Like cultural differences, generational differences also exist. And it is not just about the level of seniority - each generation has a distinctive set of values that sets them apart. In this session, Peter will discuss how he has adapted his approach to leadership for product teams ranging across boomers, gen X, millennials and gen Z.
Peter Wang, CTO,Buzzfeed
I have no slides today. I'm doing a little social experiment, where I'm using no slides. Because I figure over the last two and a half years, I have looked at my monitor. More than ever actually, my eyesight got worse significantly, I noticed it. So I tried no slides today, I also bought some physical books, I'm reading two poems, from books, that's a little different. Also, it's my very first time coming back to a physical event ever since the COVID started, I'm used to seeing only 49 people at the same time. So this is a little overwhelming. For me, honestly, actually, you think I'm joking. I'm pretty nervous. It's also nervous when you face is this big.
So today, I'm gonna talk about something that I feel is not talked about in our industry as much. And when I look at my team of a little over 150 folks or product managers, engineers, designers, data scientists, and so on. I noticed in engagement surveys and different cuts and slices, that tenure location, one thing is different about them is the generational divide. And when I look at my team, as example, the majority of my team are millennials, followed by Gen X, then the Gen Z's are just starting. And I know many of you probably don't think about yourself as what generation am I and so I'll define them real quickly.
So real quick hand, how many of you are in Gen X, which is defined. If you're born 65 to 80. Okay, GenXers, okay. Next is Millennial will be okay. Majority of you guys don't even wait for the year. Okay, all right. That's fine. I see the eager, the eager generation 65 to 80 is I'm an old millennial just for the record. I was born 82 just turned 40. So I'm old millennial, actually, by the way in GenX. Also, Millennial I was wrong at 81, 96. I'm sorry, I was reading the wrong thing. But Gen X. I was gonna say there's a few notable folks, you know, in Gen X, we got Elon Musk's are the world's Shaq, Sundar Pichai. Jonah Peretti, from BuzzFeed, GenX, Tiger Woods,
A millennial, there's quite a few notables, Beyonce, Serena Williams, LeBron James, Mark Zuckerberg, Taylor Swift. And then we have Gen Z. How many Gen Z's are in the house? We have 97, 2012. Oh, well, a few. Okay, hello, future. Welcome to the present. I have three kids, actually, my oldest daughter is just at the cusp of Gen Z. She's nine years old. She's actually the old Gen Z, if you will, in the future, which is pretty wild. And my two other kids, age seven and five, are going to be in a generation that call generation Alpha. I guess you know, it's a loop. Z-A so on. What was interesting about this, there's actually a few motivations why I started looking at this not only by engagement surveys within my team, but also over the last two years, I had made a COVID move from New York to California to help with my in laws. And they have since moved in with us.
So now we have a three generational household between Boomer I guess old Millennial, in this case, and Gen Z who actually maybe Gen alpha as well. So maybe four generations. And I definitely noticed over the last couple of months since we've been together, that having more positive role models in the house has really affected positively my own kids, the way interact, where they learn how to communicate, they're happy, more connections, more stable during this period of very unstable times. So that got me interested. And the second one you guys can probably all relate to is the you know, there's different words for this, the Gray reshuffling the great resignation. I personally like to call it the Gray reflection. Because the last two years or so I guess, company three now has given us more challenges, especially I think for managers. I really have respect for managers. You guys have managed through a lot of crisis. Actually, my last talk is about the crisis. I'm glad we're talking about crisis this time.
Post-crisis but also allow opportunities. Many people took the opportunity to reflect on what their values are, what their priorities are, what they want to do in life, they moved away back home without a parents house and back with their parents, you kids, and so on, so forth. And that really got me anxious, I started realizing the life stage, I can see I should buy data, just my team itself has huge factor in how they make decisions on motivations, and their needs, and therefore, how we can work with them. And last thing is a little thing I'll throw out there. It's also not talked about as much, but I think maybe Gen Xers and all Millennials can relate to a bit more is the concept of ageism. Discrimination against age or, for me, it's less about discrimination. But just misconceptions. When you get older in your 40s and your 50s. I talk to my friends, many of my friends are much older, some of them are in the 50s, and some of them are actually in the 60s.
And when we talk about our life, and our the season that we're in are some of them are well beyond the current season, they often questioned about their value over time, what's my value now? What's my value in the future? And as I entered my 40s, myself, I want to think more about what is my value in the workforce? What's my value? And my family was mainly in life in general. So I think there's maybe think more about generational sense. So, really, I want to cover a few things.
