The Pew Internet and American Life Project recently asked a large group of experts if they thought Millennials would grow out of their currently strong penchant for online sharing and self-revelation. A strong majority of this group — 67% — said that this would not be the case, and that Generation Y would keep sharing as it aged.
I agree, and my favorite explanation for why came from Matt Gallivan, a senior research analyst for NPR, who said "Sharing is not 'the new black,' it is the new normal. There are too many benefits to living with a certain degree of openness for Digital Natives to 'grow out of it.' Job opportunities, new personal connections, professional collaboration, learning from others' experiences, etc., are all very powerful benefits to engaging openly with others online, and this is something that Gen Y understands intuitively."
Older generations of knowledge worker, including mine, don't share this intuition. We basically work in private, or in small groups of close colleagues, and only share our output — papers, reports, plans, presentations, analyses, and so on — once we consider it done.
Gen Y finds this approach somewhere between quaint and dumb. They inherently follow the advice of blog pioneer Dave Winer to "narrate your work" — to use 2.0 tools like blogs, microblogs, and social networking software to broadcast not only the finished products of knowledge work, but also the work in progress.
Millennials are more likely to talk publicly about the tasks and projects they're working on, the progress they're making, the resources they're finding particularly helpful, and the questions, roadblocks and challenges that come up. This narration becomes part of the digital record of the organization, which means that it becomes searchable, findable, and reference-able.
As this happens, two broad benefits materialize. First, people who narrate their work become helpful to the rest of the organization, because the digital trail they leave makes others more efficient. Second, by airing their questions and challenges work narrators open themselves up to good ideas and helpfulness from others, and so become more efficient themselves.
As Gallivan says, the Facebook generation understands these benefits, while other workers often do not. Older generations are more likely to see work narration as a narcissistic waste of time. Gen Y, meanwhile, knows that narrating their work, when done right, saves time, increases productivity, and knits the organization together more tightly. We should start following their lead and stop reflexively working in private.
This post has focused on the positive changes Millennials are bringing to the world of work. In my next one I'll turn into a curmudgeon and describe what I think Gen Y is getting wrong about the workplace, to their detriment.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear from you. Do you narrate your work? If so, what has the experience taught you? If not, why not?