It's Not All Digital: What Different Generations Can Learn From Each Other

Insights for Agency Boomers, GenXers and Millennials

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The agency environment has earned its reputation: late nights and big ideas, liberally mixed with beer and beanbags, pizza and ping pong. It's a "work hard, play hard" kind of industry. Or is it? As multiple generations coexist and commingle at the office, the workplace is evolving to meet everyone's needs.

As the founder of an 85-person firm who happens to be a boomer, I've watched talent develop and prosper professionally, and my goal has always been to create an environment where great work can happen. In doing that, I've seen a fascinating convergence of generations at work. No matter what your age, work involves connecting with and learning from each other. Here are a few things I've picked up along the way.

Advice for boomers and gen-Xers:

1. Work-life balance is, in fact, important. Working 14-hour days and constantly being connected means we're not working smarter, just longer. Which means guaranteed burnout. Self-induced pressure wreaks havoc on our health and, science has proved, impedes our productivity. So why not take a cue from your younger friends? Don't live to work. Work to live.

2. Open thinking fosters new and better ideas. We've all been in a room where a younger colleague throws out what feels like a left-field idea, usually involving technology. But don't scoff. These individuals have witnessed the power of digital for most (or all) of their lives, so they think more openly, without restriction, and aren't deterred by potential obstacles.

3. A do-something-for-good attitude makes a real difference in the world. Many generations have had a strong sense of community. But recent generations have brought a certain pragmatic idealism to social change: a deep desire to make the world a better place. Giving back not only feeds the soul -- it also creates meaningful and spirited collaboration between communities, businesses and people. This generation believes in something bigger.

4. Age really is just a number. For years, the workforce basically spanned two generations, which created an inherent and tiered authority structure among colleagues. The age spread is greater now, and with new generations entering the workforce, you can't discount their abilities based on their youth. If they're talented and productive, they deserve recognition, regardless of the number of years under their belt.

5. Simply say 'thank you.' Life and work can become so hectic that we forget to say thank you for the small things -- and sometimes even the big things. Today there's a greater need to feel valued and appreciated, and this generation gets that. Remember: There are people behind the projects. Take a moment and show your appreciation.

6. Be curious. An acute curiosity may well be a byproduct of growing up digital. With more information out there than ever, we have the opportunity to quickly become an expert on almost anything. So if someone younger expresses interest in being involved or wants to know more about the bigger picture, let them in. If they don't know how to do it, they'll Google it and figure it out.

Advice for millennials:

1. You have to start somewhere to get anywhere. You may feel like you have more to offer than what you're given responsibility for. That's okay -- it doesn't mean you won't have the chance to be successful and grow your career. Wisdom comes with a multitude of life experiences, over time. This business requires you to tap into deep human insights. Sometimes you just have to be a human for a while to gain those insights.

2. Everything is not digital. Yes, virtual-meeting and file-sharing technology can be indispensable. But the fact is, there's no substitute for huddling around some work together, sharing it physically, in real time. So print it out! You can write and draw on things, move them around, combine them, add to them, and engage in a type of visual and physical brainstorming that is damn near impossible in a digital environment.

3. The world doesn't happen only in sound bites. Our hyperconnected environment has created our (average) eight-second attention span. When we only make time for short bursts of information, we don't consider how it could play into the big picture. Develop an attention span that allows you to dive deep into a subject and become an expert.

4. Competition is good. Being competitive doesn't mean you're inviting conflict or confrontation. Competition ignites a drive to do your best work, better than anyone else -- in your field, or in your office. Working to be the best isn't about stepping on top of people; it's about pushing yourself to up the ante and create something amazing.

5. Work can happen outside the office. Our job as creative problem-solvers is to tap into human insight. What better way to do that than taking note of what goes on in your life outside the office? (No, I don't mean taking your laptop outdoors.) Try this: When you're out with friends or having good dinner conversation, be a careful observer of life. Ideas can be sparked anywhere, by anyone.