A couple things. One is, it's very clear that the generations are quite different. If I had a slide today, it will be a very messy matrix, across different dimensions across generations, I think I'll save you that, there's a few clear differences. First and foremost, technological and communication styles have completely changed between the Gen X and the Gen Z. I'll go over real quick just on some of the characteristics real quick because there's not a whole lot of time. GenX, you guys are known for the the MTV generation. It's actually very interesting why is doing more research, the lack the latch key generation, because both parents are most likely working, you probably get home from work I mean from school, you go home by yourself, wait for the parents and you turn on the TV. This this is a generation that because they being left alone, they are independent, more resourceful, or creative, self reliant, they are known to be tough.
Now, these are more stereotypes. I know there's a lot of different variations. Also, there's a negative attributes, you know, they're also been known to be skeptical and overly critical. And from work, Culture perspective. This is almost the first iteration where the work life balance is very important. There's a good phrase where they work to live versus live to work, which is actually really interesting to think about how they also go through a lot of challenges in their own lifetime.
1980's at is a recession .com bubble in 1999, the great recession in 2007 and 2009 Of course, the COVID and so on and what we are experiencing. Also the entertainment is very different MTV, Mixtapes, Sony Walkman, the rise of video games, so we have you guys to thank for the rise of video games.
Apologies. It's my own phone. I was waiting for the Uber. And I didn't want to miss so sorry about that.
And the Millennials, Millennials is fascinating. So we have the resource real creative the millennial comes in they also no one's generation me. We first look up what are millennials known for? The first couple ones are fairly negative, entitled, lazy, self centered, ism a books about you, the coddling of the American mind, it's very famous as you read through the book. They're known to be bad at taking criticism. That's a meta joke. But they also known to be open minded, confident, self expressive, because they are the first digital native generation the regular presence of cell phones I know I have one Nokia back in college, iPhone 2007. And also the technological advances accelerated during this period of time, the rise of 3g 2002, 4g 2010, the 5g of course 2020. And the instant gratification wasn't possible until Amazon Prime launched a two day shipping.
You know what you hear that was? Any one? 2011 wrong, 2005 even earlier. It's amazing. Right? How long has it been?
But it doesn't feel that long. That's the interesting part about that. Right? It doesn't feel that long, but it has been a long time. Also the golden age of Social and video. Facebook 04, video 05, twitter 2006, Instagram 2010 Pinterest 2010, Snaps was 11, TWITCH was 11, it was incredible just how much platform has emerged during this period of time. Always on, we're always on email texts and so on. Also within if we're moving quickly as a Generation Z, they're known for the Zoomers, I don't really relate to that as much, but the TikTok generation, we can all relate to that. TikTok came, it just started in China before in 2016. And because the acquisition of musically was knitting has really become a sensation, taking over all of our advertising dollars, attention and so on.
I recently read a study their average teenager spent about three to five hours per day in TikTok pretty scary, actually, I have a few things to say about that.
So this generation is known to be open-minded, just like Millenials, in fact, there are a lot of similarities between Millennials and Gen Z open-mindedness, more and more inclusive, more politically activist, they stand for what they believe in. They also know on the flip side to have shorter attention span because the content has switched from books, poetry, to memes, to six second videos. They're also known to be poor in-person communication. But we know I'm glad we're here now to practice that a little bit more. I think actually many of us become worse at that over the last two, three years.
So from a technology point of view, not be on TikTok also, the rise of AR VR and Metaverse was sort of a children's period of time. So clearly, there's a huge differences between the generations. Why think deeper, despite all the differences, I think all of us share a certain set of universal needs, that transcends when we're born, where we from geographically how we were raised, I was named a few, right, we all want to be loved. While we're respected, trusted, we want to feel appreciated, and perhaps even admired. We want to feel safe, confident when I feel strong, I want to feel stable. We want to have a sense of agency to make decisions that we believe are good for ourselves.
Well, I want to send some order, some sense of structure to, not too much structure, enough structure to feel predictable, but also leave room for wonder for surprises for the unknown, will want to feel accomplished in life. Many of you are here because you want to learn, you want to get better at your craft, you want to open your mind. We all want to live our potential, no one goes to death and saying I did not want to live my full potential all of us wanted. And that we all want to believe that our life is for a greater purpose. We all want to feel peace at the end. Right? We'll feel content, regardless of circumstances.
So if you look at the differences that I could have put on the slide, and the list of commonalities, I personally believe that the commonalities outweigh any differences we have. So we look at workplace, we look at home life, we look at just data and directions. I think we should look at more of the commonalities, but also just for the differences. So what can we do for each other? I have three kind of areas that will say these are my hypothesis areas of welcome any criticism or additions. Just now on Twitter, no I'm kidding, you can just, you can ping me actually, I would love to hear more how you think about them.
