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Marketing, Social Media, Technology

Gen X vs. Gen Y: Decision-Makers vs. Innovators

Is it really one or the other?

Apple Microsoft Gen X Gen YAn article today by Steven Walling entitled, “Forget Gen Y: Gen X is Making Real Change” got me thinking, why are Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers at war in the workplace?

Walling’s article is nothing more than an attempt to bully and patronize Gen Y-ers into thinking that their Gen X bosses are more valuable.  False.

Walling cites a new Forrester survey that suggests that Gen X (those aged 30-43) are leading the way in their company to adopt social media technology and are the fastest-growing demographic among social media users.  What he leaves out is that Gen Y (those aged 10-29) was the fastest-growing demographic–in fact, the only demographic–back 5 years ago.  Now that nearly all of Gen Y (96% according to some reports) is on social media, we’ve plateaud.

I joined Facebook in March of 2005.  My Mom joined a couple of years later, followed by everyone else in the world.  Including my 85-year old grandmother.  But not the other way around, as Walling would suggest: “A favorite argument … is that the youngest demographic is more adept with technology.  The idea of Millennials at the vanguard of innovation … is a myth.”

Walling neglects the notion that it was Gen Y-ers who influenced their Gen X bosses, friends, and family members to check out social media.  Indeed, many of the Gen X and above crowd may find it impossible to reach Gen Y-ers though any other means besides social media–because to Gen Y, email is dead.

Not shockingly, Walling hails Gen X as the people who actually create change within the company to adopt social media technology (therefore you should “forget Gen Y”).  But let’s face it, without hearing about these technologies by Gen Y-ers–many of which were created by Gen Y-ers (like Facebook, whose founder Mark Zuckermen, was born in 1984)–there would be nothing to make into a reality.  And nothing to praise Gen X for.

As Walling says, it’s all about the clout.  Gen X is older and more experienced, and are therefore more likely to be managers.  Gen Y is largely still in the internship/entry-level stage of their career and won’t have that “clout”.  Therefore, they take their ideas to their boss, who takes it to his or her boss, etc. etc. etc.

I’ve lived this reality. Let me paint you a picture:

Me: “I discovered a great social media tool.”
Gen X boss: “I’m skeptical. Show me the ROI.”
Me: Writes a report detailing usage, application, and ROI.
Gen X boss: “Looks great. Let me take this to Baby Boomer CEO.”
Baby Boomer CEO: “Great, Gen X boss. Let’s get this rolling.”

I had the idea and knowledge. My Gen X boss had the authority and ear of the CEO.  Together, we made it a reality.

The only thing that Walling and I agree on is this: “Even if Gen Y was significantly better at using social software, it wouldn’t matter at this point.”  And it doesn’t.  What matters is utilizing the ideas and creativity of Gen Y-ers and the strategical, decision-making “clout” that Gen X possesses.  It’s not a competition.  It’s collaboration.

Cool video that describes the Social Media Revolution:


3 thoughts on “Gen X vs. Gen Y: Decision-Makers vs. Innovators

  1. None of your assertions are backed up by anything more than one person’s personal experience and opinion. My post wasn’t about my personal experience, but was reporting on data from a survey of 2,000 people. Until you get your own data, I don’t really have much to say in response to your general arguments about generational differences.

    What I will say is that if you think my post was an attempt bully Gen Y employees, you didn’t read it. (You also failed to notice that I myself am a member of Gen Y.)

    I don’t make one piece of commentary in the post directed at Gen Y. The strongest wording I used was “the idea of Millennials at the vanguard of innovation in the enterprise is a myth.”

    That’s true. Social computing in the enterprise is not dominated by workers under 29, whether you’re talking about who introduces it or who uses it. This data set and others make that clear.

    What I didn’t say is that Gen Y has no contribution to make or that it’s some kind of generational competition. I only said what the data backs up, which is that Gen Y isn’t leading technology innovation in the workplace.

    Posted by Steven Walling | September 11, 2009, 8:38 pm
  2. Also, as a side note, using ellipsis to leave out words and change my meaning is a huge FAIL.

    To say that young people are not at the vanguard of tech innovation in general is not what I meant and it’s not true. I’m talking about innovation in the enterprise.

    Posted by Steven Walling | September 11, 2009, 8:48 pm
  3. Twiiter was created by Gen Xers. MySpace was created by Gen Xers. I think Gen Xers are responsible for most Social Networking sites, especially if you include networks created before the term was coined, like LiveJournal and Friends Reunited. Facebook is the anomaly, not the norm.

    As for Gen Y adopting FB first, it should be remembered that there was a point in time when you pretty much had to be Gen Y to have an account. Even when FB opened up to non university accounts, there wasn’t that much reason for Gen X to get on there as all our friends were already on other networks. Now that FB’s reached critical mass, they’re a reason for us to be on it and we’re taking to it like the technological ducks to water that we are 🙂

    Posted by Scot | September 11, 2009, 9:31 pm

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