Are faux-Zuckerbergs a threat to corporate harmony?

Guest post: Chris Matyszczyk wonders whether Generation Y is Cartesian with a twist: I think, therefore I am great.I had dinner with someone significant in the tech world the other day.

Guest post: Chris Matyszczyk wonders whether Generation Y is Cartesian with a twist: I think, therefore I am great. I had dinner with someone significant in the tech world the other day. Desdemona (guess what, not her real name) had a problem she wanted to share with me. I realized it was serious when she reached for her second glass of Raymond Chardonnay. And didn’t pour me any.

“I just don’t know how to deal with these people,” she said, shortly after slurping slightly. “They’re really getting on my nerves.”

Actually she didn’t phrase it quite so politely, but that was the gist of her angst. “They come straight out of college and they think they know everything,” she said. She slurped Raymond again, then added: “You know, maybe they know they don’t know everything, but they think if they act as if they do, it’s the quickest way to get ahead.”

Before Desdemona could explain (or slurp) further, another of my dinner companions, let’s call her Isolde, someone significant in the advertising world, chimed in with harmony: “I get the same thing. One of the little squirts who works for me actually wrote to a major client ‘Hey, Jeffrey. How’s it going?’ He’d never even met Jeffrey. And Jeffrey is ten years older and a lot more significant than my squirt.”

Desdemona offered: “My arrogant little punk is straight out of Murray State.” “And mine played football at San Jose State,” added Isolde. “I don’t think they’re very good.”

I was surprised at the extent to which these experienced and successful managers were appalled at this wind that was stirring beneath their wings.

So I bought another bottle of wine (well, what would you have done?) and asked a few questions. This is the picture they created of Generation Y. Or, it seems, Generation WHY?!!!!!:

1. They have attained a level of cynicism that a politician (except for Howard Dean) would admire. 2. They are Leona Helmsleys who believe that hard work is not for people like them. 3. They are Cartesian with a twist: I think, therefore I am great. 4. They prefer to go home early and, given their twisted Cartesianism, the concept of proving themselves is not one that concerns them. 5. They have no problem with telling their bosses what to do. (In fact, Desdemona feared one of them would very soon ask her to go get him a coffee.) 6. They like to say ‘hey’ to everyone and are not very good at spelling or punctuation. 7. They like a drink.

As I once said to my mother on a particularly dark Sunday morning, it was only one dinner. Yet I would be interested to hear whether this phenomenon is one that others in the working world are secretly enduring.

Could it be true that young people coming out of college are really so full of self-worth, arrogance and gall? (Which would mean they must shop at Burberry, right?)

Or is there something that, watching the world out there (too many evenings spent with the Office of Steve Carrell, perhaps?), has taught them about the way people in business behave?

Is it possible that this generation has come to believe that there is little to be gained by respecting those above you on the slippery slope to options, power and a malfunctioning Maserati?

Could it be that they see young, smart, entrepreneurial people like Mark Zuckerberg sitting atop unimagined sums of money and decide that it’s all one big, stupid game?


Or were my two dinner companions just having a difficult week?

I admit I found their tales fairly tall. Until I was told this story by an unimpeachable (he’d never harbored anyone under his desk) HR director. He (oh, must I give him a name? Troilus, then.) told me that a recent graduate had sat in his office and demanded a paid-for parking space as part of his ‘package.’ (Yes, this was somewhere in San Francisco, where parking can often be more expensive than, say, dinner.)

Troilus’s’s reply was something akin to: “Package this, Sonny Jim,” accompanied by a digit waved in the direction of the door.

So who needs the shrink? Experienced managers? Or bad football players from San Jose State? Or both?

Chris Matyszczyk has spent most of his career as an award-winning creative director in the advertising industry. He advises major global companies on marketing and creativity. Chris has also been a journalist, covering the Olympics, SuperBowl and other sporting events. He brings a non-techie's perspective to the tech world and a sharp wit to the rest of the world. Check out his "Pond Culture" blog.