It's time to reinvent management. You can help.

Do We Get Gen "Why"?

by Vineet Nayar on September 23, 2010


vineet-nayar's picture

Do We Get Gen "Why"?

I was delighted to catch up recently with one of my teachers, and found her as passionate about educating children today as she was three decades ago, when I was in school. We had a great conversation, but I must admit to a sense of disquiet as I heard her opinions about the next generation.

Gen Y's desire to learn is lower than that of preceding generations; it doesn't have big dreams or huge aspirations; and the pursuit of instant gratification has compromised its values, she felt. Blaming parents who encourage children to take shortcuts, my teacher argued that this would result in low self-motivation, a lack of integrity, and societal distrust over the next two decades.

This conversation got me thinking. Does Gen Y run the risk, like every other generation, of being undervalued? Does it face the same problems that plagued the Baby Boomers for decades? I tweeted my teacher's opinions about Gen Y and started asking people these questions.

I have a nagging doubt that young people are misunderstood simply because they're very different from my generation. Gen Y's members listen to iPods, text their friends, and chat online even as they chase deadlines. Updating their Facebook statuses is as important to them as talking to family. But is that enough to conclude that Gen Y is uninspired or low on ambition?

Are we not missing the fact that Gen Y questions more than follows? It has grown up questioning its parents and is questioning employers now. Are we mistaking self-confidence for lack of intensity? I too worry about the fallout from taking short cuts, but that's the fault of parents—not children.

In Gen Y, we have a spunky group that can multi-task its way around linear definitions of success; a resilient bunch that won't allow archaic education systems to dampen its creativity and curiosity; a Google generation that understands the difference between information and education. Why aren't we thrilled about that?

If my conversations weren't enough cause for concern, I later read a New York Times report about U.S. schools experimenting with recess coaches, who take the few minutes of unstructured time between classes to foster social skills. That really worries me.

Like Generation "Why," I would question rather than answer. So let me ask you: Do we value enough the uniqueness of Gen Y, which has broken through the divide between online and offline societies? Why does their being so different threaten us? My hopes are still pinned on Gen Y, but tell me what you think.

This column originally ran on

You need to register in order to submit a comment.

mireille-jansma's picture
Dear Vineet Nayar,

Perhaps this study is of interest to you?

Popular Age Stereotypes Depress Work Productivity (AchieveGlobal, 1 March 2011)

Summary (from the site): "The higher the organizational role, the greater the tendency to stereotype. As recent graduates pour into a workplace brimming with older employees, cross-generational dynamics are rife with age stereotypes. But are these stereotypes scientifically valid? A new study by the international training and consulting firm AchieveGlobal found they are not.

The study, Age-Based Stereotypes: Silent Killer of Collaboration and Productivity,  looked closely at four generations:
* Traditionalists (born 1925-1945)
* Baby-Boomers (1946-1964)
* Generation X (1965-1980)
* Generation Y (1981-1999).

AchieveGlobal found little solid science supporting the well-known age stereotypes. Instead, these stereotypes appear to be rooted in generalization from too few examples, biased research methods and widespread prejudice toward older and younger employees.

“Pervasive age stereotypes program employees to see their colleagues as caricatures,” said Craig Perrin, AchieveGlobal’s director of product development. “We recommend treating people as individuals, focusing on needs we all share. Regardless of their age, all employees seek respect, competence, connection and some degree of autonomy."

AchieveGlobal’s study found that every age group, management level and global region endorses significant age stereotypes. Particularly alarming was this trend: the higher the organizational role, the more likely that someone will endorse the popular stereotypes."

Best regards,


amekkattukulam's picture
The only reality is to embrace the future generations as they evolve.  The real 21st century challenge  is to channelize this young new generation  to be patient , innovate to create a "peaceful , prosperous" world . Instant gratification is taking its toll on the world as we have seen in the last couple of years. 
mireille-jansma's picture
I always wonder whom we mean when we talk about GenY. There are many young people on this planet who don't have access to computers and internet and such. Also it is quite strange to endow all people from a certain age with certain character traits or with a certain profile. Some would call this age stereotyping... Even astrology with its 12 signs is more nuanced than this age- or generation divide that has been promoted not by scientists, but by... marketeers!
Here is some reading stuff on the topic:
karla-s-mckee's picture

Anyone who does things differently will disturb some people. This is not a generation issue, but a human issue that is the bane of any organization when trying to implement change. Some people embrace it; others find their comfortable ways of doing things being threatened.

The point is not to value the unique ways of a generation, but to value the unique ways of individuals. My Gen Y colleagues absolutely bristle at broad-stroke descriptions (i.e., stereotyping) of their generation. They are great collaborators, but also take pride in their own contributions. Irrespective of race, gender, age, etc., new perspectives and new ways of doing things are what fuel innovation and adaptation. That is what managers should value.

abhishek-bharadwaj's picture
I read this article two times to understand the gravity of this situation. Gen Y have habit of asking questions before moving towards any solution as they want to understand the situation and if possible, try to give out of box solution to the problem.

Some people like this habit used to appreciate but the people who do not like this this, used to say, GEN Y USED TO ASK QUESTIONS. We need to accept one fact, this type of situation will come when there is transition from Gen A to Gen B.

Gen Y is tech savy, thats the reason they have broaden horizons and high targets. It is difficult to say that they are less focussed in study and work. Gen Y is the gen which used to question the current working style and models. Gen Y is the one who wants to bring changes and appreciates the changes.

 It is wrong to say that Gen Y desire to learn is lower but I wiuld like to say that it is higher. Gen Y wants to experiment things even they are new. They are ready to take risks for the benfit of the large. Yes, i do agree sometimes, there is clash in values and way to success. Sometimes people will go by values and sometimes by short cuts but one cause of moving towards shortcuts is the pressure which GenY used to have it from peers and parents.