If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants. – Sir Isaac Newton
In his October 2007 article, “Generation Y Challenges the Public Service,” David Eaves offers some interesting food for thought on the state of the Canadian federal public service. One gets the impression FROM his comments that Gen Yers may be frustrated by the dominance of Baby Boomers. Well, so were Gen Xers before them, who faced the additional challenge of trying to break INTO the public sector job market during the deficit-slashing days of program review. But Baby Boomers have something that Gen Yers (and Gen Xers, for that matter) do not have. It’s called experience.
Going to school longer is not necessarily the same thing as being better educated. While one cannot deny the benefits of formal learning, and the fact that educational qualifications are crucial to being able to function effectively in a knowledge-based economy, experience can be a great teacher. At the risk of restating the obvious, people who are older have more experience.
We can choose to complain about that, or we can take the opportunity to learn FROM the “organizational memory” or “corporate memory” that the Baby Boomers possess. We can choose to waste the next 25-30 years of our careers by re-inventing and re-discovering things that already exist. Or, we can learn FROM those who came before us, and improve and redesign things, so that systems, institutions, laws, regulations, etc. function better for us, our children and our grandchildren.
Embarking on that challenge will require respectful two-way communication – respectful dialogue – between junior and senior public service colleagues. Only through a genuine dialogue that respects the abilities, knowledge and talents of all parties can we hope to bridge the often mentioned, yet seldom understood, “generation gap” in the workplace. In the process, senior employees may discover that their tech-savvy junior colleagues have solutions to long-standing information management and information flow problems, or that complex problems might be addressed after they are analyzed FROM a new perspective. Concurrently, junior employees may benefit FROM the mutual discovery that the wisdom that one gains FROM experience is something that can be passed down.
Too often, valuable information is packed in a box of old files, stuck in an old daytimer, erased FROM a hard drive, hidden in a box of floppy diskettes or left on a non-descript flash drive to be forgotten when someone retires. The work does not stop, however. Consequently, a new person coming on board has to learn many things FROM scratch. If that is allowed to happen, then the people of Canada are not getting the quality of service that they deserve.
Think of trying to cook a gourmet meal FROM a recipe book where some of the ingredients do not have measurements and some of the pages are missing. What will the meal taste like? Public service is not about ensuring that you look like a great chef while those who follow you cannot even boil water because they cannot find where you put the saucepot. Nor is it about the sous-chef telling the chef to get out of the kitchen. As Eaves points out, the use of wikis allows for bottom-up collaboration that breaks down barriers. Wikis also can serve to record departmental activity. The knowledge accumulated by senior public service employees is too valuable to the people of Canada to be dismissed to the dustbins of history. The citizens of Canada deserve better.