Phil Friedman

7 years ago · 8 min. reading time · 0 ·

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Millennials Versus Boomers: Can We Ever Bridge the Understanding Gap?

Millennials Versus Boomers: Can We Ever Bridge the Understanding Gap?

He Said...He Said


Preface:  Wow! This installment approaches the end of the second deka-segment of this series by Jim Murray and me. When we first started the series on LinkedIn, we intended among other things to show that it was possible to have lively discussion and disagreement, without lasting acrimony. And we recently felt fboth lattered and gratified to read the kind words of LinkedIn and UX expert John Vaughan when he wrote on beBee that we had, "... pioneered ... with your he said/he said series on LinkedIn..." and demonstrated how " article posting can evolve into something far richer and substantial ..."

Both Jim and I publish on different days parallel versions of each installment, and I continue to do the same on LinkedIn, for those many followers who remain there. Be warned that our exchanges on He Said He Said are for intellectual adults, and therefore neither Jim, nor I mince words or pussy-foot around delicate topics. However, if you find what you read here worthwhile, let us know. And if you disagree with what one or both of us says, be sure to comment. For whether you agree or disagree, intellectual engagement is our primary objective here.




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ORY:PHIL: I was talking to a Millennial friend the other day, and he said that he was sick and tired of Baby Boomers pulling the “experience” trump card in discussions. According to him, it was like saying, “Hey, you don’t know shit, because you haven’t lived long enough to learn anything.” He also believed that the Boomer belief in the primacy of experience is what generates the communications gap between Boomers and Millennials.

Now, I admit to being a big believer in the value of experience. In fact, the tagline on my business stationery and marketing materials is, “Experience Always Matters”.

Not that I think experience necessarily makes one smart or wise. To be sure, relevant experience is helpful, indeed essential, in many business contexts. Because it is prerequisite to avoiding costly and time consuming errors, whether in planning, project development, management, and the like. As I often tell my consulting clients, I can help them not because I am so brilliant, but because I have already made just about every mistake they might trip over, and so can guide them around the majority of pitfalls.

However, my Millennial friend’s comment got me thinking. Do Boomers rely too heavily on experience as a prime indicator of competence or wisdom? And for that reason, do Boomers too often actually dismiss, with prejudice, the ideas and opinions of Millennials as the mere ramblings of naïve, ignorant youth? Or are our reactions based on context, with some venues being suited to an emphasis on experience, while others depend very more heavily on creativity and outside-the-box thinking?

Copyright © 2016 by


Tul § nedman and Jim Moray — AL RGHE, ReservedJIM:  Well…he said, revving up for a rant that may or may not materialize, let me say this about that. The other day I saw an interview with Coleson Whitehead who is the author a sort of historical fantasy novel called The Underground Railway.

This is, according to what he was saying is a very complex sustained metaphor, that examines the question: What if the Underground Railway, (which was the movement to take slaves north and set them free in Canada back in the 1860s) was an actual railway underneath the ground.

Mr. Whitehead told the interviewer that he had the idea some 12 years before he actually wrote the novel and cited a lack of life experience as the principal reason that he didn’t write the book back when he first had the idea.

I could be a smart-ass and say I rest my case. But that doesn’t really prove much except for the fact that some people believe that life experience gives them more to draw on when doing certain creative things.

I don’t happen to really believe in all this generational nomenclature, Gen Xers, Millennials, Boomers. Gag me with a spoon.

The trouble with ‘Millennials’ does not, in my opinion, have anything to do with more experienced people calling them out for their lack of experience, because the fact is they do lack experience, because they just haven’t been around long enough to gain experience.

I think this problem is about the Millennials who have turned themselves into this ‘special’ generation, so that everybody who fits the age parameters gets to preface their opinions with ‘People in my generation” or ‘Millennials like me’ blah blah blah.

They are all wrapped up in themselves, which I often see as defensive posturing. Their problem is that they want to be treated the same way as people with much more experience, they just don’t seem to feel it’s necessary to put in the time.

This is pretty much par for the course for every generation coming up, with the exception of the boomers. Because the boomers created a cultural revolution that changed a lot of the stuff that was wrong in society.

