When I was 18, I moved from Ohio to Boston, on the US seacoast, to attend MIT. My dietary history until then was typical of the US heartland — I knew much more about beef than seafood. Within two weeks, a fellow freshman, a Bostonian, introduced me to the Fried Clam Dinner.
"Watch out for the soft parts," he warned me. "They're the guts — not good to eat." I followed his advice, and enjoyed the clams. And the french fries, too — but I already knew about them.
Weeks later, I returned to the "clam shack" with another group, along with a different native of Boston, who this time warned me: "Watch out for those long stringy parts," he said. "They're tough, and not very good to eat. Eat the bellies."
And so I learned that you can enjoy every part of the clam. And I have, from that day to this, with no ill effects.
People at work come in a variety of ages. In different organizations, one age group or another might be favored. In some, youth confers status and years can be a liability — opportunities are offered to the young, and their contributions are valued most. In others, years confer status, and youth is a liability.
Valuing people by age can be as silly as avoiding one part or the other of a clam. People of different ages
are different. And those
differences are all valuable.By rejecting or limiting those of the "wrong" age, we hurt both those we reject and the organization, too.
Here are some common stereotypes, and some alternate ways to think about them.
- Older people aren't as committed
- As our lives progress, they can become richer. Work becomes a smaller part of our lives than it was in young adulthood. But with that richness comes perspective that can enhance performance. Commitment becomes a more reasoned choice, especially for those who have previously committed to ill-fated efforts. Experience tempers the passions.
- Younger people are too brash and impulsive
- Since younger people tend to have less invested in the way things are, they're more comfortable with upsetting the status quo, which often needs upsetting. And we're indebted to the many who just didn't know any better than to attempt the impossible — and succeed.
- Older (younger) people don't understand (are hooked on) computers
- Many of us use the computer to divide us — we see different approaches to its use as failings. We believe that older people don't understand email, or that younger people are email addicts. The truth may be otherwise, of course. Some of us try to use email for things it cannot do, while others avoid it even for things it can do. We can all learn from each other.
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More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Email Antics: I
- Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our
own actions. If you're looking around for some New Year's resolutions to make, here are some ideas,
in this Part I of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
- Decisions, Decisions: I
- Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but
it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions? How do we choose the right
process for the job?
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone
or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II
of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
- Guidelines for Sharing "Resources"
- Often, team members belong to several different teams. The leaders of teams whose members have divided
responsibilities must sometimes contend with each other for the efforts and energies of the people they
share. Here are some suggestions for sharing people effectively.
- Unnecessary Boring Work: II
- Workplace boredom can result from poor choices by the person who's bored. More often boredom comes from
the design of the job itself. Here's Part II of our little catalog of causes of workplace boredom.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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