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The millennial generation: They are us, we are them

There's a lot of loose talk about the new generation being fundamentally different, but that's not the truth

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There's another difference: The millennials most people think about work for tech companies, which are in full bubble mode, caught in a distorted reality. I've seen this before, having been an "adult" manager at a startup in the last dot-com boom, with extremely bright college grads earning $100,000 (now it's closer to $200,000 if you can code) in their first jobs. Most ended up back home with their parents when that bubble burst, having known only easy success.

I suspect the Gen Yers working in other industries today aren't anywhere as jaded, so they adjust more readily to established business cultures and can function in a work enviroment that has actual offices and managers, divides work among individuals, and isn't an open book. After the shock ends, the ones in Silicon Valley will also learn to adapt when the current bubble deflates, as their older siblings did 12 years ago.

It's easy to succeed when everything is artificially inflated, but not so easy when times are tough, as they were when baby boomers like me entered the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s and when latter-stage Gen Xers did in the 2000s. Circumstance shapes behavior: Remember how the early-generation Gen Xers were labeled slackers because they came into the market in the heady times of the 1990s? That slur wasn't said of those who followed in the bad times that followed, and today Gen Xers are considered hard-working, smart, and well-balanced.

None of this means the millennials aren't bringing something new to the table; nearly every generation has done so. They're more equitable and accepting of diversity than even the hippie-derived early boomers, and they're (so far) less likely to hoard knowledge as a power strategy, prizing skill and insight instead even if in a nice way. They're great at jumping from one idea to another (one of the advantages of a young brain) and seeing the value of open communication. They could further democratize society.

Or they could end up quite different. Remember those hippie-derived baby boomers are the folks behind the "in it for yourself" tea party movement as much as they are the folks behind the greatest racial and gender equality and globalist culture this country has ever seen (and they can be all of these things simutaneously). They're both the "greed is good" crowd and the "volunteerism is good" crowd. They've lived a lot and changed as a result. Who they are changed over time, even if some of the fundamentally positive attributes remain. The millennials will change even as they change society.

Don't get hung up about having the right office setup or agreeing to be on SMS 24/7 just because the new kids still think they're living in a dorm. Do listen to them and give them the chance to succeed or fail at least partially on their own terms. You can embrace the newest generation without giving up your hard-earned insights and experience. In fact, the millennials need that reality check from you to make the most of what makes them different.

This article, "The millennial generation: They are us, we are them," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Galen Gruman's Smart User blog. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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