I don’t see Millennials really changing much of anything other than the number of apps available at the app store.

We call them kids because we’re older. They call us old farts because they’re kids. The best way to get up a kid’s nose is to lord your life experience over them. The best way for them to learn how lack of experience can adversely affect them is to let them make their mistakes.

So there you go, Mr. Boomer Boat Boy. Agree or disagree?




PH siogpoets]

Em LEE] 2 huencerPHIL: That’s MISTER Boomer Boat Boy, to you buddy. Oh wait, you did say “Mister” didn’t you? Well, probably you just wanted to rob me of a good line.

Here’s the thing. What Boomers — and a lot of others — tend to forget is that experience per se doesn’t mean squat. There is a common cliché that most of us get older, but rarely wiser. And it’s a cliché precisely because it’s true.

I think we need to keep in mind that, unless we’ve learned from our experience, having that experience is of no value.

In running several of my own and other people’s businesses over the years — yes, dear readers, here comes the Boomer Lament… not — I tended to hire mostly people over 50, because my experience is that people of that age can usually work twice as hard for twice as long as pretty much anyone half their age — without whining and complaining about it. Still, the kiss of death for me as a manager was hearing, “This is the way we’ve always done it.” Which is what I think Millennials hear, albeit incorrectly, when a Boomer says, “In my experience…”

Several years ago, I owned a small marine cabinetry shop that specialized in designing and fabricating ultra-lightweight cabinets and furniture for weight-sensitive applications in high-performance vessels. I won’t bore you with the details of the niche technology and proprietary techniques, so suffice it to say, we didn’t follow “traditional” cabinet making procedures. (If anyone’s curious, here’s a link to see some of what I’m talking about:

The interesting fact about that operation is that we had very little success with highly skilled and experienced cabinet makers who already “knew” how to do everything. And we had significantly more success with less experienced, but more trainable younger people.

Consequently, I have to wonder if which of experience versus ability is primary doesn’t depend almost entirely on context. And I wonder whether the best situation might not be where we build cross-generational teams that gain synergy from blending experience and wisdom, with creativity and new and different ways of looking at problems.

2bc3900b.jpgJIM: OK…I hate it when you nail shit to the wall like that. But context being what context is, it then becomes a very industry/situation specific thing.

I remember, for example, when the writer Robert Ludlum (the Jason Bourne books) died. All of a sudden there was a huge hole in the espionage thriller genre that had to be filled, because the franchise was just so damn popular.

As I recall, nobody ever made any noises about training someone to do the job. They had to go after someone who was so experienced and talented that they could just plug him in and carry on as if Ludlum were still alive.

The settled on Eric Van Lustbader, who was a successful European thriller writer with several best selling books under his belt.

So yeah, context is really everything. You see this in the corporate world all the time. Grooming someone for a position. Generally speaking the person who is being groomed is not some Millennial who parachuted in from some Ivy college. He’s someone who knows the company, knows the industry, understands the politics, has connections of his own and, most importantly, has a track record.

This isn’t true in every corporation, especially not in the tech sector, which could be the exception that makes the rule. But I would say that it’s more common than not.

So the net-net of my opinion is that experience matters a lot. But I do agree that context is the key. So now I have a bit of a headache and have to take a pill.

Ok, feeling better. I only have two more things to say on this issue.

1. I think that sociologically and philosophically speaking, there is a mutual resentment between Millennials and Boomers and this will only be resolved: A) when Millennials start showing more respect for the experience the Boomers possess, and B) when the Boomers stop writing off anybody who doesn’t have as much experience as they do as being next to useless.

2. I find it a great source of sadness and disappointment in our culture that this conflict has such relevance in today’s world. It’s part of a larger sad statement about what out culture has come to.

If any of this makes sense, I’ll be thrilled.

9ddaf29f.jpgPHIL: Although what you’re saying is not likely to plunk anyone’s magic twanger, Froggy, it does highlight an important insight. Namely, that our culture is fragmented along generational fault lines. (Yea, I do know you already said that.)

