Aristoteles, a famous Greek philosopher (384 – 322 before Chr.), developed the “Summierungstheorie.” Following that theory, a joint decision made by a number of people is usually better than a decision of a few people who are not educated appropriately. That could be seen as the foundation of what today is called, ”Swarm intelligence.”
Ants act with a limited independency and without an order from a central authority. Each ant is doing specific individual work following a clear target, so the ants are most effective as the whole community. Communication and specific activities of individuals can lead to intelligent behavior of a social community. A great example is the internet and its users. They can be seen as a kind of a super organism: The network of communication channels connecting the users is playing the role of a nervous system of the super organism. The internet technology allows them to transform a collection of individual knowledge into collective intelligence.
Thinking of company employees today, we can see parallels, with the workforce of a company being compared to an ant community. The biggest challenge of today, is to understand the various types of employees or human beings and to communicate and act with the right social practices to leverage the competencies of each of them for the success of the company.
So today we find about 5 generations of employees in professional life:
1965-1976: Generation X
1977-1998: Generation Y – Millennials
1999-2016: Generation Z
2016+: Generation Alpha – Digital Natives
While Baby Boomers are much experienced in industry knowledge or organizational experience, Generation X brings new values into professional life, which cannot be compared with the expectations of the Baby Boomers. They enter the phase of working life in an era of self-confidence, self-realization and multiple life styles. Generation Y is very active in social media, and they are very comfortable buying online. They love to work with their own Smart phone, Tablet PC or Laptop.
Generation Z has been online, almost since birth, as they have been active on Instagram and snapchat from starting school. The “Digital Natives” who are familiar dealing with a variety of cultures maybe part of a patch work family or visiting a multicultural kindergarten, as you never see them without an I pad or Smartphone. They prefer communication “per click” instead of face-to-face meetings and they don’t like to miss anything. They use dating platforms from their first flirt and share pictures and photos without any scruple.
Looking at the entire value chain and how it is connected to business partners, we understand that different skills are necessary for different roles. One example: in sales young people can be very successful, as they are part of a young community and network. To win new customers, it is good to access new networks. Also, young people can provide the latest knowledge in technology, what can be helpful for research and development. The more mature workforce has broad experience in industries, in dealing with colleagues, customers or partners, and can be leveraged as door openers or for post-sales advisory. They are more flexible as their kids are in working life as well, after passing university and have left their home already.
Luckily, there are managers and employees of several generations in most of today’s companies, so the experience of the Baby Boomers can be mixed with the fresh knowledge and ideas of the Millennials and Generation Z. If each of them show respect to each other, this will create a very promising mixture of employees to keep the company successful. Baby Boomers are coming from hierarchical managed organizations, while today managers build on the knowledge and experience of their direct and indirect reports and vice versa.
For employees and managers of all generations, there is a multitude of opportunities for ongoing education and training. Most of it is packed as e-learning modules, meeting the expectations of the younger generations. We talk about lifelong learning and a “knowledge society.” To be able to transform the variety and wisdom of a wide range of employees into business success, it is important for each manager and employee to have access to the knowledge of the whole organization to be able to do his job effectively. It sounds like a very complex people management challenge in international or global companies, however we just need to think about the advantage we leverage from the variety of generations and cultures in organizations.
Howard Rheingold, an American social scientist (2002, “Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution”) stated: “The ‚Killer-Apps‘ of tomorrow’s mobile infocom industry won’t be hardware devices or software programs but social practices.” Having in mind the growing number of employees and the growing number of international subsidiaries, the author would like to change the statement a bit: Software programs are not the key differentiator in competition but they are the foundation to build on digital competitive advantages.