How Gen Xers Will Save the World - The Obligatory Digital Generation Divide Article

I have been thinking lately about how I never got much out of career day in elementary school. It's no surprise considering that almost no aspect of my current job existed at that time. The most high-tech thing I did before college was to program a massive computer to synchronize red-white-and-blue flashes while "Yankee Doodle Dandy" played. (Heck, it was the Midwest.) So what can marketers do to prepare young children for jobs that don't exist yet? Do we sit them down in a dark room with a computer and expect the Sergeys and Zuckerbergs to emerge some years later? If anyone has ideas, I would sincerely like to hear them. Perhaps a non-profit for the future online marketers of America?

As a marketer in my late twenties then, I am stuck in a strange generational divide. On one side is a huge group of Baby-Boomers and on the other is a huge group of Tweens or Generation Y'ers or whatever we're calling them these days - and the largest population group since the Boomers. And Generation X folks are crunched beneath the two behemoths. We are going to be the ones to take of the jobs of the former and be tasked with managing the latter. It's not like the interwebs are going away - so how do we all get along and make a tidy profit?

Just read the metrics like a barometer: 51% of marketers find that "lack of organizational support is a barrier to their use of new media" and 43.5% cite "culture of the organization" as the impediment to investing in more conversational marketing. (I'm looking at you, Boomers...)

While I'm surprised the numbers are this low, there's still far to go to create a business culture that rewards younger staffers. And there is no doubt that Tweens are going to have to learn that Boomers have valuable business lessons to teach, that not everything can be solved online, and that there is something to be said about learning from your elders.

It is at least our responsibility to clear a path - to have something to say to those grade-school kids on career day. But we also need to admit that we'll never know exactly the next thing coming around the corner and be flexible enough to build that into our marketing strategy. So, in my mind it begins with trust. Tweens need to respect that Boomers know a little something about business and participate in mentorship programs to learn and grow. Boomers should hire Tweens and not hold them back, while insisting that they back up their ideas with metrics and research.

Generation X'ers are in the middle, but doesn't this offer worlds of opportunity? We have the most time to learn from the Boomers while experiencing technological updates over time. (While I am a little jealous of digital natives, can you imagine being hit with this all at once? I think MS-DOS, Commodore 64, and Atari benefited us more than we knew.) And we are more adept at talking to and interacting with Tweens. We can conduct business through memos or IMs, we can write a check or use PayPal, we can seal a deal with an email or a handshake. These are among the qualities that make Generation X invaluable in the workforce.

P.S.: Taking a little more confrontational stance, Ruth Sherman has some good things to say from an old FC blog post.