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Friday, August 20, 2010

YOUNGER SENIORS

It strikes me there is a generational changing of the guard underfoot which I am only now beginning to realize. I certainly am not against youth having its day, but some strange things seem to be happening. For example, Newsweek magazine created a bit of a hubbub recently when it allowed a 23 year old reporter to cover a major story on the New Black Panther Party. Regardless of which side you take on this particular issue (left or right), you can't help but wonder why Newsweek, who is struggling at the newsstand, would assign a junior reporter to cover this controversial topic. Perhaps a more seasoned reporter would have handled it differently.

There was a time when seniority meant something in this country, such as having experienced the trials and tribulations of a particular job. Becoming a senior anything usually meant you had a minimum of 10+ years of experience and a proven track record. However, I don't think that's the case anymore. Now people are relying on academic knowledge as opposed to practical experience. I'm not sure why, but I see a lot of this in the computer industry. In my field, the gurus of yesteryear started out in their 40's and had plenty of real-world experience under their belts. Today it seems youthful spin and showmanship takes precedence over experience. Self-proclaimed "senior" experts now start in their mid to late 20's.

I believe part of the reason for this disparity is because there is a major disconnect between the Baby Boomers (of which I am a member) and Generations X/Y/Z. This is probably due to the fact we failed to mentor our successors properly as our predecessors had mentored us. For quite some time, mentoring was considered a waste of time and money and, consequently, such programs were abandoned during the 1980's and 1990's. Only now is mentoring programs beginning to make a comeback in the workplace. Such programs are vital to assist young people find their way in their chosen profession.

Another reason for the rise of "younger seniors" (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) is perhaps simple economics. In these troubling times, many companies, not just those in the computer field, are cutting back and opting for younger workers who are less expensive. What they lack in experience, they make up for in youthful enthusiasm and energy. Regardless, they are still bound to commit the same costly mistakes their elders did, except without the benefit of a veteran whispering guidance in their ear.

In theory, each generation is to pass the torch on to the next who will then add their enhancements and make the light brighter. It is certainly not the intention for each generation to reinvent the wheel. We would make little progress at that rate. The generation gap though is indicative there is no sense of history, particularly in our industries, thereby disrupting continuity. Allow me to illustrate, in computer programming there aren't too many people who remember what the first and second generation languages (1GL, 2GL) were, or why it was necessary to create the third generation language (3GL) and how it was devised. Nor are there people who remember the various data base models, such as hierarchical and CODASYL standard network. Without an understanding of the past, I'm afraid we're doomed to repeat it, particularly in business.

If the 20-somethings end up leading, regardless of their academic knowledge, not only is it likely they will reinvent the wheel at considerable expense, but they will persuade others to follow them. I refer to this as "the blind leading the blind" phenomenon. As for me, if I am going to be sent on a dangerous mission, I want the guide to have a little gray hair to assure me he has already been down this path and knows where he is going.

Keep the Faith!

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Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at timb001@phmainstreet.com

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