The way I've written this down is what we can do for each other. The first one is what we can do for ourselves. The first one is actually because what technological advances always on, I think what we all need to do for ourselves first is to create more whitespace. How many of you open your calendars, you can literally see space, if your management many of you are meeting to meeting begin to end. To catch up, on Slack, I now have a queue of unread messages that I sometimes save, sometimes marked in red and I forget about them that have come back set reminders, scheduling new messages. It's pretty nice, white spaces, more stillness. But I think the reason I say I want to mention space first is because without creating space, a lot of things cannot happen. And we also tend to fill space if you have space with noise, you put them Netflix, YouTube, you know platform of your choice.
But the reason I want to mention is because I want you guys imagine I swear to describe your wife sometimes works I'll tell you guys, that when I think of my mind it's almost like a stream. It's clear water. He has some pebbles and sand at the bottom. As you read more consumed more, consume more, you're throwing things into the stream gets muddied, is a little hard to see through what it is, until you stay still for a few minutes, until you really stop doing something. Does that's true become testing? Is that stream become clear? Is that clarity start to emerge. And that's why a lot of times I had to take time outside of work, or creating new habits, that allows my mind to be worse still.
Does that analogy work for you guys? Yeah. Okay, cool.
So a couple of things. How do you create space. I mean, there's routines, you can read a lot about winning routines. While they I definitely haven't gotten better with these things I have not mastered. So it's not something mastered, I'm telling you, something I'm writing for myself too. So for example, morning when I wake up, and when I go to bed, no devices, books instead. And I've actually I've bought more physical books again, I feel like I'm going to the cycle and I read all my books, can do only good backup books. Because I find that I need to have that focal of focus. Don't do this grow right before bed. When we wake up, go outside the morning, even just 10 minutes makes a huge difference. You connect with the world. And the last one, I want a little mini challenge. I'm a huge fan of little habits like atomic habits or book nudge. It's about starting small. And this is you might think this is silly. But I want to challenge you to do this.
When you go to the bathroom, don't take a device with you. How many of you have been say on toilet and sending out messages that I've sent you there 10, 20 minutes, you're like, why am I still here? I was done 10 minutes ago. That little thing actually matters, right? Because it's habit you cannot even leave. Right? I call it doing business while you're doing business like don't do that. So his little challenge, I mean, so I'll move on from that one real quick. Second area. So first one is about space, create a white space for you. Second, to clear mind and get clarity. Second one is to fill that space with skill. And I think skill in this case I'm the particular skill going to talk about, it's about the ability to write well, to speak well, to think critically, I probably think about Gen Z and younger Millennial. Because I think the way you learn learning the way the consumer is very different.
The reason I say about these three things, is I do think that this is a necessary skill. And good writing takes time. I think especially hard if your attention span is shorter. By a few like as much as we can learn about the various tactics and so on. There's nothing that really replaces good writing, it forces you to clarify what you're trying to convey. Forces you to critically examine the evidence, not just take what's presented what's available by face value. It could be things reporting news could be data on your dashboard. It could be in your feelings you have examine your feelings be more. And I think this is actually a big topic is almost you could just spend 30 mins on feelings. I believe that feelings are a very compelling thing. And I think social media and all platforms really rattled by feelings more. But I think if you spend time to write, you're forced to examine your feelings to say is my feeling accurate?
What does it mean? What does it telling me? It's not always reliable, right? It can mislead us. It can also by thinking about your feelings more examining them, you can avoid on a common cognitive distortions that we're all succumb to. It can be by emotional reasoning, right? When you let your feelings guide your interpretation of the world of reality, you can be like I feel depressed today. I just don't think the job is for me. You can be overgeneralizing. When you take perceive a global pattern, based on a single negative event, you can be like, Oh, I made a mistake. I can say to yourself, I'm the kind of person who makes a lot of mistakes, but you just made one mistake, right? Generalizing about yourself. You can be about negative filtering. I think there's a big one in today's generation. We only focus on negative and the positive. I understand media doesn't really help with that. There's a lot of negativity on the media. It's also I think, cutting back and having that space is important.
Blaming is another cognitive dissonance where you tend to place responsibility on someone else versus on yourself. So I think examining your feelings, clarifying your thoughts, and also using writing to synthesize different viewpoints is a very important skill. It work very, very much. You know, I really like people who are able to listen to different viewpoints. Synthesize him, say, here's where the various viewpoints are, is on a spectrum, is perpendicular to one another. There's some overlap, which is very different. And also take the time to articulate in writing to articulate complex problem space is a very challenging but a very valuable skill to have distil down the problem space into the one question that you can pose to a group, it's very hard skill. And if you guys tried facilitation, how do you distil it? It's really hard and very valuable.
