Friday, July 6, 2012

SHRM Part 2 - Learning from Malcolm Gladwell

Another exciting keynote speaker at the SHRM conference was best-selling author and thinker - Malcolm Gladwell.  He is just so clever, insightful and forward-thinking.  He is able to extract principles from situations so that we all benefit from seeing things in a different light.

He made the very clear point that the Millenials are different.  HR needs to appreciate this and know how to build on their strengths - and help them deal with their weaknesses.

He pointed out that the civil rights movement in the USA has many similarities with the Occupy movement and the way in which these movements operate gives us a clear indication as to the differences between the baby boomers and the millenials.

The civil rights movement had a strong hierarchy and leadership.  It was also a highly disciplined organisation that had a guiding ideology.  This contrasts with the Occupy movements of the past year where there was no clear leader, where the ideology was no clear and where the organisation lacked discipline.  These 2 movements are very different in these ways.
The Occupy movement, as is favoured by this current generation, was highly social and very networked.  "Hierarchies are not Millenials' default notion, " says Gladwell.  "They have gone as far from the hierarchy as imaginable."
  • Millenials prefer not to learn from expert sources - they learn from their peers on Wikipedia.  The days of the large encycolpedias are over.
  • Millenials learn chess - they don't take lessons.  They go on-line and find players from all over the world with whom they can play
  • They have a "profoundly different attitide towards authority and towards expertise."
When comparing the hierarchy and the network, one form is not necessarily better than the other.  They are simply different and when the hierarchy or the network is best, is based on the situation.

For example:
Many students are dropping out of engineering, sciene and maths.  The courses are difficult and to master them you need to learn from expert instructors and practice discipline by learning on your own.  This however is not suited to the paradigm that the Millenials have and it is not the paradigm that they are bringing in to the workplace!

At other times the social network plays an important role.  Think about the role that the social network played in organising the Arab Spring.  However, this political revolution led to political uncertainty because there was no time to build the kinds of systems and structures that were needed.

"The current generation has stumbled on an incredibly powerful and important model for changing the world and dealing with the workplace - All of us can learn from this generation when it comes to the network.  But networks can start revolutions, they cannot finish them!  It is up to us to remind the Millenials about the importance of the hierarchy."

 That certainly gives us some food for thought when it comes to dealing with the different generations in the workplace.

No comments: