A Gen Y Book Review: “The Trophy Kids Grow Up,” by Ron Alsop

Here’s just a quick review of “The Trophy Kids Grow Up” (2008), by Ron Alsop of the Wall Street Journal. It’s a skimmer – 3 stars.

While some Gen Y books focus more on solutions, Ron Alsop seems most concerned with simply exposing readers to the characteristics of the Millennial generation. Often focusing on the remarkable contradictions about this generation – for example, we’re perceived as wanting flexibility and freedom, but want everything spelled out for us – the work seeks to paint a portrait of what makes Gen Y tick.

Beautifully researched with colorful interjections from real young professionals and students, Alsop has captured much of the essence of Gen Y with a factual air — the reporter’s nonbiased perspective is hard at work here. He focuses on Gen Y’s relationship with parents and authority, need for feedback, freedom and desire for jobs with meaning.

Pointing the Finger

However, he doesn’t hide his accusing finger quite well enough. Parents who coddled this generation are clearly at fault for some of the oddities and immaturities that make managers of Gen Yers in the workplace crazy. Thinking of the helicopter parent phenomena, it reminds readers that maybe it’s not just the kids’ fault – parents (who may very well be managers of other people’s kids by day) created this monster and have to live with it.

Thumbs Down

While the work does illustrate so many of the common perceptions about Gen Y, I see two failings.

First, it’s just a portrait. What good does hanging my picture on the wall do when you need to actually talk on the phone with me? I want conclusions, what to do to adapt to this generation, and not the lip-service type response Alsop gives. For example, he suggests Take Your Parents to Work Days can be mutually beneficial to students and employers who recognize the role family members play in young pros’ decisions – but fails to illustrate how “in loco parentis” management can help create a stellar workforce.

Secondly, and this is just one Millenial reading between the lines, the non-biased reporter’s perspective is tainted by just a few too many examples of the ridiculousness of some Gen Yer’s actions and not enough examples of truly positive ways Gen Yers can influence our companies and products.

Who Should Read It

I’d suggest this book to anyone who hasn’t worked with Gen Yers before, and want to prepare themselves for the worst — at least it will indoctrinate clueless managers who aren’t ready for us. I’d hope that once they really got some hands-on experience with my Gen Y peers, they’d understand where we came from and then be pleasantly surprised by all the positive change and energy we can provide. Then, they’d read Bruce Tulgan’s “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy: How to Manage Gen Y” and find out how to turn our unique qualities into advantages.

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