Monday, October 1, 2007

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Those college kids today, with their ambition....

Yesterday was the New York Times Magazine's ballyhooed college issue, which includes a Rick Perlstein essay that seems like a shorter version of David Brooks' "Organization Kid" essay from six years ago (to Perlstein's credit, he does cites Brooks' piece in his essay).

If you want something really provocative, however, check out Jake Halpern's "The New Me Generation" in the Boston Globe Magazine. His opening:

Nicole Mirabile, who is just 15 years old, has a clear vision of her future, and it doesn't involve a boss. The prospect of working at a Fortune 500 company and landing the sort of well-paying job that Americans once regarded as the benchmark of success holds zero allure for her. "It would be hard compromising with a lot of different people whom I might clash with," she speculates. Mirabile, a sophomore at North Quincy High School, would be far happier running her own company. "I have the time, I have the brains, I have the patience to do it, and I am not going to give up if I fail once," she vows.

Alan Chhabra, who is 31 years old, shares a similar sensibility even if, as it turns out, he does report to a boss. Chhabra works at Egenera, a computer-server manufacturer based in Marlborough, but he is not the sort of fellow who puts too much stock in old-school notions of corporate protocol. As he puts it, "I have no problem knocking on the door and walking into the CEO's office or the CTO's office on a whim interrupting their schedule and saying, 'I need to talk to you.'" Chhabra says that ever since he was a kid, he has been "knocking heads with basketball teachers, track coaches, teachers, and girlfriends. If I felt that I was right, I wouldn't back down."

What do Alan Chhabra and Nicole Mirabile have in common besides a great deal of chutzpah? They are members of the so-called Entitlement Generation, the upstarts at the office who put their feet on their desks, voice their opinions frequently and loudly at meetings, and always volunteer nay, expect to take charge of the most interesting projects. They are smart, brash, even arrogant, and endowed with a commanding sense of entitlement. And since a new crop is graduating from Boston's high-powered colleges and universities every year, chances are, one may be heading to your office soon.

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, says that this includes virtually everyone born after 1970. According to Twenge, these young people were raised on a daily regimen of praise and flattery from their baby boomer parents and from teachers who embraced a self-esteem-boosting curriculum that included activities like the Magic Circle game. Never heard of it? In this game, one child a day is given a badge that says "I'm great." The other children then take turns praising the "great" child, and eventually these compliments are written up and given to the child for posterity. This constant reinforcement, argues Twenge, is largely responsible for those young co-workers who drive you nuts. At the University of South Alabama, psychology professor Joshua Foster has done a great deal of research using a standardized test called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI). The NPI asks subjects to rate the accuracy of various narcissistic statements, such as "I can live my life any way I want to" and "If I ruled the world, it would be a better place." Foster has given this personality test to a range of demographic groups around the world, and no group has scored higher than the American teenager. Narcissism also appears to be reaching new highs, even within the Entitlement Generation, among American college students. Another national study involving the NPI, conducted by Twenge, shows that 24 percent of college students in 2006 showed elevated levels of narcissism compared to just 15 percent in the early 1990s.

All of this would seem to suggest that this generation, which is flooding into the workforce, will create chaotic, unpleasant, and utterly unproductive work environments that will drive many a good business directly into the ground. But there's another very real possibility. It may be that this much-reviled generation will revitalize the economy and ensure the prosperity of America for years to come. Painful as it sounds, in the not-too-distant future, we may owe a debt of gratitude to these narcissists.

I'm not entirely sure Halpern's correct -- but I'd rather argue about his essay than Perlstein's warmed-over copy.

[What's your beef with Perlstein?--ed. Really, it's not intentional -- he's just published two pieces in the last week that have annoyed the crap out of me.]

posted by Dan on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM




Comments:

Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, says that this includes virtually everyone born after 1970. According to Twenge, these young people were raised on a daily regimen of praise and flattery from their baby boomer parents and from teachers who embraced a self-esteem-boosting curriculum that included activities like the Magic Circle game.

That dating is nuts. Kids born for quite some time after 1970 were core Generation X-- latchkey kids raised in the era of Rosemary's Baby and The Omen and typically not with boomer parents; the boom started 25 years before that and ended c. 10 years before, so most parents weren't boomers and most boomers weren't parents.

