Friday, March 27, 2009

Generation Why

The Wall Street Journal has an article on the Facebook Generation and their relation with the Fortune 500, and the future of how business gets done. The article lists (and goes into detail on) 12 characteristics of business as usual for Gen Y:

  • 1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.
  • 2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.
  • 3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.
  • 4. Leaders serve rather than preside.
  • 5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.
  • 6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.
  • 7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.
  • 8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.
  • 9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.
  • 10. Users can veto most policy decisions.
  • 11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.
  • 12. Hackers are heroes.

Some of these items are more odious than most. For instance, I do not want to go to a hospital that's operated along the lines of propositions #1 and #2. It's a shame if you think this attitude describes an elite snobism, but the simple fact is that the janitor's opinion of how to treat kidney failure is not on an equal footing with a nephrologist's.

#6s claim that groups are self-defining is a gob of spit in the face of gay people who would like to define themselves as married, but can't. And I'm sure there are other groups all over the world who would like to define themselves as an ethnic minority that shouldn't be massacred, but can't. Tell them how wonderful self-definition is.

And as for #7: suppose we take a vote right now among the Facebook generation about whether we should allocate resources toward resurfacing 100 year old water mains in city cores, or something shiny, distracting, and above all, new. Which would win?

Every single one of these items is predicated on one thing: they're true only if someone else does the shit-work instead of you.

Every job has a certain amount of boring, uninteresting drudgery that can’t (yet) be fobbed off on a robot or piece of software. Of course it’s easy to say that you want a “fun” job, but those fun jobs only exist because they were built on someone else’s “not fun” job.

And, remember, there is some value to the not-fun job: I'm going to trust your opinion on my lawsuit a hell of a lot more if it can be backed up by the shit-work of your having slogged through law school where you actually learned something.

I understand that the Facebook generation are mainly in their early 20s, and so I don’t expect maturity from them. But I don’t get a sense of empathy for others from them either. They expect that all these things should be the way they want them because... well, because that's the way they want them. And that scares me.


Anonymous said...


I agree with you, and had many of the same thoughts that you took the time to express.

I do want to add, however, that when reading the article, I didn't get the impression that anyone in his or her right mind would think "Wow! This is how healthcare, education, business and industry should be run." instead I thought that this was a good estimate of how the "facebook generation" will expect it to be run. And they will be shocked and disappointed when it isn't!

I also think that there is room for some of these ideas in our current operations, but only if carefully selected and implemented by us elitist snobs who spent the last several decades getting the education and experience to make informed decisions.



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