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A Generation X Perspective: Collaboration My Way?


I was recently digging through a closet at home and happened upon some boxes with old tech gadgets from years past.  As a Gen Xer who grew up with a Commodore 64 and whose first personal workplace productivity tool was a US Robotics Palm Pilot in 1997, it made me come to two realizations.  First, technology has really changed – and for the better.  And second, I need to start parting with things that no longer work in the current state of the working world.

My generation is described as highly individualistic.  We’re supposed to be technologically adept, flexible and value work/life balance.  And I can assure you I am all of those things.  But when I think about my career and how my generation’s cultural values have translated into the technological culture of the places I’ve worked in years past, it hasn’t always been rosy.  I used to be tethered to a cubicle with a desktop computer and telephone. Things got slightly better with laptops, but there were no Apple products or personal devices allowed on the network.  One supported choice for a smartphone?  Not so smart, really.  But as new generations are entering the workforce after me, I’m seeing a dramatic shift occurring in thinking and approach.

I’m noticing that both organizations and technology providers alike are recognizing the need for change and designing for a new way of working – giving employees access to technology like never before. Whereas I used to have difficulty getting collaboration tools to do the job, now there is a plethora of them at my disposal.  But be careful what you wish for.

Technology is not inherently good or productive, but it can be if you design with the right requirements in mind – ones that put users needs and their values at the forefront.  And while I only represent Generation X, there are some common themes we may all agree upon as we look to both providers of technology solutions and the organizations that adopt them.

  • Make sense:  Technology has to be business relevant.  If I’m working in the film production industry, show me business applications that can help me solve for what I do – not for what not my next-door neighbor does.  Each job I’ve held has had different business requirements.  Recognize and design for that.  One size does not fit all.
  • Evolve, but devolve:  Keep technology advancing and break new ground so I can leverage it to push the bounds of creativity and innovation.  At the same time, feel free to devolve a bit in how complex you’re making products.  People don’t have the time, or patience, to figure out new technology.  If it’s not simple to use, they won’t use it.  The generations that came before me need technology to be simpler.  The ones that came after me expect it to.
  • Be flexible:  I want the choice of what technology I use, how I use it, when I use it and how I get it.  Sure, sounds demanding, but remember, my generation is highly individualistic.  And I think it’s safe to assume that most people now want to work their way.  They can do it with consumer technology in their personal lives and now they expect it at work.
  • Democratize:  One day, I’ll be writing my own checks for this stuff.  Make sure you don’t forget me when I’m starting my own business or running a department in smaller mid-size business.  Think about the cloud and pay as you go models so I can take part and let my teams do the same.
  • Make me look good:  When we accomplish the above, we design smarter solutions that can solve my specific business problems.  We keep things simple so everyone uses it and it ends up being a smart investment.  When we level the playing field for technology, we all win.  Better outcomes all around.

So, I ask all the Baby Boomer, Gen Y, Millennial and Digital Generation folks out there.  Do these requirements apply to your generation as well?

Cisco Collaboration will be announcing new innovations October 23, 2013 from 8:30-9:30 a.m. ET.  Register now to watch the live streaming!

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