As I see it, this fragmentation involves more than simply being able or not to thumb a smartphone keyboard at 60 wpm. It involves outlook, values, and … respect. Respect for the experience and abilities of others. And respect for the power of teamwork..

Don’t get me wrong. I personally don’t harbor an abundance of respect for authority. Whether that authority derives from social class, economic position, or any of the several other metrics society applies to determine who gets to say and control what.

I may have told you this before, but I was once passed over for a big job by the new owner of a company for which I was working, because, in his words, “as much as I like you and respect your experience and knowledge, you don’t respect authority, and you’re not afraid of anybody, including me.” I took that as a compliment, since he and I had been virtually joined at the hip for six months while we negotiated his purchase of the company I was running. Yea, I know, big consolation … for the big salary I missed out on.

However, that said, some people have earned, and are due respect, precisely because they have accumulated significant and relevant experience. Some cultures have a long history of recognizing that. One of the reasons that I like doing business in Asia these days is that I never feel the hostility toward age or experience that I sometimes sense in the west. Indeed, when I’ve traveled in recent years to China, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, I haven’t felt the need to color out the gray in my Van Dyke, which I have to tell you was refreshing.

Why do Millennials in our culture so often disregard the value of experience? Could it be due to our generation’s propensity to coddle our children and raise them in an atmosphere where they received prize ribbons for “participation”? Could it be the result of our allowing our schools to buy into the propaganda fed them by the computer industry, and standing silent while teachers educated our kids to use WP and presentation templates as shortcuts to producing papers and reports? Could the reason be that we allowed them to be taught that winning a prize doesn’t require any real effort or native ability — provided you have the right app on your smartphone?

And what about us Boomers? Do we take the time to engage with them, to hear them out? Or do we, as you’ve pointed out, continually dismiss them out of hand as not knowing shit from Shinola?

Surely, if there is fragmentation in our culture along generational lines, then there is blame and responsibility on both sides of the Millennials versus Boomers gap. And maybe it’s time to push the reset button.

Afterword: JimMurray can, and always will speak for himself.  However, you are free to post comments directed to either Jim or me, on either his post of HSHS No. 18, or mine. You'll always get an answer one way or the other.

Author's notes: If you'd like to receive notifications of my writings on a regular basis, click the [FOLLOW] button on my beBee archive page. As a writer-friend of mine says, you can always change your mind later.

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About me, Phil Friedman: With 30 some years background in the marine industry, I've worn numerous hats — as a yacht designer, boat builder, marine operations and business manager, marine industry consultant, marine marketing and communications specialist, yachting magazine writer and editor, yacht surveyor, and marine industry educator. I am also trained and experienced in interest-based negotiation and mediation. In a previous life, I taught logic and philosophy at university.

The (optional-to-read) pitch: As a professional writer, editor, university educator, and speaker, with more than 1,000 print and digital publications, I've recently launched an online program for enhancing your expository writing: learn2engage — With Confidence. My mission is to help writers and would-be writers improve the clarity of their thought, master the logic of discussion, and strengthen their ability to deal with disagreement.

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Phil Friedman

7 years ago #24

@Mark Tilman Davis - Very interesting perspective. I think you are correct that, perhaps, the Millennials v Boomers generational gap has qualities that we haven't seen before. But responsibility doesn't fall entirely on the Millennials -- unless you choose to ignore the fact that it is the introduction of digital innovations by Boomers, who then have gone on to use those innovations (social media, digital gaming, and so on) to manipulate and control a huge segment of the Millennial generation. Thank you for reading and commenting with such perspecuity.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #23

@Lauren Juzi - Thank you very much for reading and commenting. For you prove my postulate that there is, in fact, intelligent life among Millennials. Seriously, you are no doubt correct. What Millennials have to recognize is that discounting the value of experience will not help their case, while Boomers for their part have to recognize the key value in contributions of new vision and contemporary skills that Millennials can make. And everyone, corporations included, has to learn that synergies will be found in cross-generational teaming. You know, I've personally seen how well Boomers mix with Millennials in college environments when the former "go back to school", and so am convinced so much of the gap is the result a priori attitudinal bias. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #22

