What Generation Y Brings to the Party

Last Updated Oct 30, 2007 9:42 AM EDT

I'm a member of the Boomer Generation. You remember us: we were going to change the world. Instead, some think we were co-opted by it. With the arrival of Generation Y into the work force, the topic of generational differences in leadership styles is once again on tap.

And guess what? Ys might actually change the world, or at least the business world. Just ask business author Tammy Erickson, who recently wrote about this in a post on Harvard Business Online.

"Ys 'woke up' in a world that was fully wired," Erickson writes. "They absorbed intuitively things that others have learned intellectually. They bring a perspective to today's world of work that is inevitably different."

Different's good, right? Well, if you know how to channel those differences. For starters, they don't think like us boomers. Y's operate asynchronously; they are masters of the time-shift (if you don't know what a time shift is, time to hire some younger employees). They problem solve through collaboration, coordinate rather than plan, and use peer networks to ID the best, most trusted sources.

This all makes sense, given how they were raised. Just as software mash-ups bring together separate applications to form something entirely new, Ys have the cognitive ability to pull disparate ideas in a way not seen in the last 50 years, Erickson believes. "They will bring innovation to the business world, just by sharing their ideas on how things might work."

Of course, there can be too much of a good thing. While you want to have these new perspectives in your organization, Erickson counsels that creative tension between different viewpoints is key too. "Remember, it's in the combination of two different points of view that innovation occurs."

Luckily, Ys, or Millenials, as many call them, were raised playing the ultimate team sport â€" soccer -- and they are practically programmed to work cooperatively. In Professor Jim Heskett's online conversation with his HBS Working Knowledge readers on the topic "How Will Millennials Manage?" Heskett is optimistic:

"The next generation of managers, comprising many "millennials," will be more adept at managing in a changing, global, and networked environment. They will do it with a greater emphasis on teamwork, facility for the use of technology, and sensitivity to needs for work/life balance."

Give us your thoughts on what's different about millennials. And for all the Y-gens out there, what do you think you bring to the party?

  • Sean Silverthorne

    Sean Silverthorne is the editor of HBS Working Knowledge, which provides a first look at the research and ideas of Harvard Business School faculty. Working Knowledge, which won a Webby award in 2007, currently records 4 million unique visitors a year. He has been with HBS since 2001.

    Silverthorne has 28 years experience in print and online journalism. Before arriving at HBS, he was a senior editor at CNET and executive editor of ZDNET News. While at At Ziff-Davis, Silverthorne also worked on the daily technology TV show The Site, and was a senior editor at PC Week Inside, which chronicled the business of the technology industry. He has held several reporting and editing roles on a variety of newspapers, and was Investor Business Daily's first journalist based in Silicon Valley.