The older I get, the more I risk misunderstanding today's youth.
When I owned an advertising agency, it was my profession to find insight on younger demographics. I also sought insight on older demographics, but that was easier. I knew them personally.
Now, my Vistage members are faced with the recruitment, hiring, and managing of 22-year-old members of the Class of 2011. How are my CEOs to know who is coming around the next bend?
My Own Experience
I remember a conversation with a recent college graduate, applying for a position at our advertising agency. He said, "Two weeks of vacation! That's all I get?"
"Yes," I said, with the gentle patience of a young person's first employer. "We offer two weeks of vacation during your first year. After several years, you can have earned the right to three weeks of vacation."
"I need four weeks of vacation," he said.
"Four weeks?" I asked. "I don't think even I take four weeks!"
He thought for a moment. Then he proposed a new way of looking at the situation:
This is important to me. I have friends in Wichita, Portland and Austin. If I don't visit them once or twice a year, I won't have friends in Wicheta, Portland and Austin. So I need that much time.
So can we look at it this way? You want me to work 50 weeks a year. I want to work 48 weeks a year. Is that really such a big difference?
Otherwise, I'll simply resign each year and reapply for a job when I get back.
It was worth that much to him. I had thought that the Facebook generation didn't have substantial friendships, but rather only "friends." I was wrong. He held his friendships much more valuable than his career. "Egad," says my generation. "Egad," says his in reply.
I laughed and we figured it out. He learned the idea of Unpaid Time Off. And everyone was happy.
The Mindset List
One of the tools I love is The Mindset List from Beloit College. Designed to help the faculty understand the new class of entering students, Beloit publishes the list for all of us to enjoy.
The list is increasingly humbling, as I see how I am separating from the latest adults.
Here is the list for the Class of 2016. These are their beliefs and realities, how the see the world — their mindset:
- They should keep their eyes open for Justin Bieber or Dakota Fanning at freshman orientation.
- They have always lived in cyberspace, addicted to a new generation of “electronic narcotics.”
- The Biblical sources of terms such as “Forbidden Fruit,” “The writing on the wall,” “Good Samaritan,” and “The Promised Land” are unknown to most of them.
- Michael Jackson’s family, not the Kennedys, constitutes “American Royalty.”
- If they miss The Daily Show, they can always get their news on YouTube.
- Their lives have been measured in the fundamental particles of life: bits, bytes, and bauds.
- Robert De Niro is thought of as Greg Focker's long-suffering father-in-law, not as Vito Corleone or Jimmy Conway.
- Bill Clinton is a senior statesman of whose presidency they have little knowledge.
- They have never seen an airplane “ticket.”
- On TV and in films, the ditzy dumb blonde female generally has been replaced by a couple of Dumb and Dumber males.
- The paradox "too big to fail" has been, for their generation, what "we had to destroy the village in order to save it" was for their grandparents'.
- For most of their lives, maintaining relations between the U.S. and the rest of the world has been a woman’s job in the State Department.
- They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.
- There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles.
- While still fans of music on radio, they often listen to it on their laptops or replace it with music downloaded onto their MP3s and iPods.
- Since they've been born, the United States has measured progress by a 2 percent jump in unemployment and a 16 cent rise in the price of a first class postage stamp.
- Benjamin Braddock, having given up both a career in plastics and a relationship with Mrs. Robinson, could be their grandfather.
- Their folks have never gazed with pride on a new set of bound encyclopedias on the bookshelf.
- The Green Bay Packers have always celebrated with the Lambeau Leap.
- Exposed bra straps have always been a fashion statement, not a wardrobe malfunction to be corrected quietly by well-meaning friends.
- A significant percentage of them will enter college already displaying some hearing loss.
- The Real World has always stopped being polite and started getting real on MTV.
- Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.
- White House security has never felt it necessary to wear rubber gloves when gay groups have visited.
- They have lived in an era of instant stardom and self-proclaimed celebrities, famous for being famous.
- Having made the acquaintance of Furby at an early age, they have expected their toy friends to do ever more unpredictable things.
- Outdated icons with images of floppy discs for “save,” a telephone for “phone,” and a snail mail envelope for “mail” have oddly decorated their tablets and smart phone screens.
- Star Wars has always been just a film, not a defense strategy.
- They have had to incessantly remind their parents not to refer to their CDs and DVDs as “tapes.”
- There have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones.
- Along with online viewbooks, parents have always been able to check the crime stats for the colleges their kids have selected.
- Newt Gingrich has always been a key figure in politics, trying to change the way America thinks about everything.
- They have come to political consciousness during a time of increasing doubts about America’s future.
- Billy Graham is as familiar to them as Otto Graham was to their parents.
- Probably the most tribal generation in history, they despise being separated from contact with their similar-aged friends.
- Stephen Breyer has always been an Associate Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Martin Lawrence has always been banned from hosting Saturday Night Live.
- Slavery has always been unconstitutional in Mississippi, and Southern Baptists have always been apologizing for supporting it in the first place.
- The Metropolitan Opera House in New York has always translated operas on seatback screens.
- A bit of the late Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, has always existed in space.
- Good music programmers are rock stars to the women of this generation, just as guitar players were for their mothers.
- Gene therapy has always been an available treatment.
- They were too young to enjoy the 1994 World Series, but then no one else got to enjoy it either.
- The folks have always been able to grab an Aleve when the kids started giving them a migraine.
- While the iconic TV series for their older siblings was the sci-fi show Lost, for them it’sBreaking Bad, a gritty crime story motivated by desperate economic circumstances.
- Simba has always had trouble waiting to be King.
- Before they purchase an assigned textbook, they will investigate whether it is available for rent or purchase as an e-book.
- They grew up, somehow, without the benefits of Romper Room.
- There has always been a World Trade Organization.
- L.L. Bean hunting shoes have always been known as just plain Bean Boots.
- They have always been able to see Starz on Direct TV.
- Ice skating competitions have always been jumping matches.
- There has always been a Santa Clause.
- NBC has never shown A Wonderful Life more than twice during the holidays.
- Mr. Burns has replaced J.R.Ewing as the most shot-at man on American television.
- They have always enjoyed school and summer camp memories with a digital yearbook.
- Herr Schindler has always had a List; Mr. Spielberg has always had an Oscar.
- Selena's fans have always been in mourning.
- They know many established film stars by their voices on computer-animated blockbusters.
- History has always had its own channel.
- Thousands have always been gathering for “million-man” demonstrations in Washington, D.C.
- Television and film dramas have always risked being pulled because the story line was too close to the headlines from which they were ”ripped.”
- TheTwilight Zone involves vampires, not Rod Serling.
- Robert Osborne has always been introducing Hollywood history on TCM.
- Little Caesar has always been proclaiming “Pizza Pizza.”
- They have no recollection of when Arianna Huffington was a conservative.
- Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has always been officially recognized with clinical guidelines.
- They watch television everywhere but on a television.
- Pulp Fiction’s meal of a "Royale with Cheese" and an “Amos and Andy milkshake” has little or no resonance with them.
- Point-and-shoot cameras are soooooo last millennium.
- Despite being preferred urban gathering places, two-thirds of the independent bookstores in the United States have closed for good during their lifetimes.
- Astronauts have always spent well over a year in a single space flight.
- Lou Gehrig's record for most consecutive baseball games played has never stood in their lifetimes.
- Genomes of living things have always been sequenced.
- The Sistine Chapel ceiling has always been brighter and cleaner.
A Question For You
What methods do you use to better understand younger (or older) people?