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Talking ‘bout my generation

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I am no more defined by my generation than by my gender, race, nationality or sexual orientation. And neither are you. Who we are as individuals might be influenced by where and how we grew up, but there’s more to us than a simple demographic. 

Don’t tell me that because I was born within a certain timeframe, I conform to a generational profile. Just because I’m a Boomer, doesn’t mean I’m an inflexible Luddite. I don’t spend my days in the kitchen, baking cookies for my grandchildren, wearing sensible shoes and my hair in a bun. (I baked cookies only once when my kids were growing up, and while they were cooling on the counter, the dog ate them.)

With Millennials now shaking up the workforce, pundits are already trying to predict what this generation will be like when they report for their first day of work. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy! Their careers have barely begun and we’re already pigeonholing them. I don’t want to be put in a box, and I’m not about to put my grandchildren into one either.

The Gen Z effect. No one likes to be stereotyped— not in life or in sales. So when I heard about The Gen Z Effect, a new book by Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen, I picked it up immediately. It postulates that there are generational chasms we’ve been taught to expect and accept, but that “Gen Z is not a birthright; it’s a conscious choice to adopt new behaviors.” So what is the Gen Z effect? According to the authors, it’s “what happens when the simplicity and affordability of technology unites generations more than it divides them.”

In other words, it’s what happens when we stop thinking everyone born within a 20-year period is the same—which is ludicrous. Individuals, not generational behavior, change the world. That’s always been true and it always will be.

What this means for business. The book is not an easy read, but it’s well worth the effort. Matthew May’s article for American Express’s OPEN Forum, “The Gen Z Effect: 6 Forces Shaping the Future of Small Business,” is a great introduction to its valuable lessons: “It’s time to rethink generational labels entirely. What traditionally defines generations is mostly a set of unexamined and lazy stereotypes of each ‘unique’ generation. We’re living in a post-generational world that’s being held back by these stereotypes. The idea of a generational gap holds us back from connecting and collaborating across ages, personally, professionally and as a society.”

What this means for sales. Generational diversity, like any type of diversity, can be a competitive advantage in sales. Rather than complaining about the younger generations (who, in turn, complain about us) maybe it’s time we stopped thinking about age and started listening to one another. If we could do that, we’d open up a valuable dialogue that blends experience with new thinking.

Seasoned salespeople can help their younger counterparts strike a balance between technology and human connections. On the other hand, younger reps can help the older pros embrace new technologies and keep up with changing times. Instead of letting our differences be a source of animosity, let’s turn them a mutually beneficial, competitive advantage.

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