Millennials aren't the villains or drivers in consumerization

Claims of a fundamental difference in Gen Y is often cited as consumerization's shaping force -- don't buy into that

It's a claim repeated casually in consultant white papers, news stories, and opinion columns: The consumerization-of-IT phenomenon is driven by Gen Y, now entering the workforce in large numbers. More important, the business and tech strategy around the technology you use and allow will be shaped by this new demographic wave.

Baloney -- the millennials certainly bring their own habits and expectations to the workplace and the greater technology realm, but if you plan for the myths about this group, you'll end up with a nonsensical technology portfolio and strategy.

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The "social rules all" myth
The biggest myth involves social networking. According to this belief, millennials don't email or telephone, so you'll need a social business strategy if your company hopes to communicate with itself and others. This is partly true: You should have a strategy for using social tools in business, but email and the phone can stay. Social tools are great for ad hoc interactions, especially asynchronous tasks, where posts can build over time and you can sort out the relevant bits from the stream. It's less efficient than a phone call or face-to-face meeting to sort out an issue among several people, and it has none of the history and management of email -- try finding that tweet from two weeks ago or the specs mentioned in it.

What is true is that millennials are very comfortable in short-burst, asynchronous information streams. But so were the younger Baby Boomers like me who in our early 20s were on Compuserve, The Well, and The Source messaging in chat rooms that frankly are not that different from a Facebook wall or a Twitter stream. At work, we adapted to the communication vehicles of the time (the phone and typewritten letters; email hadn't really started) even if we used those newfangled technologies for pleasure and for work cliques. We did adopt email earlier than our older colleagues, just as millennials are adopting social tools earlier than us aging Boomers.

Likewise, millennials will use email because it's still fundamental to business communications and corporate memory. Maybe one day social tools will do that, in which case it may well replaced the old system. Until then, millennials will adapt to the standards that work today as older workers pick up social tools where they bring value.

In fact, according to companies I've heard from, older employees are as eager to take advantage of internal social tools as the millennials, once it moves beyond the hangout or all-nighter bull session that young people seem to prefer. All young people, of any generation, love to talk to each other. All that changes is the medium available to facilitate it. It's no accident that social tech has struggled to gain a meaningful foothold and yield greater productivity gains in business despite its phenomenal adoption for personal socializing.

Another reason not to get hung up on the alleged social imperative: New research shows that millennials are less collaborative and more selfish than previous generations, having been raised as their parents' focal point. Their social activism is apparently a function of being forced to get through school requirements, not an innate need to contribute to the greater social good.

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