I came to the topic of generational differences through a career remix of my own. After graduate school, I landed a job at a start-up website called WorkingWoman.com in New York City, and eighteen months later the company went bankrupt during the dot-com bust. I took the opportunity in 2002 to launch my own business as a writer and college campus speaker specializing in advising students and recent graduates on entry-level career success.
While generational experts Neil Howe and the late William Strauss coined the term "Millennial" in their book Generations: The History of America's Future, 1584 to 2069 back in 1991, there were minimal Google searches on that term until around 2004. It was about that time that I began writing my first book, Getting from College to Career: 90 Things to Do Before You Join the Real World, which was published in 2007. In retrospect, I can hardly believe it, but the word "Millennial" does not appear a single time in my proposal for the book.
The year 2007 also marked my first request from a corporation to speak to them about college students and young professionals. It was a professional services firm, and they asked me to share my advice on, in their words, "what Millennials want." I didn't know it at the time, but this was the beginning of my career as one of the first "Millennial experts."
As a Gen Xer myself, I sensed quite a few differences in recent grads' work expectations compared to my own a decade earlier. And I knew my preferences had seemed surprising to my early bosses, who were Baby Boomers and Traditionalists. And so, in order to explain Millennials to my new clients, I knew I had to understand earlier generations better, too. So I began exploring: What was work like for my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents? What had changed the most since those times and, just as important, what had stayed the same?
I have since spent the past decade researching, writing, and speaking about Millennials and generational differences to more than two hundred corporations, law firms, universities, business schools, high schools, professional associations, hospitals, nonprofits, summer camps, franchises, small businesses, veterans' organizations, and more. The generational mix of my audiences over the years has included virtually every age, from 8-year-old Girl Scouts to 90-year-old-plus World War II veterans.
I am not a social scientist or economist, and I don't profess to have all the answers. But I have been passionate about researching all things generational for my clients, my audience members, and myself as a business owner. The more I learn and teach, the more I want to know. Like you, I have personally experienced the incredible power of today's youngest generations to usher in a new, more positive, and adaptable model of work for all of us in the twenty- first century. And I have also been awed by the incredible wisdom, stamina, and reinvention of the older generations.
We'll begin with an overview of each generation in today's workforce and some key themes to embrace—what I call "rules for remixers." Then, chapter by chapter, we'll explore the different realms in which remixing can take place.
My goal in writing this book is to serve as a translator and tour guide—to inform you, to challenge you, to surprise you, and to help you and your organization navigate through today's multigenerational mix.
How do you, whatever your generation, job title, or organization size or industry, get things done—both big, long-term goals and small, daily tasks—when there are so many different people using so many different tools to do things in so many different ways?
The answer is to make yourself and your organization adaptable to change while remaining true to yourself and to the evergreen fundamentals of good business and leadership.
Yes, in the coming pages I will offer many suggestions specific to managing Millennials, since they are the largest cohort in the workplace today and will be for several decades to come. But rest assured this is not about doing a 180-degree flip and reinventing everything you do to appeal to what one particular generation wants.
My approach to organizational change is to embrace the fundamental fact that none of us, of any generation, will survive if we remain static and rigid. Members of every generation must build our adaptability muscles in order to achieve our personal and professional goals. We are incredibly fortunate to live in an era with more opportunities, choices, and diversity than ever before. This is often scary and confusing, but isn't it also exciting?
Welcome to the remix.