Why "Generation Y" Isn't a Threat... to Anyone

Last Updated Sep 6, 2010 1:19 PM EDT

I was recently asked to write an article about something called "reverse mentoring." My editor had caught a rumor that some sales managers were calling on younger members of their staff to train the older members on how to use all the new technology effectively and who "felt uncomfortable with all the changes in the business world."

It sounded like a plausible idea, but when I did some research, I found out that the "reverse mentoring" was a complete myth. Every sales manager and expert source said pretty much the exact opposite. "Actually it's the seasoned staff that ends up teaching the youngsters how to use the technology effectively," one sales VP told me. "What's important is business experience, not whether you can text while steering a car with your knees."

Indeed. Once I thought it over, I realized that the article idea didn't make any sense. Today's computer programs are so simple and easy to use that any idiot can use them. It doesn't take vast amounts of skills to become proficient at iPhone, Twitter and Facebook. On the contrary, it takes about 15 minutes of sustained mental activity, at most. Assembly language it ain't.

By contrast, it takes years of work to build up the business acumen to understand what motivates people, how business work, how industries function, and how to behave while working on a complex sales opportunity. (Or even a simple one.) That experience is what matters, regardless of whether a message is being communicated in person or on a smartphone.

The truth is that "Generation Y" has virtually nothing unique to offer the business world, other than the energy and enthusiasm of youth. Now, that's a good thing, especially since so many of the older generations (X and Boomer) have pretty much trashed their bodies into sluggishness obesity. But while youthful energy is great, it's not something that demand any "reverse mentoring".

To my mind, these pundits who bloviate that "Generation Y" is some special are actually doing them a disservice. They're like the parents who keep telling their kids that they're wonderful even when they're throwing tantrums.

What "Generation Y" needs most is 1) patience (because it takes time to learn the ropes) and 2) humility (because, frankly, they don't know as much as their elders) and 3) a willingness to pay their dues.

That's the way of the world. It's always been like that, and always will be like that.