Gen Y: Holding the Secrets to Economic Recovery

11/13/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Existing business paradigms have failed. Political and business leaders still holding on to beliefs and behaviors that no longer have relevance in today's transforming world of work must get out of the way and allow a new workplace frontier to evolve. Every day in my university classroom, undergraduate business students talk about how to pull out of this economic crisis in a forward-thinking way not voiced by the experts. With 40 million already in the workforce and another 18 million in colleges and universities all across this country, Gen Y is redefining the very meaning of work. Having just completed a three-year research project looking at generational differences in the workplace, I can unequivocally state that Gen Y views the world of work through a polar opposite navigational system compared to people like AIG's Joe Cassano or Lehman's Richard Fuld, just two among many thousands responsible for our financial undoing.

Gen Y holds the secrets to economic recovery because they were born into the future. Since childhood, with every mouse click their understanding of the world has been expanded. As a result, they see the world of work in its evolving form and their professional beliefs and behaviors instinctively align to fit these dynamic conditions. While it seems like most of Corporate America and Washington would prefer to go down with the ship, holding on to outdated precepts rather than adapting to a new way of being in the world of work, Gen Y instinctively possess solutions to recapturing and sustaining our greatness.

To ignore what the world of work looks like from their vantage point is economic folly. Their expertise is not based upon naiveté or even youthful arrogance. It is based upon going through all of their developmental stages where pervasive access to on-demand knowledge has changed how they communicate, form relationships and view themselves as part of a global business community. As a result, their professional instincts match the underpinnings of the next incarnation of the workplace. For example, their ability to zoom in and out, constantly adjusting their outlook to facilitate effectiveness ensures on-going relevance. In my research spanning over 2,500 professionals across diverse industries and demographics, I found that Gen Y's innate ability to focus on details while always checking in with the greater context allows them to simultaneously be the worker bee, as well as the big picture thinker. It's a professional instinct that promotes decisions that are more timely, pertinent and centered on the source of the problem.

The blueprint for how businesses should be restructured and run from this point forward lies, to a great extent, within the radically different workplace souls of Gen Y. For example, they understand why connection within an organization has as much economic value as the building in which it lives. Their instincts tell them economic recovery demands the reinvention of old products and processes of work, incorporating more qualitative values in addition to quantitative. More truth. More inclusion. More green. More communication. More collaboration. When asked if they agreed with the statement, "Individual success is dependent upon the failure of others," only 27% of those 21-30 answered "Yes," compared to 47% of those 31-44 and 54% of those 45 and over. Clearly Gen Y views their own success as being tied to the success of others to a much greater degree than any of their predecessors. If only the architects of this economic disaster who walked away with billions while their stockholders were wiped out shared this view, we might not be in the eye of a financial hurricane.

Collectively, Gen Y will be the people actually doing the majority of the work for the next 40-50 years. Overlooking this fact and refusing to incorporate their radically different navigation system as a key to economic recovery is simply more of the same. Gen Y offers us a peek into tomorrow's business landscape and by understanding how they will rewire the world of work in the future provides solutions in the present. In trying to navigate their companies out of this hole, should any CEO like to consult with these experts, I know where you can find 18 million of them.