon, then what will be the eventual shape of the global landscape in the forthcoming years? China and India, already perceived as racing towards a larger share of the global economy, do not have a similar generation waiting in the wings. In fact, the twenty somethings in both countries are hungry for the opportunities that their changing economies offer them and are already making a mark as entreprenuers and risk takers willing to work hard to maximise the returns on their educational investments.

From BusinessWeek’s recent article on "China’s B School Boom" one gains the sense that young China, the next generation of managers, entreprenuers and leaders expect to work hard, take risks and anticipate big payoffs. And I’m sure if I look for it, I’ll find more evidence to support this in China.  As for India,  my own conversations in New Delhi last month showed,

Where our generation, he said, (Gen X) figured we’d have to get
extra qualifications or IT training to get a decent job, and our
fathers were looking for the security of a civil service position with
a lifelong pension, the twenty somethings today aren’t even worrying
about getting a job, they *know* they will, they see it as their
birthright, their approach is "what can I do to take advantage of these
opportunities and maximize my income in the fastest, most efficient way"

It’s an attitude shift in outlook and approach, he said, was the
real difference – there’s none of the scarcity mentality that hobbled
the populace who remembered The Partition, Independence, rebuilding the
country or emerging as a global marketplace – there is a sense of being
players in the world, of the real innovation in India (more on
innovation later). When resources are scarce or constrained due to
environmental variability, people become more resourceful, more
creative, have more "jugaad" – "make it happen" mentality –
and that, he said, was the root of Indian innovation. How do we make
do, how do we make it happen, within our constraints, and take
ourselves to that level we see in this interconnected world.

So a young generation’s attitudes and character, it seems, are shifting on all sides of the equation, but what kind of roadmap do they show for the next decade or two? It’s too early a pattern right now for me to end with any conclusion, but this conversation will continue.

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