Actually, Alexa, that dividing line was created by Boomer. Who, BTW, as they grew older kept invreasing that threshold, first to 35, then to 40, then to 50. Indeed, many Boomers deprived the Millennials who follow from being able to distinguish themselves on the basis of emotional maturity, witness the humor and antics of Boomers like Paul Croubalian. :-)

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #21

@Dean Owen (cc @Paul Croubalian) - It is tempting to think of being a Millennial versus being a Boomer in terms of being a certain age, but I believe the general meaning of the terms designates having grown up during a particular era. So although someone like Paul Croubalian may really be a kind of Peter Pan (fitting, since he is a trained chef), he is not I think a Millennial. The question is whether he shares the value system of Millennials. Which to an extent, I don't doubt. You, on the other hand, Dean, are very clearly a Boomer. Cheers! :-)

Dean Owen

7 years ago #20

Given your knowledge of Twitter, and your relatively youthful sense of humour, I concur!

Dean Owen

7 years ago #19

People need to realise that we were once Millennials too.

Jim Murray

7 years ago #18

Javier beBee...The page view count (149K) is either extremely spectacular or wonky. I prefer the former. but it's probably the latter.
thanks for sharing Phil Friedman

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #16

Jim Murray - you will benefit from contemplation of the Wisdom of Chung King -

Jim Murray

7 years ago #15

Yeah, Robert, that was our intention going into this discussion. Make it as bigoted as we could without getting caught. But then you caught us. Shit, and here I thought we were being so damn clever. I will be the first to line up for 20 lashes with a wet noodle. Fettucini, if you please.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #14

Franci Eugenia Hoffman - FYI - Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #13

@ Brian McKenzie, for once we can agree. Most of the activist boomers traded their souls for a seat at the Man's table, confirming Eric Hoffer's thesis that anti-elites do not want to destroy elitism, they just want to replace the reigning elite class. It is truly a case of where are the Wobblies when we need them most?

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #12

@Alexa Steele - I am not so sure. The divide between Boomers and their previous generation was, I think, much wider. My parents we a lot older at 40 than most Boomers I know are at 60. And remember the watchword of many Boomers was don't trust anyone over 30. But I agree that today there is little reason for Boomers and Millennials to be so often at odds. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #11

Randy Keho and @Phillip Hubbell - You both strike on a couple of excellent points. 1) If Millennials are soft and whine a lot about how difficult things are for them, it is our generation's fault. For we went out of our way to shelter our children from the hardships we experienced, and left them feeling that life was as easy and good as firing up the X-box. Until, we no longer could shelter them. 2) As we grew older, we failed to do a good job of preserving the advances in social and economic justice that we won during the early years of our generation. So, now they do, in fact, face a harder row to hoe than we did.

Randy Keho

7 years ago #10

All good points, gentleman. Nonetheless, as a Baby Boomer myself, I recall being on the short-end of the stick In regard to a lack of experience. I don't foresee that changing in the near or distant future. Get over it. Mute point. Fact of life. Perhaps, the so-called Millennials, as we were raising them, were too focused on the present and the future to take history into account. Their parents -- myself included -- had two cars, a nice house, summer and winter vacations, etc. Life appeared easy. It wasn't. They led rather sheltered lives and it was our own fault. We wanted to give them the best and we did. However, we failed to explain to them just how we were actually able accomplish it. As a result, they got this idea that life was easy. It's not. Only experience can teach that lesson. My Millennial-age partner nearly shit his pants when he found out how much it cost for a normal oil change on his little foreign sports car. I thought he was going to have a coronary while he was pricing new tires. There are sacrifices to be made to make things look easy. Much to his chagrin, I bought a domestic sports car. Yes, experience counts, but so do yet-to-be-explored directions. When the whining is over, it's the combination of both that will lead this country into the future. My young partner is the engine. I'm just the steering wheel.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #9

I agree that there really isn't much to distinguish Millennials from Boomers -- when the Boomers were young. Youth has its own brand of arrogance, but then too, so does age. The major difference between the two groups, as far as I can see, is that Millennials pretty much grew up on social media, which tends to distort reality.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #8

Agreed, Franci Eugenia Hoffman. Thank you for reading and commenting.