The spoiled-by-praise, boomers'-kids generation raised in the era when cinematic babies were the route to personal fulfillment (Baby Boom) or just cutesie (Look Who's Talking) rather than the route to the apocalypse came 10+ years later.

And it's a little odd to think of 30-38-year olds starting to flood into the labor market...

For the record: born 1971, never heard of Magic Circle.

posted by: Jacob T. Levy on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]



What Jacob said. My parents are early-boomers who were precocious when it came to childbearing (I was b. late-1968). If -- and it's a big "if" -- the phenomenon in question is for real, you need to look to those born during the Reagan era to find it.

posted by: C. Zorn on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]



"If -- and it's a big 'if' -- the phenomenon in question is for real, you need to look to those born during the Reagan era to find it."

Time for me to chime in on this discussion since you were asking for a "Reagan era" child for finding it (b. 1980). I've had to reread the passage a few times to get my bearing on what time period was being discussed. I agree that the 1970 and later part is rather absurd (e.g. "And it's a little odd to think of 30-38-year olds starting to flood into the labor market..."), but I agree with some of the generation's description: **

"They are members of the so-called Entitlement Generation, the upstarts at the office who put their feet on their desks, voice their opinions frequently and loudly at meetings, and always volunteer nay, expect to take charge of the most interesting projects."

Describes me rather well. I've done most of those things either today or last week--sans the "loudly at meetings"--and I can honestly say that it does introduce a rather large amount of culture clash to outright career slow-tracking. In many ways, I'm not so sure if it is the need to lavish praise upon our person--but it is nice to have--as so much as figuring out how to make a place for us in the current work and social environment and allow us the ability to somehow prove ourselves worthy. The old folks aren't dying or getting out of the life loop as soon or as quickly as might have happened in previous generations. Once they do, there are plenty of people ahead of us in the line who only make the wait longer if we adhere to older social norms. Also, the benefits and welfare nets that helped the Boomers are no where to be seen in our later days. (Job Security? Pensions? Any general kind of social security? HA HA HA!) Mixing all of these things along with the pressures and friction that our shrinking world is heaping upon us, becoming more like an aggrandizing P. T. Barnum seems like a wiser long-term decision than trying to swallow the role of Cog #1358015-B3 in a Cubeville near you.

** I thought Gen X went through '79? Is there a sociologist's guide for dummies book out there for this trending categorizing?

posted by: yagij on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]



As a boomer (and a parent whose kids were born 1984-1991) I don't know about this phenomenon in the workplace, but I do find it annoying as hell in the classroom. "My opinions on the subject under discussion are important because they are mine, and I'm great, not because I did the reading and thought about it, but because I'm great. My work is great because I did it and I'm great so my work must be great so the starting point for a grade should be an A and you Prof have to justify why it merits less than A." Several decades this psychosis used to present itself on isolated ocassions, now it is much more common. My proposed cure for this would be to send such students for a year to a high school in Singapore of South Korea, where their assumptions about how much they know vis-a-vis others in their age cohort might be challenged.

posted by: Gene on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]



I'd never heard of the Magic Circle game, and am not really current with the youngest of the young in the work force. So I can't say whether Halpern is on the right track or not.

Suppose he is. Where would this sense of entitlement in the Entitlement Generation be coming from? One guess is that it represents the spread of attitudes once confined the children of the rich (and those with unusually indulgent parents) to a much broader segment of the population.

This would make sense, really, because all sorts of other things once reserved for the wealthy (automobiles, televisions, air travel, university educations.... the list is endless) have in recent years become assumed to be available to everyone, or nearly everyone. If even people on the lower edge of the middle class are in many respects living as well or better (materially speaking) than did wealthy people in earlier generations, why wouldn't they start to adopt similar attitudes?

If they did, it would not be all bad. A higher standard of living can direct one toward some of the things that make culture what it is -- the arts, the life of the mind, the world beyond one's immediate surroundings and so forth. But someone born into a higher standard of living might well come to feel it his by right.

