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Got a number of reactions to yesterday’s MNB Radio piece about the need to educate young people with much technological ability but few social skills about the need for clear and open communication, so that they can drag us into the future in ways that can only help our businesses.

MNB user Lari Perkiss wrote:

Randy Pausch, of “The Last Lecture,” had the same experience with arrogance as your young geek did when explaining technological advances. One of his Professor’s explained to Randy that undergraduates found him a challenge to work with and that “When you’re perceived as being arrogant it really limits what you can accomplish.” Kevin, doesn’t this really apply to everyone? As a recent graduate starting a second career I’ve found that many executives don’t often practice their active listening skills. Result-oriented and time sensitive, it’s a challenge to manage the volume of information we’re pummeled with.

Next time grab the geek by the sleeve and ask them to write that down for you. And to all the executives and managers what simpler and effective way to pass on experience and leadership and create loyalty than to have a conversation.

Referring to my feeling that a young techie with whom I had an encounter viewed me as a dinosaur, MNB user Linda Wish wrote:

While you are picturing the ice flow that you are doomed to be dragged out on and left toothless because you are no longer able to able to help support the tribe or chew your own seal blubber.....

Picture the geek- who will NOT get hired- not because we don't value his ideas, and knowledge of current and future technology, but because his lack of interpersonal communication skills have dropped to a level that he is unbearable to be around.

I have been reminded recently that we need to blend our tech information with personal interaction- because in a "pure" tech message- tone is lost- and can be misinterpreted very easily.

Another MNB user wrote:

In your commentary this morning about the 25-year-old dissing your recent speech concerning what he felt were soon-to-be largely obsolete forms of tech-based communication, you mentioned that our industry has two responsibilities here: the first being to hire (young) people like him to help facilitate converting their professional elders into the fast-moving world of 21st century technology, and the second being to help round out these (young) people's minds and attitudes so they become more accepting and less dismissive of (older) colleagues who don't have the tech background they do. (But certainly, are anything but altogether worthless, nonetheless.)

Might I also suggest that the to-be-hired people in question also have two responsibilities, essentially the mirror images of the above? Specifically, one, to simply do what they may be best equipped to do (convert their less tech-savvy elders to appreciate & better understand the brave new tech world) and two, to simply be more respectful and tolerant of the less tech-savvy colleagues they will be brought in to educate? (Let he who is without fault cast the first stone.)

The responsibility paradigm here shouldn't be -- and shouldn't even be characterized as being -- a one-way street. Political correctness, perhaps, might cause one to suggest that "the industry" has two responsibilities, whereas the (young) futurists have none; in reality, though, I can't help but think that both the industry and the tech-savvy generation in their 20s have arguably equal and opposite shared responsibilities. If "the dinosaur class" doesn't make this point, and in essence, insist that it be acknowledged & agreed upon, I don't think we can or should expect the Gen Y'ers to pick it up and own it voluntarily.

I never meant to suggest that the responsibility solely lies with older people. But I do think that we are the adults…we are supposed to be the mentors, and therefore I do think that we have a greater responsibility … especially because we also have the responsibility for making sure that our businesses remain relevant and vibrant, and these younger people are the key.

MNB user Steve Sullivan wrote:

Kevin, don’t feel bad about standing all a-blither after talking to a YOUNG geek. I’ve been in the IT world now for 30 years (man, that makes me feel old saying 30 years!). The computers I first worked on (IBM370 for you IT folks out here) took up a whole room and had less storage and processing capability – by far – than the PDAs and iPhones carried in folks’ pockets today. Today, even within my own workgroup there are technologies being used by others that are outside my realm of knowledge. And once I get up to speed on one thing, it gets replaced by something new. You think it’s tough keeping up with technology as a user? Try doing it for a living – especially if you fall into the ‘old dog, new tricks’ category! It can be frustrating, but then I take a step back and see the AMAZING things that have been accomplished technically in the last 10 or 5 or 2 years and say ‘WOW!’ Yeah, we have a few gray-beards that remember using 80 column punch cards, but they can still keep up with and teach them young whipper-snappers a few things (say that in your best Walter Brennan voice). Computers are tools. It’s the same as going from Alley Oop’s hand-held sharp rock to the modern titanium ax with energy-absorbing fiberglass handle. Same job accomplished, but so much easier.

