We can’t fix culture, but we can rethink our assumptions
In April 2016, the cover of the Harvard Business Review read: “You Can’t Fix Culture”, which made me wonder what was wrong with culture in the first place. Like energy, culture can’t be created or destroyed. How it differs, though, is that it can be aligned and tweaked to ensure that the environment is aligned with the people, and that everyone is bought into the direction of the company. The disconnect is that the tenure in the workplace is shortening, anxiety in the workplace is rising, and meaningful communication is decreasing. This is due to a dependency on technology and gross generalizations of people based on the year they were born, or generation they are a part of. Consider the idea that generations are a false construct. Classifying people based on qualities they may not have (ie. narcissism, lack of loyalty and trust, etc.) is prohibitive in a communication gap and lack of cultural alignment. Removing these stereotypes and respecting each individual for the positive qualities they possess is the first step in making positive change.
Moore’s law states that over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors in a dense integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. Similar to this doubling is a theory about the doubling of information we have access too, and is called Buckminister Fuller’s “Knowledge Doubling Curve”. Fuller’s theory states that before 1900, the amount of information humans had access to doubled every hundred years. After 1900 though, the information we had access to doubled at a halved rate (ie. from 1900 to 1950, then 1950 to 1975, then 1975 to 1988, and so on), exponentially increasing the amount of information we had access to*. Though not accurate to the exact date, and not a perfect science, this theory suggests that the amount of information we have access to doubles approximately every year, and is quickly increasing. According to IBM, the amount of information we have access to, due to the Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence, will eventually double every 12 hours.
When we talk about people in the workplace today, we often categorize them based on the generation they are a part of, as we hope that by grouping people this way we will better understand them. The result of this classification leads to gross generalizations of people, and a complete misunderstanding of the values and experiences they can bring to a team or workplace. Often we hear that Millennials, for example, are a narcissistic, job-hopping generation that live in their parents’ basements and watch Netflix all day. This is concerning, as nearly 50% of the global workforce will be this generation by 2020.
Considering however, the rate of change in our access to information and our rapidly evolving world, and the idea of a fixed ~15 year generation simply can’t hold true. It is no longer possible to generalize over 20% of the population to suggest they have certain characteristics, nor was is ever possible. We can’t say that millions of people share a quality because of the year they were born, and we can’t suggest that they all value the same things. The truth is, a Baby Boomer may have the technical capacity of a Millennial, and any person of any generation can be viewed as narcissistic.
The Harvard Business Review tells us that we can’t fix culture, and I would have to agree. The first step in aligning culture is to declassify generations, and re-classify people based on the things they value and experiences they desire. If we close the communications gap in the workplace, we can close the age gap as well. If we can depend less on technology and build meaningful relationships and friendships both inside and outside of work, there is no way we can’t create a better place to work.
The idea of a generation is simply a false construct. Human Resources of the future won’t just be focused on the skills and requirements to do the job; it will be about alignment of culture and the pursuit of fit in the workplace. As communication increases, so does a sense of community. As community increases, so does belonging. No, we can’t fix culture, but we can fix the way we classify people. One we value each person for who they are and remove the assumption that they have the same qualities as the rest of a generation we have falsely constructed, we can focus on alignment, community, and belonging.
*This doesn’t suggest we are twice as smart or obtain twice as much information; we simply have access to twice as much data assuming no external restrictions.
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Eric Termuende is the youngest thought leader at the Milken Institute Global Conference. He is Co-Founder of Gen Y Inc., and awarded Top 100 Global Social Innovator Under 35 by American Express and Ashoka. Eric also is a TEDx speaker, G20 YEA delegate, WEF Global Shaper and international speaker with the National Speakers Bureau.