Age is a State of Mind

It was so common, that it was a joke — celebrating one’s 39th birthday for the 10th time. However, now we’re seeing Baby Boomers who have worked and worked out in order to beat Old Man Time. Their birth certificates may say one thing, but their energy levels, flexibility, physical strength, mental agility and willingness to innovate say another. Finally, the stars are aligned so that your age need not entirely be defined chronologically. Now, it really is plausible to say that age is more a state of mind.

These changes in society have important implications for knowledge management. While some may say we are doomed by our chronology, the reality is that more and more enterprises are finding that the facile assumptions they had at the beginning of a social media implementation are being disproved by their users. Take, for example, Intellipedia, the online wiki for federal intelligence information sharing. According to KM Experts Dispute Age Gap, Intellipedia’s actual usage patterns “do not always fit standard expectations.”

Chris Rasmussen, social software knowledge manager at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (and a top contributor to Intellipedia), recently reported on how the users of Intellipedia have defied the generational assumptions lots of experts make:

For example, people assume Intellipedia users in their 20s would be the most prolific, but that is not necessarily the case, he said. One of the most active editors is in his 60s. Of the two-dozen most active editors, most are in their 30s and 40s….

(Just for the record, Rasmussen is 33.)

While GenY/Millenials may come to work with greater ease with social computing and more hard computing skills, they don’t always have the substantive knowledge or inclination necessary to make valuable contributions at the office. By contrast, Gen X and Baby Boomer employees have the edge on substantive knowledge, but may not have the skills or confidence to try social media tools. Thankfully, most of these tools are intuitive and easy to use. If we can just get them into the hands of these information and experience rich older workers, we should see huge gains in knowledge management programs.

Don’t write off your Gen X and Baby Boomer users. Instead, get to know them. You may discover that they are much better candidates for your social media tools that some of their Gen Y/Millenial counterparts. In either case, ditch the generational stereotypes and focus on the individuals. They are only as old as they act and feel — age is a state of mind.

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