Thursday, September 22, 2011

What Data Would You Need to Answer This Question?

I stumbled on this article by Jason Calacanis - a personality I don't know anything about (other than a quick read through his Wikipedia page). The premise seems simple: kids today lack work ethic, and therefore don't deserve jobs. He then connects this to our current jobs crisis. He describes the last three generations of Americans as follows:

a) Baby boomers were willing to dress up professionally, shut up and work hard provided they got paid really, really well. And, oh yeah, they wanted to retire early and do something fulfilling after 60. They would stick with their jobs for 10 or 20 years, as opposed to their parents who did so for 30-50 years (in other words, baby boomers had three or four jobs in a life time).

b) We Gen-X members wanted to be compensated well, sure, but more importantly we want to be heard and respected. We wanted to be able to maintain our individuality with simple gestures like dressing how we wanted (we created casual Fridays and "Reality Bites"), and more importantly by defining how we accomplished the tasks we were given.

We wanted to work hard. But we didn't want to be micromanaged. It was really about empowerment, controlling our destiny and recognition. We would stay with a job for three or four years (in other words, 10 jobs in a lifetime).

c) Millennials are not all the same. In fact, 25% are indistinguishable from Gen-X: ...

The other 75% of millennials/Gen-Y are really interested in developing their friendships deeply and experiencing as much cool stuff as possible! They are willing to go to work to pay their bills, but they don't want their careers to get in the way of their friendships and experiences. They are looking to stay at a job as long as it's interesting to them and as long as they are getting a ton of praise. They are willing to work at a job for a year. Or less. They have no problem with a resume that has five jobs in two years. In fact, I've seen 25-year-olds with resumes with more jobs than I've had -- and I've been in the work force three times longer!

Ignoring the rest of the article for a second (which is predicated on the above being correct), I've got to ask - what data does this guy actually have to back up the above description? Seems to me like there are a number of traps that one can fall into whenever you make broad claims like the above:

Confusing a local population with a global one. Most of the people around me and that I come into contact with are Democrats. Heck, walking through my neighborhood, all I see are Obama bumber stickers. Just the other day, I saw my very first Ron Paul bumber sticker at Trader Joe's parking lot and smiled. Should I assume from this that most (say, 90%) people are Democrats? Of course not, that would be silly.

Isn't it possible that Calacanis is coming in contact with a select group of Millennials that exhibit this poor work ethic behavior? The young entrepeneurs I work with daily don't fit the description Calacanis is proffering. Maybe my local view is wrong, maybe his is. More likely, both of ours are wrong (that is, some are lazy, some are hard workers.).

Falling for the grass is greener on the other side fallacy. Take network television. Back when all there was were a handful of stations people railed against how homogenized everything was. TV was turning us all into clones. Now that in many ways TV has splintered, people lament how the days when all could bond of a single show are gone. Remember the good old days when each Mash episode was taken in by the whole country? Those were the days.

Calacanis berates Millennials for caring more about their relationships and experiences then they do about they jobs. How dare they? And yet, nearly every major religion warns you of the trap that you can fall into when all you pursue is money and fame. If Millennials have figured out that people are more important than money, and that time is our most precious resources, then they sure figured it out faster than I did.

Finally, as even Calacanis admits, you've got be careful you don't fall into the classic Kids today are so lazy trap, because every generation does it. Christoph Bauer captures this perfectly in his comment on the page:

"Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers." purportedly Sokrates.

"The world is passing through troublous times. The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as ... if they knew everything, and what passes for wisdom with us is foolishness with them. As for the girls, they are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress." purportedly preached by Peter the Hermit in A.D. 1274

"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint."
--- Hesiod, Eighth Century B.C.

I think it's the same here. While aging, we all grow a form of neglect, that keeps us from reminding us of ourselves when we were younger.

And now my point...

But here's the thing -- I'm not necessarily arguing with Calacanis' point, or suggesting it's wrong. What I'm curious about is this: what data would you actually need to be able to make statements about generations? Surely the are differences between the generations, but how would you measure it? Given the traps above, and more, how do you actually end up with a reasoned argument, and not just end up the old geezer shouting at kids to get off his lawn?


  1. Thanks for reproducing my comment, just one thing: it's Christoph, without the "er" ;-)

  2. Oh dear Christoph, sorry about that!

    It's fixed'er. ;-).