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Why butt kicking has never worked

Submitted by on Wednesday, 22 June 2011 No Comment

I’ve always been convinced I’m living in the wrong era, but I used to think I entered the world too late.

I should have been born in the 40s so I could have felt the rush of the 60s. The protests. The marches. The feeling that the world was on the edge of cataclysmic change and you could help shape it.

By the time I was in college we were studying that as history. Climbing the corporate ladder was the fashion of the day, and it was reflected in the pinstriped suits and yellow power ties that future politicians on both sides of the aisle donned. I had one friend with spiky hair and a badge that read “another straight for gay rights” and another pal who boycotted Coors beer due to its labor practices. Other than a few “Free Mandela!” signs, nothing much else was going on.

Now, though, I’m positive that I was born too early. People the ages of the guys’ cousins already are shaping the workplace, and I can’t wait to see what they do with the rest of the world.

“Teen workers can be a boon to small businesses, but some owners and managers make the mistake of treating them like younger versions of adult workers,” the Los Angeles Times wrote this week.

Hmm … what makes the Times so sure that adult workers universally are thrilled with being “treated like adults.” Personally, I’d rather be treated like a teen.

The changes teens are “forcing” managers to adopt – wanting to know the reasoning behind an edict, challenging old practices that no longer make sense- are things many people have wanted since I started working a few million years ago. It’s just that we didn’t say a lot about it. And if we did say something, we said it quietly and gave up quickly. Mostly we just rolled our eyes. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result, there were crazy times indeed on the corporate ladder.

Still, it’s hard for some people to keep their mouths shut. In recent years, I’ve introduced myself to new managers with a semi-apology. “I ask ‘why’ – a lot. I suggest alternatives – a lot. But when push comes to shove, I know who’s boss.” It keeps me out of trouble. Sometimes.

Now that Digital Natives are starting to invade the workplace,¬†they won’t particularly care about “trouble.” They’re not going to stand for anything that smells of top down or looks like an inner sanctum. Bawl them out? It won’t work. Actually, it never has. Paternalistic scoldings merely drove ideas underground.

I once worked for a guy whose response to any question was “if you don’t like it, you can leave.”
Digital natives will do just that, and quickly. They don’t particularly care if they work for you. They’re perfectly willing to start their own thing if they’re not happy in your workplace. Some managers interpret that as petulance or pouting, but it’s not. It’s a seemingly inborn belief that there are better ways to do things, a conviction that’s marinated during a lifetime in a world where change has been the only constant.

Not that the new ways are always foolproof. About five years ago – this was before Spokeo aggregated all of us and back when everyone still had land lines – an intern told me she couldn’t reach a key source for a story because she couldn’t find his number. “I Googled, and it wasn’t there.”

“Did you try the phone book?” I asked, and I didn’t even sound too sarcastic.

“Um, no.” She leafed through the pages and found the number.

Today, she’d probably be much more likely to find the number through Google. She already knew how to use the tools. She was just a bit ahead of the times.

It’s what Digital Natives do best: Explore new tools and new ways. In doing so, they’re going to reshape the world.

God how I envy them.
Copyright 2011 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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