The attitude of entitlement, in this view, would not be new at all -- anyone who has observed the White House for about the last 20 years and missed its presence, for example, really needs to consider eyeglasses -- but its spread to, and the conviction with which the sense of entitlement is held by, something approaching a majority of young people would be someting different.

posted by: Zathras on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]



As a very recent college graduate, I can say that the general consensus amongst my (working) peers is that co-workers above the age of 35 act as obstacles to the success of our organizations (both non-profit and corporate). Our post-college email list has thoroughly covered Generation W's:

- inability to use, and more importantly understand, any and all technology

- constant rejection of new ideas that would increase efficiency at the expense of habit

- need to establish a fine line between work and home

- insistence on operating within rigid organizational hierarchy, which translates to seeing new, young employees/interns as threats that cannot be trusted

- (and this is the most annoying to me) the glacial pace at which meetings play out, with too many tangents, too much repetition and absolutely no respect for brevity or time/topic constraints

Just thought you'd be interested in one Gen Y perspective.

posted by: Mac on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]



Why am I reminded of the old neighborhood grump shaking his fist as he yells, "Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn!"

posted by: rachel on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]



Mac:

Neat job of stereotyping there. Almost as good as the one done in the article Dan cites. There are usualy some truths in stereotypes, but usually they will lead you astray just when you least expect it. So, speaking as a straddler between the Boomers and Gen X, let me share some observations on your points.

1. Inability to use technology. Hey, I admit it. I don't have a blackberry. I think texting is silly (though I use IM quite a lot). And a lot of new bells and whistles are often a great waste of time. I use what I need and I adapt myself to my colleagues. Frankly, a lot of new technology is, to my mind, a neat way to blur that line between work and life, so that work is never really off your mind.

2. Constant rejection of new ideas etc... It ever occur to you that the new ideas aren't so new, and have been tried and rejected? Or that your new idea doesn't really increase productivity, but shifts the burden to somebody else? (If you want to hear what my gneration's workers thinks of you, this is the key complaint.)

3. The fine line between work and home. It may be news, but this is a continuing fight, fought by every generation since women hit the workforce in large numbers and the idea of going home at 5PM (see any movie from the 50s, or ask us boomers/x-ers about their dads) disappeared. Historical perspective is not what young folk do, but you need to think about this. Life vs work, is not some great decision you have to make once, but a series of decisions, some made in favor of life, and some made in favor of work.

4. Rigid heiarchy. You will someday learn that a "flat organization" means that nobody ever gets a pay raise. And, while I think giving young people in an organization good work is important in developing people (and don't view you guys as a threat), you will find out that getting a new job after age 35 is really, really hard. That might cause some of the tension. Who knows, you could relax the atmosphere by stepping back and examining your stereoptypes.

5.Gotta agree with you on meetings. Note, though, tha managers and companies use them to communicate to employees. Less meeting might mean that you get shut out from decisonmaking altogether

posted by: Appalled Moderate on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]



Appalled:

Stereotyping has it times & places, and I don't think Marc's short-hand was meant as a complete barb against the Older Ones. Blog forums aren't the most conducive place for the ten page summarized thesis for social tensions and trends in the American workforce. Fortunately, the numbered list does make point/counter-point more interesting:

1. The (in)ability to blur work and leisure is one of the ways you do get ahead in your career. It is when it is just a shaded way to get only more work--without more flexible leisure--that it can be a negative aspect. Most "professions" (e.g. Law, Medicine, Academia) allow the blurring to occur, and it has its place and limits along with its rewards. It would be a valid argument to attack the older salesmen who don't see the usefulness of having GPS/Mapping software on their blackberries and prefer to lug around big book maps for their work. It doesn't completely invalidate his point, but we don't know his environment and experiences so we can't really draw much from his opinion.

2. Communication, communication, communication. I've come to realize that I have probably *never* had a new idea in my life until I've entered a world that is easily 20+ years behind the world (e.g. Churches). Instead of getting The Grumpy on the point, it would be helpful to setup the world, management, environment to show *why* it didn't work than 'Just Say "No"'. You won't spend the time or energy to show why the "new idea" doesn't work or even consider that the points that caused it to fail in the first place may have changed to make the idea worth reconsidering (e.g. cost reduction, newer/more vibrant leadership, simpler implementation) Besides, American "increase of productivity" always means someone is having to work harder, faster, or longer. We automated the simple stuff 20+ years ago, but the question becomes does the rewards make the risk worth it? Your tone makes it sound like you have been on the losing side of that stick more times than the winning side.

