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Millennials are perceived as more innovative (and why that’s bad)

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Millennials are perceived as more innovative (and why that’s bad)

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For some time now there has been a lot of responsibility heaped on the shoulders of the millennial generation.  Despite a number of reports highlighting that millennials are not really any more versed in the ways of social business than the rest of us, there has been a sense that the transition to a ‘better’ way of working rests on their shoulders.

A nice example of this comes in a recent study that underlines the skewed perceptions we have of the younger generation.  The team, from VU University Amsterdam, suggest that people tend to have a hidden, unconscious bias towards age when it comes to innovation and leadership.

The study found, across three different experiments, that people are more likely to perceive younger looking people as innovative and creative, whereas their older looking colleagues are more likely to be viewed as stable and conservative.

Participants in the study were shown a set of faces, some old, some young, and asked to rate how well each face would fare in certain circumstances.  Would they lead well during times of technological change for instance, or would they offer stability during a financial crisis?

“As expected, we found an interaction between situation and age, demonstrating that participants endorsed older leaders over younger leaders for maintaining stability and younger leaders over older leaders for facilitating change,” the researchers say.

This finding was then replicated across additional studies, with the young faces again rated higher for innovative traits, and older faces more so for steady and stable traits.

All of which is interesting, yet worrying at the same time, especially when it comes to the expectation that millennials will drive social business change.

A recentstudyset out to explore whether digital natives were skilled at using digital tools for work related tasks (rather than gaming and social networking).

The research team analyzed a bunch of teachers and over 1,000 middle school aged students from 18 different schools in the US.  The students were believed to be digital natives, and therefore fully conversant and comfortable with the use of digital tools.Both the students and their teachers were heavy users of technology in their personal lives, but the students lagged some way behind when it came to using these tools inside the classroom.Indeed, the study showed that many lacked familiarity with IT, and many struggled with the kind of social tools they used at home when asked to use them in a class context.These problems were not shared by their teachers however, who were much better at adopting the tools to meet their classroom challenges.

The researchers suggest the heart of the problem is that students are not given the opportunity to practice using technology for productive means.  They suggest that teachers need to give students great opportunities to use digital tools to enhance how they learn collectively.

“School-age students may be fluent in using entertainment or communication technologies, but they need guidance to learn how to use these technologies to solve sophisticated thinking problems,”the researchers say.“The school setting is the only institution that might create the needs to shape and facilitate students’ technology experience. Once teachers introduce students to a new technology to support learning, they quickly learn how to use it.”

So much more needs to be done to give young people the kind of skills and experience of innovative ways of working if change is really to happen.

It makes initiatives such as the partnership between IBM and York University announced last year so important.  The partnership saw a social incubation unit created whereby up to 400 students can gain experience using the kind of social business tools IBM hope will eventually become a central part of every workplace.

There is also the recent launch of VIA Connect, which aims to give students an insight into the ways of open innovation, by inviting organizations to tap into the knowledge and ideas of the student body of VIA University.

I’ve no doubt the young people bring a fresh perspective to the workplace, but it’s very dangerous to simply assume that they will bring all of the innovation with them.

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