Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Debunking Generational Myths

We are  delighted to have a guest post from Shannon Tipton (@stipton) who shares her thoughts on generational myths.

Random observation or life in motion? 

Just recently I was traveling via train.  As anyone who is a regular traveler can tell you, there is always something interesting to observe. While sitting patiently waiting to get to my destination, there were a few curious things that stood out to me:

The elderly gentleman, furiously typing on his tablet pc;

The teenage girl thoroughly engrossed in her inches-thick novel;

The mid-twenty to early- thirty year old lady who was knitting.

With all the noise out there about generational differences and the “need to plan” for the upcoming generations, it seemed to me that some of those great minds needed to spend time on this train.

Who makes these rules anyway?

There are still some generational attributes that make sense.  Generational values and beliefs are built on the experiences one has during a certain period in life.  These experiences work to further ideals and even set communication preferences.  These generational “rules” have been around for a while, starting most notably with Strauss and Howe and their 1991 book “Generations”.  The premise still has merit.

That being said, it is important to note that the year is now 2012.  We have seen more growth in technology in the past 15 years than the 75 years previous.  What does this to do to the generations and the way they interact today?

Technology forces togetherness!

Different generations are now working shoulder to shoulder in the workplace.  Because of the increased life span of humans and the unfortunate turn of the economy, Baby Boomers are working longer and taking their retirement later in life.  This is another example of life forcing change, and in this case forcing change in the way generations should be viewed.

Just as though one could argue that it’s a bit brash to believe that we are alone in the universe;, it is equally brash to believe the rapid changes in the way we live, – with the technology that surrounds us – does not affect or change the way we operate daily.

In a survey of the colleagues in my organization, the results spoke loud and clear. 45% of the 450 respondents were over the age of 50, the group of people toward the top of the Boomers.  When looking more closely at the results – observed the following:

They were taking the survey on a tablet, an iPad, or a laptop; 

They were active online – 90% were involved in Social Media, most using Facebook to keep in touch with their children or grandchildren; 

They hosted websites, blogs, and regularly received their news through RSS feeds; 

They considered themselves to be an engaged user of the internet – not just surfers. 

Not exactly the message that seems to be permeating the business world today, which is something like this:

They don’t want to communicate via online. 

They don’t have access to technology; they don’t understand it so they don’t buy it.  

They wouldn’t know how to use technology even if they had access to it. 

Put an end to the madness 

Let’s put an end to this shall we? Generalizations such as these undermine all generations.  Baby Boomers (or Seniors for that matter) are no more likely to shun technology than a Gen Y person is to solely live by it. As displayed by my casual observations, the generations are condensing and overlapping; it is through this that information gets shared and exchanged.  We learn nothing when our minds are closed to the behavioral environment around us.  Get on a train, bus or plane and watch what happens around you – you may be amazed, and better yet, your beliefs challenged!

Further reading:

Digital Natives, Digital ImmigrantsMark Prensky (2001) 

Visitors and Residents:  A new typology for online engagementWhite & Le Cornu (2011) 

Visitors and Residents: What Motivates Engagement with the Digital Information Environment? – Collaborative project between JISC, the University of Oxford and OCLC, and a partnership with the University of North Carolina, Charlotte

Shannon is Director, Learning and Development at Ambius.  You can follow her on Twitter @stipton or contact her via email:

Success – Building Legitimate Confidence

After our very interesting and insightful chat about Failure, we look at the other side of the coin this week – Success – what it can do to help us and our work……..

There is always something to learn from failure – always true, but what do we actually learn from it? How can “failure” be used to help learning? That was the subject of the last vibrant #chat2lrn – if like me, you missed it, the transcript is worth a few minutes study. It is also true that there is much learning involved in recovery from failure. But for me, that is a hard road and I have always been more excited by learning from success – it is just easier and more motivating. I need to explain why!

Confidence and energy are two of the words that go together to make up motivation – and most of us in the right environment are motivated to succeed. Is it not true that knowing what to do and how to do it, with confidence that one has the skills, is likely to get us into flow ( – or more colloquially, into the “zone”? The evidence suggests that when we are in “flow we feel good about ourselves and are therefore prepared to be innovative and put more enrgy and effort into our work.” Positive psychology has been exploited in many ways but there is one fundamental truth. Faced with a difficult task to perform, most people will fall back on tried and tested methods born out of successful past experience in order to attempt to accomplish it. In the absence of specific skills for a situation, we are most likely to align ourselves to it with the skills in which we have confidence.

So what has this got to do with success? Knowing exactly how a success is achieved provides a base for replicating it confidently and at will. It builds confidence and motivation. It involves getting beyond generalities (this was good work, the team worked well) and into understanding the specifics that lead to a success – either one’s own or that observed in others. What exactly was said and done that led to progress? How was cooperation obtained in achieving things with others? These are the kind of questions that, if answered properly, lead to a databank of experience that can be turned into generic practices which can be called upon at any time to tackle a similar task.

The contrast is in the analysis of failure. Analysing failure will certainly tell a person what not to do next time – pitfalls to avoid, wrong paths to step past etc, but in the end it only tells one what not to do next time in a similar circumstance. That does not build confidence and energy to tackle future tasks. The emotions are negative and are substantially about inability and lack of achievement. It takes a real effort to step back from that, extract the lessons and try to move forward again. Failure analysis is an ever-tightening spiral about what does not work. Ultimately it leads to paralysis.

How do we apply the principles of success analysis to our work in technology enabled learning?

• As ID’s, being able to create and repeat successful design strategies saves time, reduces negative emotional energy and gives confidence in our professionalism to the SME’s with whom we work
• Design that builds upon success in learning is likely to motivate learners to engage more deeply and to pursue learning further – hence the current interest in games-based learning and the spectacular results that can be achieved through it
• Enabling students to iterate their learning experiments from a point where they last experienced success speeds up learning
• Understanding what we have done that has helped our enterprises forward is powerful in building our self-esteem as adding value. Compare that with viewing ourselves as a cost to the business.

The more confident we are, and the more solid the bank of success we can draw upon, the more likely we are to be adventurous, courageous and innovative in our use of learning to help our enterprises. We will be able, with heads held high, to take our places alongside business leaders to offer solutions from our expertise in learning.

Please join us on Thursday 7 June at 16.00 BST/11.00EDT/08.00PDT to see how we can make Success Analysis a powerful theme in our work.

Looking forward to seeing you there!