When Does “X” Mark the Spot?

Chaim ShapiroChaim Shapiro
Website: http://chaimshapiro.com/
Twitter: @chaimshapiro
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/chaimshapiro

It is simply untrue, I remember thinking in my graduate school class—more years ago than I care to admit (Jim Leyritz hit a HUGE Home Run for the Yankees in the World Series that year).  All that talk about Generation X and all those things that allegedly described me.

Yes. I did like Speed Racer, but I was convinced that was because Speed’s little brother Spritle and their pet chimp wore, what I thought were yarmulkes. However, just about everything else that was presented as fact about Gen X, simply did not resemble me in any way.

I was at a NACE FACE2FACE in New York a couple of years ago and we were discussing the concept of “Millennials” when a Millennial at my table turned to me and said that he felt like he had just been stereotyped. I told him to mention that to the larger group, but he declined. (So much for the need to be heard!)

Why has the very basic idea of viewing people as individuals, based on his/her own merits and demerits become so hard to understand? People often respond that “theory” is not meant to apply to individuals, and the purpose of generational theory is to provide context to a large group of people.

Of course marketing companies apply “theory” all of the time. (If you want an example Google “Thanksgivikkua.”)  Creating recruitment campaigns and designing programs based on a model does make sense in theory, although it is important to note that placing people into arbitrary groups has not worked out very well over the course of human history.

The real danger is applying generalities to any particular individual.  As much as we like to say we know that theory doesn’t apply to individuals, it becomes hard to see people for who they are whenever we have convenient labels.  It is just too easy to miss the person for the preconceived notion.

We also have to wonder, in a practical sense, how we view that one person who doesn’t fit into our Millennial-based programming? I fear that we may see something wrong with him/her even though their skill set is exactly what we would have wanted if we had applied a different generational label.

To paraphrase Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, I would like a society where people are NOT judged by the era of their birth (I was born in the early 1970’s—just LOOK at the clothes I grew up wearing), but by the content of their character.

I know this perspective is not particularly popular, but I am a risk taker, after all, I DID send my penny to Columbia House for 11 cassette tapes…

2 thoughts on “When Does “X” Mark the Spot?

  1. Chaim, I’m from a generation that felt stereotyped by our elders (is there one that hasn’t?) and I know for a fact that there were many exceptions to the widely held beliefs. I agree completely that we need to look at individuals as individuals.

    However, if you’re designing a new car, you probably don’t want to design it for an 8 foot tall driver. Sure, there are 8 foot tall people out there, but common sense will tell you that the large majority of Americans fall within a height range well below that.

    The problem here is that we don’t want to unfairly use too broad a brush when describing a generation, but the fact is that the studies make it pretty clear that the brush is indeed broad. Study after study shows that managers aren’t finding recent graduates with the skills that they need: strong written and verbal communication skills, strong work ethic, taking personal responsibility for their actions and decisions, and on and on and on.

    It’s not a question of who is to blame (that’s a topic for a whole different conversation) but how we deal with it. Do we just give up and accept that this generation of college graduates — on the whole — are going to lack these skills and we’ll just have to leave them to sink or swim? Is it acceptable that the average job tenure for a recent grad is down to just 2 years, when it used to be 5, which means that we’re wasting an extra $6,000 per year on replacement cost overhead for every entry level worker in this country?

    I’d argue that it hurts to be stereotyped, but sometimes the truth hurts. I believe that there is too much smoke for there not to be real fire behind it. And perpetuating the “everyone is a winner” myth will not help turn these young people into the productive workers that we need.

  2. Pingback: Advising Non-Traditionals: Do Age and Life Stage Matter? | The NACE Blog

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