Diverse teams get better results. They bring home more sales, more customers, more profit and more innovation.
But this is completely counterintuitive.
Working with people who are like us feels more effective. On a homogenous team, people understand each other quickly, and collaboration flows smoothly. The sameness gives us the sensation of progress.
In reality, friction adds value. For example, more diverse juries weigh cases more deeply. When homogenous teams are joined by even just one outsider, those teams double their chances of arriving at correct answers. The work seems harder when we don’t all think alike, but we get it right more often.
So why shouldn’t you schedule your week so you don’t have to work shifts with generations who don't think like you? Precisely because they don't think like you.
Different "Minds" at the Table
Look around at your team. Odds are, one in three of them grew up before laptops were invented. Boomers and early Xers learned almost entirely from books—focused, slow, line-by-line, page-by-page learning.
That kind of linear thinking leads to informed decisions and high-level executive thinking. Not a bad thing to have in your toolkit—but based in a linear, analog brain. To become digitally competent, Boomers had to grow new, digitally-inspired neural pathways alongside the old analog ones. That’s what it means to be a Digital Adaptive. And it's why Boomers call you on the phone sometimes to see if you got their email. Just kidding—kinda.
In contrast, late-wave Xers, Millennials and Gen Zs grew up using the internet. For these Digital Natives, random access works best, linear thinking is too slow. If you're a Digital Native, your go-to reference is an image, not words. Your brain feeds on instant, frequent information. There’s an intuitive flow between you and the machine.
The internet taught Millennials AND GEN Z to scan and scroll, not just with their fingers, but with their minds.
The tools we use—from books to apps—shape the way we process information. For example, Boomers studying engineering learned to calculate stress factors with pencils on paper. They went from step A to step B to C and so on. Gen Xers learned the same skill using calculators to go from A to D without visiting B and C. That’s radically condensed, with steps left out. It requires different wiring in the brain.
Gen Z is even more different. Zs pinch, spread, flick and tap on three to five screens at once. During an average day, Gen Zs reach for a phone or iPad every seven minutes. When Zs read, they actually “read” less than 20% of the text on the page, and spend only four seconds on every 100 words.
The Bottom Line
Different generations bring very different cognitive strengths to work. The summary above can help you recognize the differences, ally with different generational "minds," and be smarter than you were before.
Amy Lynch is a generations author, speaker and consultant. Contact her about Strategic Generational Diversity for your organization. And join the conversation. How do you leverage generational stengths? @amylynchgenedge Don't forget to list your #Generation.