Pascal Derrien

7 years ago #7

I had 5 millennials landing in my group 4 / 5 years ago in a corporate setting and i I was given a book on how to manage them, the latter was hilarious I thought and needless to say I never read the thing, I suppose the only thing beside communications in terms of difference is the value set or maybe how it is expressed as I think I probably have the same than theirs.... they all left to join more progressive organizations according to them and years later find themselves facing same or similar dilemmas..... it is called growing up

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #6

Pascal Derrien - true, which is why the only real gap between Millennials and Boomers is in communications. Thanks for joining the conversation.

Pascal Derrien

7 years ago #5

Nothing New happen in the world it is just that it happens to new people or something like from Confucius who I suppose was also probably the equivalent of a millennial and a generation triple Z at some point :-)

Jim Murray

7 years ago #4

I guess we can expect some noses to be out of joint. But the fact is that though I haven't seen all that much in the way of game changing contributions from Millennials, who are mainly developing apps, this is not to say that there aren't good things to come. I just don't like the idea of overly inflated self-importance. I also didn't like myself for possessing it when I was young, but as I grew and realized that changes needed to be made, I used the skills I had to do that. We worked hard to make advertising (which was my business), reflect the real world to a greater degree and in so doing helped remove the huckster stigma and help consumer make better choices.. When millennials have enough life experience, they will undoubtedly start reshaping the world. But right now, I think they are still trying to define themselves as a generation. This post was about respect for experience from both sides of the spectrum. My kids are millennials, and I respect the hell out of them. But I also realize that they are still finding their way to their ultimate destination. And I'm always flattered when they ask me for advice.

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #3

@ Alexa Steele - Jim will speak for himself -- as he always does. In the meantime, so you know that you are not being ignored, please note that you have more in common with us Boomers than you think. Here are just a couple of quotes from your article: 1) "I’ve tried karate and tai chi and yoga." Us too, more than once. 2) "I’ve developed a taste for sushi and falafel and tamales." Us too, these food items did not spring into existence in whole in 1977. 3) "My future, turns out, was mortgaged; on mortgage futures." Welcome to the club, Alexa, a large portion of my retirement savings was tied up in real estate and evaporated virtually over night. 4) "I still yearn for the American dream. But, I don't see it coming to those who work hard and play by the rules." So do a great many Boomers. Ask all of those who are still working into their late 70s and early 80s, ask the bagger at the supermarket or the clerk at the department store or the greeter at Walmart, all of whom expected to be long-retired by now. 5) "My responsibilities are growing larger, and with them my worries.thank". That does not distinguish you from Boomers, indeed, the reason that you are only facing this now is likely because a couple of Boomers (your parents?) sheltered you from having to grapple with the problems before this. Cont pt. II...

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #2

@Alexa Steele - Part II I do not take issue with anything that you said in your article. And my point in contributing to this 19th installment of HE SAID HE SAID is to draw Millennials into discussion about the nature of the supposed gap of understanding. I think that together, you and I, can illustrate the the gap isn't as great as the moguls of social media in the Age of Millennials want us to think, and on the basis of which perception they manipulate their predominantly Millennial audience for their own profit. I submit that, if you consider the situation without prejudging, you will find that the gaps exist between social and economic classes, not between age groups. For the problems with society are the same across all ages. And the greatest danger to the future well being of most Millennials is not that Boomers have left them with a lousy situation, but that social, political, and economic forces are destroying the middle class in Western Society, especially in the U.S., where 90% of the nation's wealth is now in the hands of less than 4% of the population. Thank you for joining the conversation. I sincerely hope that you will stick around to read Jim Murray's reply, and that you will contribute further. And invite your Millennial (and any Boomer) friends to join in, as well. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

7 years ago #1

Hey, Jim Murray,just published my version. Will watch for yours tomorrow. Hopefully, some Millennials will take a few minutes to join the conversation for a change, if they can spare more than 45 seconds for the read. Cheers!

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