individualStop thinking of people in terms of generations, and start thinking about them as individuals.

My generation does not define me any more than my gender, race, nationality, or sexual orientation—and neither does yours. Who we are as individuals might be influenced by where and how we grow up, but there’s more to all of us than one simple demographic.

Don’t tell me that because I was born within certain years, I conform to a specific profile. Just because I’m a Boomer doesn’t mean I’m a Luddite or that I can’t be flexible. I don’t spend my days in the kitchen with my hair in a bun, wearing sensible shoes and baking cookies for my grandchildren. My kids would laugh at the thought. I only baked cookies for them once or twice when they were growing up, but we let several batches cool on the counter, and the dog ate them. (Really.)

With Millennials now shaking up the workforce, “business pundits” are already trying to predict what the next generation will be like when they arrive for their first day of work. Talk about a self-fulfilling prophecy! These individuals are still children, and we’re already deciding who they will be.

I don’t want to be put in a box, and I’m not about to put my grandchildren in one either.

The Gen Z Effect

No one likes to be stereotyped, not in life or in sales. So when I heard about The Gen Z Effect, a new book by Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen, I picked it up immediately. They say there are generational chasms we’ve been taught to expect and accept, but that “Gen Z is not a birthright; it’s a conscious choice to adopt new behaviors.”

So what is the Gen Z effect? Koulopoulos and Keldsen say it’s “what happens when the simplicity and affordability of technology unites generations more than it divides them.”

In other words, it’s what happens when we stop thinking everyone born within a 20-year period is the same—which is ludicrous. Individuals, not generational behavior, change the world. That’s always been true, and always will be.

What This Means for Business

The book is not an easy read, but it’s well worth the effort. Matthew May’s article for American Express’s OPEN Forum—entitled “The Gen Z Effect: 6 Forces Shaping the Future of Small Business”—is a great introduction to the valuable lessons these thought leaders have to share. May notes several key quotes from the book, including:

It’s time to rethink generational labels entirely. What traditionally defines generations is mostly a set of unexamined and lazy stereotypes of each “unique” generation. We’re living in a post-generational world that’s being held back by these stereotypes. That’s one of the cornerstones of The Gen Z Effect … Ultimately the idea of a generational gap holds us back from connecting and collaborating across ages, personally, professionally and as a society.

What This Means for Sales

Generational diversity—like any type of diversity—can be a competitive advantage in sales. Rather than complaining about the younger generations—who, in turn, complain about us—maybe it’s time we stopped thinking about age and started listening to each other. Then we could open up a valuable dialogue that blends experience and new thinking.

Seasoned salespeople can help their younger counterparts remember to strike a balance between technology and human connections. On the other hand, younger reps can help the older pros embrace new technologies and keep up with the changing times.

Instead of letting our differences be sources of animosity, let’s choose to turn those differences into competitive advantages.

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