Knowledge Management for Generation Y

In my travels today I came across some articles about how Generation Y (people born in 1980’s
or 1990’s) use Information Technology. I’m a Generation X’er myself, so Generation Y has
always been something of a curiosity to me – as other generations always are, no matter
which part of the timeline you come from. The first article that caught my eye was from
an Australian IT magazine and it was about how Generation Y are much more prone to
forming communities than previous generations.
Here’s an excerpt:

“Social researcher Hugh Mackay said yesterday that younger generations
were herding together like never before, using new technologies such as SMS and email
chatrooms to foster tight social bonds.

Having grown up knowing only “instability, uncertainty and
unpredictability”, Generation Y had instinctively drawn together to cope, Mr Mackay said.
[…] “They are the most intensely tribal, herd-based generation of young Australians
I’ve ever known.”

The words “tribal” and “herd-based” are words you wouldn’t normally use to describe a
Generation X’er. We’re mostly characterized as individualistic or selfish, lazy, and
cynical towards society. In some respects those attitudes were a backlash against the
flower-power idealism of the baby boomers, although I’m one of those who thinks
environment – or context – has a lot to do with the values and attitudes that a person or
group of people has. So Generation Y are both a product of the computerized environment
of the 1990’s onward and are also rebelling against the “bite me” attitude of Gen
X by adopting a, well, a “hug me” attitude I suppose.

The aussie social researcher quoted above goes on to say:

“I’m not predicting a revolution but I think it’s the early sign of a
genuine culture shift away from individualism to a more communitarian kind of

I’m not so sure that individualism is on the way out, because two-way web culture
promotes freedom of choice and individual creativity. But we definitely are seeing mass
market culture slowly but surely being replaced by niche markets – that is, small
communities of people based on shared topics of interest. Nowadays we increasingly have a
large collection of small communities (niches), rather than a small collection of large
communities (mass market).

btw doesn’t “communitarian” sound eerily close to “communism”? or is that me being
cynical? 😉

After reading the above article, I went searching for more and came across
this article
from Chief Learning Officer magazine on how Knowledge Management should
cater to Generation Y. They concluded that Generation Y will expect the following 3
things from a KM system: real-time access, personalization, and
. They state:

“By the end of this decade we will have moved from a workforce that
often has to be sold on e-learning to one that demands e-learning, knowledge management
and communities of practice.”

Then I came across Dina Mehta’s latest
post, about youth in
Urban India
. I found this very interesting, particularly regarding youth’s preference
for IM (Instant Messaging for you oldies) over email. Dina talks about:

“…an “always on” world which is facilitated by technology like
IM, VOIP, forums, blogs and online journals (have you ever left a comment at a youth
journal or blog – either at a specific post or on their guestboards, and noticed how very
promptly you will get a response to your comment – not just from the author but from a
whole host of readers ?), simple SMS to enhanced functions offered by new generation
mobile phones. How this is impacting and changing the way youth thinks,
communicates, and takes decisions. And the implications this might have
for the future as they enter the workplace, bringing in their new “culture-of-use“, and for marketers seeking to address this segment.” 

As I read this it occured to me how the field of Knowledge Management is undergoing a
seachange right now. Knowledge Management has been a failure for Generation X from the
90’s up till now and frankly most KM consultants haven’t got a clue about the changes
coming in Generation Y. The very changes that Dina summarises so well.

People in the
blog world such as Dina know what’s up, but if you look at professional KM articles elsewhere on the
Web it’s the same old same old. They continue to witter on about “leveraging” or
“capturing” knowledge, how to uncover “tacit knowledge”, and “optimizing operational
efficiency”. Frankly that sort of mumbo-jumbo annoys the heck out of me, but unless you
talk that language you don’t make any headway in the business world. If I look at
this in a positive way, maybe that’s my “niche” to explore. Knowledge Management for the
21st century, two-way web style.

In other news, Mark
Bernstein wrote
a good post today about the recent “bad behavior” of the blogosphere
(the MT pricing scandal and the kerfuffle). The best piece of advice in his
post was this:

“Slow down. Take the time to write well. Think things through.

This was a follow-up to Mark’s previous post, where
he said it would be preferable for people to respond to other bloggers in their own space
(weblog), rather than leave comments in another person’s weblog:

“Weblog comments incite duels. Duels are bad for society. We should all
forego comments and return to carefully blogging responses — including responses we
disagree with, but excluding responses we cannot tolerate.”

It’s interesting to note that Mark’s advice seems to go against the grain of what
Generation Y does – frequent comments on other blogs, using IM to converse instantly and
in real time. So on the one hand Mark’s advice is old-fashioned and out of touch with
what ‘the kids’ do these days. But on the other hand I agree that we should learn to take
deep breaths and compose thoughtful responses on our personal weblogs – instead of
engaging in knife-fights on someone else’s territory.

Related to this topic, I’ve just
finished an experiment where I tried to publish a short and pithy post every day.
Off-the-kuff things. It didn’t work for me though, as I’m more comfortable writing
long-form articles and pondering things before I post. But then I’m also more of an ’email’ person than an
‘IM’ one. Perhaps there is a generation gap (I nearly said a ‘disconnect’, but that’s a
loaded term in the Web world). Whereas Gen Y like to send messages to their tribes in
real-time, previous generations prefer to ‘compose’ their messages and ‘publish’ them
when they’re good and ready. If that’s the case, is RSS Time fast enough for
Gen Y’s?

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