The look I get is usually the same. The person looks a little bit disoriented, confused, or outright frightened. I am encouraging them to use an enterprise social network called Yammer. They have never heard of Yammer before, and they have no idea what what an enterprise social network does, or how it can help them. Young or old, experienced or not, there is a moment of realization and an opportunity.

I can embrace this software, or I can step away.

They say to me “I’m too old to use this.” “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” “Just email it to me, or better yet, drop it off at my house.” Younger people claim that the software I am encouraging them to use is not their preferred means of communication. “Can’t we just use Twitter?”

Many of the people I am encouraging to use Yammer are 65 years old, or older. Sometimes they are younger, and we assume too quickly they are agile, and are eager to learn new things. Older people feel technology is moving too quickly for them to keep up. Younger people like what they like. Older people like the old ways of working, and they don’t feel the need to stay current with new tools or work practices. They feel the technology (and maybe sometimes the world) is beyond them. They can’t keep up. I think they are wrong. Younger people can be obstinate, and their experience tells them what they think they need to know.

As managers and moderators, we make our own assumptions. Sadly, most times our assumptions are wrong. We are only seeing things at the surface, and people are complex organisms with their own history, stories and preconceptions.

My caveat is, of course, that we can’t make grand generalizations. Some people, regardless of their age, are challenged by learning new software, and perhaps those challenges are sometimes exacerbated by age. The reasons differ, and I think our assumptions about limitations or possibilities due to the age of the user are usually misplaced, or easy addressed and revised. There are challenges to using software, and I think age has little to do with it.

For instance, these are all imaginary people I deal with, in reality, on an almost daily basis.

  1. I get calls almost on a weekly basis from Helene, who is 85 years old. She has an America Online email address, and likes to communicate with her grandchildren. She asks me how to get into Yammer, how to find information, how to communicate with people. She is committed to learning the software. She is committed to feeling successful. She wants to learn.
  2. Brian is 28 years old. He likes to use Instagram, Twitter and Outlook. Yammer is not a tool Brian chose to use, so he does not want to use it. At first glance, it did not look like anything else he communicates or collaborates with, so he decides not to use it.
  3. Sharon is 53 years old. Since she began her career in the early 90’s, she has used email. It worked well for her then, and it works well for her now. She has learned to live with sharing files attached to emails, and finds ways to track versions and work with colleagues easily enough. She has no interest in learning a new platform.
  4. Christine is 65 years old, and has been eagerly anticipating a new tool that will help save time, and make it easy to find and share information. Yammer is easy to learn, she appreciates the fact that all information and conversations are now in one place, and she finds herself collaborating now more with colleagues.

Helene could easily use the excuse of her age to decide she can’t learn the new software, but she decides instead to be proactive, and do her very best to engage with the technology and try work in a new way.

Brian could open himself up to learning a platform that someone else is asking him to use rather than closing himself off from using technology that is not trending.

Sharon could realize that the people around her are working in new ways, saving time and being more effective. Though she was on the bleeding edge 25 years ago when she began to use email, there are other tools now, and new ways to succeed and stay current.

We need to meet each other halfway. We can’t use our age, or the age of our users, as an excuse, a reason or a rationale. We need to meet our users where they are, and acknowledge their concerns and their experience. Our users need to understand that we are there to help them. We believe they can use the software just as effectively as anyone else, and they have real and meaningful contributions to make.

We are all using the same tools. We are all trying to make an impact. There is a monitor. There is a keyboard. There is software. Take a deep breath. Let’s get to work.

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