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:
- Encourage Truth Telling
- Getting to the truth can be a difficult task for managers. People sometimes withhold, spin, or slant
reports, especially when the implications are uncomfortable or threatening. A culture that supports
truth telling can be an organization's most valuable asset.
- Take Any Seat: I
- When you attend a meeting, how do you choose your seat? Whether you chair or not, where you sit helps
to determine your effectiveness and your stature during the meeting. Here are some tips for choosing
your seat strategically.
- Obstacles to Compromise
- Compromise is the art of devising an approach acceptable to all parties. A talent for compromise is
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- What Makes a Good Question?
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answer. The right answer can be good; but often, the right question can be better.
- The Utility Pole Anti-Pattern: II
- Complex organizational processes can delay action. They can set people against one other and prevent
organizations from achieving their objectives. In this Part II of our examination of these complexities,
we look into what keeps processes complicated, and how to deal with them.
See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 19: I Don't Understand: II
- Unclear, incomplete, or ambiguous statements are problematic, in part, because we need to seek clarification. How can we do that without seeming to be hostile, threatening, or disrespectful? Available here and by RSS on June 19.
- And on June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
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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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