Every day, we experience interpersonal interactions that are positive, and some that are challenging at best. The role we play when these interactions occur has a significant impact in influencing their outcome. When I consider my own self, in the professional world, I am the CIO for a global manufacturing company and a part-time adjunct professor teaching a graduate level course at a local college. In my personal world, I am a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a friend. In both scenarios, there are interactions that are easy, smooth, and effortless; conversely, there are other interactions that are contentious, negative, and emotionally draining. Quite frankly, the latter are the encounters I consciously try to avoid. What causes these extreme variances from one interaction to another? A knee-jerk response to that question is to blame the “the generation gap”; but how can this be the reason, since good and bad interactions occur with individuals of all ages and in both professional and personal capacities?
In this book, Dr. Michael Urick explains that perhaps peoples’ misconceptions in understanding the term “generation” may cause “problems at work (and in society) including breakdowns in communication, weakened knowledge transfer, and poor intergenerational mentorship.” As Dr. Urick outlines, there are many ways of understanding the term generation beyond a simple conceptualization of an age group. For example, a generation can refer to a collective consciousness in which “members of a group have had similar experiences and perspectives because they were exposed to common events, despite potentially possessing different biological ages.” In these situations, “generational members emerge because they experience a similar major milestone or life event at the same time despite biological age.”
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Urick, who is the Graduate Director of the Master of Science in Management: Operational Excellence program at the Alex G. McKenna School of Business, Economics, and Government at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania. At that time, many manufacturing companies were in the early stages of comprehending the inevitable disruption that would result from Industry 4.0 and digital transformation. My employer was no exception, as experts were predicting that no business, no industry, and even no corner of the world would be spared from the oncoming disruption. Intuitively, to help my company successfully navigate these disruptive changes, I needed to refresh my understanding of the fundamentals of operational excellence (OE), including a focus on optimizing business processes before applying technology. During my first meeting with Dr. Urick, I was quickly convinced that enrolling in the Masters in Operational Excellence program at St. Vincent College would be a benefit on this journey.
In addition to leading the OE program at St. Vincent College, Dr. Urick is also an Associate Professor of Management and Operational Excellence. As an esteemed professor and frequently published researcher, the courses he teaches in the OE program include “Communication, Conflict, and Diversity,” “Organizational Culture,” and “Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management.” At first, I was dreading the human resources content one anticipates in classes where “organizational” appears in the course title. After all, I had signed up to rekindle my relationship with hardcore OE, like manufacturing type stuff, and not the softer HR content.
Even though my initial strategy was to refresh my knowledge of operational excellence, Lean principles, and the Toyota Production System, I soon found myself completely absorbed in the organizational and human elements of the workplace. Captivated, I found myself mentally revisiting and questioning the way I handled numerous interpersonal interactions during my career. How could this happen? After all, I was thirty-plus years into my career in corporate America. I successfully ascended to the C-suite. I was a global leader skilled in comprehending and expertly managing all workplace dustups that came my way! However, weekly class lectures full of vibrant discussion and debate on topics like conflict management, individual behaviors, and generational bias took me deeper into self-reflection. As I revisited earlier situations in my career (and my personal life), I contemplated using methods learned in class that would have resulted in better outcomes.
Additionally, it was during Dr. Urick’s classes that I discovered the depth and breadth of his knowledge in all things people: a knowledge gained not only from extensive research on organizational behaviors and generations in the workplace, but also from his own firsthand industry experience prior to becoming a full-time college professor, researcher, and author. One of the class topics that intrigued me was how real or perceived intergenerational misunderstandings and conflicts lead to “less effective organizations, workplaces, and ultimately societies.” Realizing that most of us know less about generational differences than we think, lively class debates provided an introspective glimpse that helped me to reexamine how to “improve my interactions with others, reduce misunderstandings and conflict, leading to an enhanced work product and stronger relationships.”
In writing The Generation Myth, Dr. Urick has successfully documented the spirit of his courses by extensive research to create a playbook that will help others understand the critical importance of exploring and increasing their understanding of generational phenomena. In the book, readers will understand how enhancing this capability is critical in figuring out how to coexist, work, and interact across multiple generations. This is true whether the generations the reader is bridging are based on age, collective consciousness, or maturity. Personally, I believe that this ability to interact across generations is becoming more critical as social media continues to shrink our world and bring us closer together, Baby Boomers are postponing retirement and remaining in the workplace, and emerging technologies are enabling people of all generational groups to take on leadership roles in corporations, startup companies, or other organizations.
Looking back, I am grateful for the experience that I gained from attending Dr. Urick’s classes. Now a fervent advocate and practitioner of the course material, I plan to use The Generation Myth as a tool to enlighten others. I firmly believe this understanding and clarity has improved interpersonal relationships in both my professional and personal worlds. As the reader, you now have the advantage to acquire the same knowledge from the book as opposed to attending classes for several semesters. I trust that you will also find valuable lessons from this book that will help you improve interpersonal interactions and relationships in both your professional and personal lives.
In closing, as an admirer of Dr. Urick’s work, I am honored for this opportunity to share my thoughts on The Generation Myth. However, after reading The Generation Myth, I did think to myself, “Could I have waited for the book instead of attending all of those graduate classes?” I wonder if that would be a consistent thought across all generational definitions.
—Thomas F. McKee, Jr.
Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Kennametal Inc.
August 23, 2018