3. Continuing fight since when? I had a father that I never saw from 4 - 6 yo 'cause he left for work around 6:00a and got home around 12:00a, but he did it willingly for the sake of building his career and not because he was fighting some crusade--For or Against. He could've opted for saner hours, but he wanted the gold, not the time. If you are arguing for more time & less gold, then Marc's rigidity argument holds more water. I've worked in 3 Fortune 500 environments where people are in 10 minutes early and gone *exactly* at 5PM. Even management in these companies usually bailed--if not earlier--at that time. ( My experience may be the rarity. ) That may also be the kind of "rigidness" that Marc was alluding showing that punctuality and attendance--e.g. "Face Time"--is large chunk of the battle instead of your At-Work performance alone.

4. See the end of #2. Again, your tone makes it sound like you have been on the losing side of that stick more times than the winning side. You want more money and less burden, and you make an argument against my age group striving for it because we are too young to have it/earn it? If your career is stalling at 35--as opposed to 45 to 50--then you need to consider what happened, what went wrong, and what can be done about it. What risks vs what rewards? (MBA? Professional degree? New entry level work for a new career track?) You say you don't view us as a threat, but your argument makes it seem that it is 100% They're Causing It/0% We Aren't Causing It. Honestly, the tension is caused by both sides, and if you so easily invalidate our feelings or opinions without any effort on your end, then honestly, I don't really give a damn when your parents copulated.

5. Less meetings really wouldn't suck that much 'cause of their formal/rubber-stamping tendencies depending on the organization. It is the water cooler talk and the side hallway conversation that is more conducive to alliance building and compromise than the 3 hour marathon meeting. Besides, if your operational--as opposed to tactical or strategical--meetings take 2+ hrs for a team of > 10 members, then Marc's point is completely valid.

posted by: yagij on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]



As another generation Yer, I have a different persepective on my own generation to Mac.

- inability to use, and more importantly understand, any and all technology

I had, from my point of view, a very amusing conversation once with my friends I graduated from uni with where I explained to them, on a conceptual level, how the internet works. It was a revelation to them. I don't think many people understand the technology we use. This doesn't surprise me, I spend about half of my jobtime learning about new technologies in the energy sector. To expect everyone to acquire knowledge about all technologies is rather extreme.

- constant rejection of new ideas that would increase efficiency at the expense of habit

After a while, you get a weary view whenever a new idea comes along that promises to increase efficiency at the expense of habit. "Wake me if it's still around in six months please."

- need to establish a fine line between work and home

This seems to be happening to my friends as they have kids.

- insistence on operating within rigid organizational hierarchy, which translates to seeing new, young employees/interns as threats that cannot be trusted

Looking back to what I know now versus what I knew as a young employee/intern, I think there is some basis for assuming that the new starts can't be trusted. It takes time to build up experience so you know what is important and what is reliable and what isn't. To give an example, at uni I learnt all sorts of complicated statistics methods. I didn't realise that my major problem in my first couple of years would be that the data was unreliable in the first place.

- (and this is the most annoying to me) the glacial pace at which meetings play out, with too many tangents, too much repetition and absolutely no respect for brevity or time/topic constraints

This reminds me of group work with my own generation at university.

I think Mac you will find your views changing substantially in a few years.

posted by: Tracy W on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]



By the way - is anyone else laughing at this set of statements?
"It would be hard compromising with a lot of different people whom I might clash with," she speculates. Mirabile, a sophomore at North Quincy High School, would be far happier running her own company.
If Mirabile thinks that running your own company means not having to compromise with people she's in for a shock.

posted by: Tracy W on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]



- (and this is the most annoying to me) the glacial pace at which meetings play out, with too many tangents, too much repetition and absolutely no respect for brevity or time/topic constraints

This reminds me of group work with my own generation at university.

AMEN!

The good side to the first example is you are earning money while wasting your time where as the scenario costs you money--and sometimes a grade--while wasting your time.

posted by: Yagij on 10.01.07 at 11:12 AM [permalink]






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