Boomers: Five Steps to Bridging the Gap

If, like me, you grew up before computer and video games, fMRI and PET studies show that you might be missing a part of your brain that Millenials have. 

The exercise below, similar to the Stroop color-word test, seems to discriminate among Boomers and Millenials. It demands fast mental switching. Millenials zip through to the end with almost zero error; their brains are future-fit and ready to go. Most of us boomers, high achievers that we are, start strong but then fizz out near the middle. By the end, we have entered that-part-of-our-brain-where-there-is-nothing. Try reading the color not the words and see if you can get to the end with 90-100% accuracy in 25 seconds or less. 

Many of our Boomer leadership and social skills are based of our societal structures of the 1950’s to 70’s. The image below highlights some clear differences.

Differences between Boomers and Millenials

Time to update! It’s our job to adjust to their social structure, it’s not their job to adjust to ours. Here are five suggestions to make that happen:

1.  Adore them, keep the positive reinforcement flowing. You might believe that if you praise them that they will begin to demand more privileges. They won’t. They grew up getting trophies for everything, even for showing up at soccer practice. If you praise them the way you were praised, they will feel punished. Ramp it up.

2. Get real and be real. They spot hypocrisy quickly and will turn off if they sense you’re not being real. Millennials are looking for leaders and role models with honesty and integrity.  

3. Have fun. Having fun wasn't a value of the 50’s or 60’s, and seems the antithesis of getting things done. On the contrary. From Zappos to Flickr (left, below) to Google to ZestFinance to Dormify to Amazon to Yelp - having fun is among the top priorities despite grueling work pressures. Humor, silly stuff, irreverence works; make it relevant and go for it.

4. Make it about something bigger. Millennials don’t just want and need to learn, they need to connect this to a higher purpose. Their world view is more expanded than was ours. Teach them even though you know they might split as soon as something better comes along. The only thing worse than training them and having them leave is not teaching them and keeping them. 

5. Let them work with friends. Boomers are hesitant to let friends work together because of the fear that they’ll waste time. Millennials can get as much done as we can while texting their friends and posting on Instagram. Loyalty is to their friends rather than to a company They need to work with people they click with, and like being friends with coworkers. Some companies interview and hire groups of friends. Zappos build their culture to create friendship.

Take one or two small actions in each area and keep those actions up on a consistent basis and I bet the generation rift will shrink.