What Box Fits You?

I just read an article titled “Training a Multigenerational Workforce: Understanding Key Needs & Learning Styles.” It hit my hot button. I am breathing fire! One of the serious problems in the world today is the endless attempt by the media, academics and authors to put people into categories. Categories never fit anyone who you know. Boomers, Gen Xers, Gen Yers — who are these people? This way of grouping people is about as scientific as astrology. Somebody just made these categories up. They are not real, and they tell you almost nothing about individuals. Modern society demands that organizations, manufacturers and stores treat us as unique humans. Every product or service needs to be customized as many ways as there are customers. All generalizations are wrong, including this one.

I am a 77-year-old, Southern, white, male, Army veteran. Now what does that tell you about me? I would like to think that anything you concluded from any of those categories would not adequately describe me. Knowing those things doesn’t even give you a hint about my “key needs and learning styles.” The article states that “Each generation has unique characteristics.” Duh! Each person has unique characteristics. There was song popular in the ’40s called “Don’t Fence Me In.” It is probably more applicable to people today than it was in the ’40s.

I admit to being hypersensitive to putting people in categories. When I worked in mental health many years ago there was an article that stated there were 101 behaviors that could lead mental health professionals to diagnose schizophrenia. You could exhibit one or 101 and get the same diagnosis. Once diagnosed the treatment was the same – Thorazine, qid (four doses a day). It was an ineffective and inefficient way to treat people. No wonder success rates were so low. Yet, it’s no wonder that in this day and age we are still putting people in categories (boxes).

According to the author of the article, I belong to the “silent generation.” She says this generation likes “a structured environment where they are told what they are to learn.” That would drive me crazy and bore me to tears. She also says that “Gen Ys also prefer to learn by doing.” Who doesn’t? We all learn that way.

The problem is that we all tend to categorize every one that we meet. It is natural that we bring our experiences with us wherever we go. Most of us strive to overcome stereotyping people. The best way to work with you is to know you, not as some abstraction of your experiences but as the person you are because of your experiences. We are told constantly that leaders must be authentic. I guess the reason they are not authentic is that they have been put into too many categories and begin to act like the so-called categories that are supposed to define them.

In teaching the science of behavior, the first thing we teach is that no two people are alike. They respond to different reinforcers and punishers, and if you don’t know someone, what you think is a positive reinforcer may turn out to be a punisher. The richness of a person’s life cannot be captured by personality or intelligence tests, nor from the “category” they are supposed to belong to. I quit giving those tests years ago.

We will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of training when we organize the learning environment to focus on the best way to bring out the best in each person. Anything short of that is to short-change the employee and the organization.