Go Ahead and Stereotype People
Over the last couple of years, I have been exposed to a number of demographers making keynote speeches and producing materials on our multi-generational workforce. They paint broad pictures of what the traditionalists born before and during the Great Depression and during the early years of World War II value and their characteristics. They do the same for Baby Boomers born after World War II, the X Generation born in the 60s and 70s, the Millennials born before the turn of the century, and the Gen Z people born this century. Here is a link to a typical chart highlighting the differences as the author and others see things. Managing Across the Generations by Amy Hirsch Robinson of Interchange Group.
Maybe it is a generational thing in and of itself, but I was taught as a kid not to stereotype people, not to prejudge and become prejudiced. People are individuals is what my parents tried to teach me. They wanted me to see the good in people, not just put them into a box of some sort. As a business person and former engineer, I recognize the importance of innovation and thinking outside the box. Heck, sometimes there isn’t even a box.
As I worked through my career, I had a chance to work with people from Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. I interacted with people from France, Germany, England, Russia, Mexico, Brazil, Poland, Turkey, Israel, China, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and more. Many times I learned about stereotypes for people from different lands and countries. Germans are this, French are that. Beware the way people talk in country A. The people from country B are impossible. In fact, we had to form highly performing teams with people from all these countries to succeed on a global basis. There was a whole new level of Forming, Norming, Storming, and Performing. We took special classes together on diversity to learn how to bridge the differences.
The broad brush generational stereotypes provided do not account for the real world, especially here in the United States. We are a country of immigrants. On a daily basis, I still interact with people from multiple cultural backgrounds, different age groups, and countries of origin. We push for board rooms to have greater diversity of gender. We expect people to not just tolerate each other, but work together across all the different divides that people might try to create or identify.
There is value in the stereotypes of cultures, countries, and generations. Use them as a starting point for understanding and getting to know the individuals involved. I think the demographers are oversimplifying the issues we all need to deal with globally, in our country, in the workplace. People are more alike than they are different. Read Tao Te Ching, the Bible, the Koran, Shakespeare, and other great authors. Study the works of Napoleon Hill and The Science of Personal Achievement or the work of Abraham Maslow and his pyramid of the hierarchy of needs. People around the world, throughout the ages, still need to eat, sleep, and find shelter. They still need to have fun and learn. They need to express themselves. The 7 parts of culture shown below may lead to a better understanding of people than boxing people in. Learn about the individual and don’t be constrained by stereotypes. Just ASK—Always Seek Knowledge™.
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