And last one, in terms of the skill wise, I want to encourage I guess, would be all generations, but slightly different disability beyond generation, but to think longer term. So the immediate thing in front of you, not just about your first order effects, right? First order means that there's an action, there's a consequence, think about second degree. Second degree means that for every consequence, there's a consequence. Skills like in this realm would be scenario planning. What happens if we lose one person on team versus five? What happens if the metric comes back this way? Right? Scenario planning requires you to think much further than just first degree. And that's a very valuable skill to have.
Okay, and I think I'm running out of time. Let me do a last one really quick. I skip actually one point. Last one is about tribe.
What I mean by tribe is, I believe that three kinds of people that are critical in your journey in life, the very first one I called the rock, the rock is someone with some people that you can always count on, no matter what the storm is, right? It keeps you grounded entire life, the people that you feel like safe all the time, people not judging you. Sometimes your parents, your mother, your father, your spouse, sometimes your coach, sometimes your childhood friend, that rock is really important sometimes for people is your God. Right? Is your rock. Having a rock in your life.
The second one is what I call heroes. And this one, I think about I thought about this hero for many years, but particularly for Gen Z is very curious as I want to make sure I pointed because, he was people you can look up to people you can emulate. And you think young Millennials and Gen Z especially have a hard time with their identity, right? Because it's exposed to so many kinds of possible identities, career paths, live choices. And they also define themselves largely based on people's perceptions of them, expectations of them. And a lot, many of them don't feel like they are enough because he's seeing so many paths out there. I show I was going to read a poem. I'll skip that one. So the important part here is A) Do you know who your heroes are? And I think when you think of heroes think about different aspects of your life. For example, I play many roles. I can be an executive, a Buzzfeed, I'm also a father, I'm also a husband. I'm also a son. I'm also a neighbour, you know, for his manager, Andy Grove is kind of my, my hero. He wrote high output management, Lara Hogan, recently, recent generation one has come up a lot of manage great management practices.
As a father, I thought about this, I don't have actually a lot of great father heroes, my father wasn't around a whole lot when I grew up in Taiwan. And I started sort of seeking out more intentionally, who is a good role model for me in terms of fatherhood. Anyway, so I think, Hiro and I think this also were Millennia and also Gen X come into play. You guys have a lot of experience in life. And some of you may not think my experiences worth storytelling is to be told to someone, it is, no matter how little you think about your experience, you have overcome a lot to be where you are today, you actually want generation has adapted the most to number of technological changes, career changes, you know, work changes, the most number of crisis, I think to share, don't have to go on TikTok to share, just share with people next to you.
And actually, I'm, I think that's something that we miss, in this remote first world that we don't have as many serendipitous stories sharing amongst us. Because I think we do that more and more, there's probably more heroes amongst our peers in our own work life that we can look up to without having to go to tick tock or elsewhere.
Lastly, the last group was for the rock that keeps you grounded. We talked about heroes that you look up to and maybe wait and I think this is where Gen Z be careful about who you emulate on TikTok, right? Do your critical thinking skill to examine if you should follow them.
Lastly, I call this group, currently termed as invisible hands, that nudge you forward along the way, what I mean by invisible hands, because we don't often recognize them where they are in your life, it could be a small thing, it could be like the smile you give to someone that given encouragement, it could be in a one on one we're very prepared. Maybe it's one minute to listen to the giving advice, it could be the book that you send to someone because the topic is interesting to the person that helped them, it could be that you have someone proofread their email before they send it out.
It could be that as a manager, you set it by budget for your new employee to fly out to be the team because you know, in this new world, you need to have that kind of setup as different than before. Little things like that. Oftentimes seeing it for granted. You can be that invisible hand for someone throughout the entire day. And also you can start paying attention, who's helping you nudging forward in the right direction. And see, thank you.
So in closing, I'll close real quick. I believe, you know, differences. It's something that we should be aware that I think a lot of the reporting about them. I'm a bridge exaggerated. And I think that we have so much more in common with one another. I want to encourage us to have more stillness in our life. Slow down, so you have more clarity. I will encourage you to be better writers, clear thinkers, and learn to speak in public.
I also encourage you to choose your heroes very intentionally. So you have the right people to emulate and also encourage you to be invisible hands for others, so that you can help them along the way. So cheers. Thank you very much for listening.
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Mon, May 23, 1:00 PM UTCHow Research Informs Design
Lead UX Designer, ChaiOne