Our company has made some amazing strides in marketing, supply chain and logistics in the last few years. None of it would have been possible without the use of bigger /better / faster technologies. Heck! I’m working from home today as part of an energy conservation initiative. I can actually access files sitting on my desktop PC at the office at a speed comparable to being there. That would have been difficult a few years ago.

But, you get the idea. Well, gotta go. I have a video teleconference coming up on my cell phone with the office and others in Maine and Europe. Now, if we could just get that matter transfer device working…

Another MNB user wrote:

I just wanted to pipe in with my personal opinion about those "young people" and "tech geeks" that you referred to in your MorningNewsBeat Radio. Your comment about the youngster struck me in many different ways. First of all, I agree with you – he was rude, inappropriate, and totally out of line. That's one of the characteristics of people in my generation -- they feel like they're so in touch with the world as it is today and anyone who isn't totally "in" is considered, well, "out" and therefore not worthy of our time.

Here's the other thing though -- that kid probably wasn't as geeky as you think he was. People who throw around a lot of names of technologies with little explanation are often the ones who are passionate users of the technology, but totally oblivious to the mechanics and actual technology being used. Why am I in a position to talk about this?
Well, because I am traditional geek: I have an Electrical Engineering minor and have watched the internet grow from what it was 10 years ago to what it is today. The transformation in communication technologies and methods has been nothing short of phenomenal. I can't claim to be on top of all the technology that youngsters use today (I am, at the ripe age of 24, sadly too old), but I try my best to keep myself abreast of them.

This quote to me was the most interesting:

"However, I do want to suggest that as an industry, we have two responsibilities here. One is to hire more people like this young computer geek, because they are the ones who will drag us – sometimes kicking and screaming – into the future. Without them, we may spend more time looking backward than forward, and that's no way to run a business."

Here's the main point that I have written to talk to you about. I work in the grocery industry at one of the larger supermarket companies in the US. I've been here for 1.5 years, and unfortunately, all of my already-outdated opinions about technology have fallen upon deaf ears. It's a serious problem -- you have young people with simple ideas that could transform the way you do business, but the company doesn't bother to leverage the expertise, instead boxing them in and trying to fit them to a traditional mold. Maybe it's just the company I'm working at, or maybe it isn't. In any case, young people leave this company in droves because only the opinion of the older and more experienced is respected. I am a food expert, a technology guru, and I do finance at a supermarket company. Unfortunately, this company only knows how to leverage my technology skill set insofar as my finance job. None further. In meetings, I feel like it's always, "age under 30 not permitted to speak".

If the industry doesn't try harder to acquire, retain, train, AND leverage the young talent that they think will transform their companies, then they will lose them all. This is especially important in the age of young, easily distracted, short-attention-spanned generation X/Y/Z/AAers. Oh, and yes -- they do need to be constantly online and always text-messaging everyone else. While it looks distracting, that's the lifestyle that they're used to. If you want them, you need to be willing to see things their way.

Anyway, I discovered your site a few weeks ago. I really enjoy it. Keep up the good work.

I’m flattered that someone like this would read and enjoy MNB. But more importantly, supermarket industry executives need to read and reread this email and talk about the challenges that it poses to every company in the industry.

And finally, there was a commentary yesterday on MNB that I ended by quoting Jimmy Malone, who once said, “Here endeth the lesson.”

To which one MNB user responded:

Who in the world is HE?????

Jimmy Malone is the Irish cop played by Sean Connery in the move version of “The Untouchables.” If you’ve never seen it, go rent it or download it and watch it this weekend. It is a great American movie, filled with terrific performances, scintillating action sequences, and a backbone message about the importance of ethics and honor and friendship. The dialog is by David Mamet, the direction is by Brian DePalma, and Connery, Kevin Costner, Robert De Niro and a host of other wonderful actors bring it to full and robust life.

KC's View: