In 2005, I began pondering a variety of dissertation topics. I knew that the topic would have to be of great interest and importance to me if I was going to spend years researching and writing about it. It took some time and some experimentation for me to settle on the topic of intergenerational knowledge transfer. Once I began my journey, my interest grew into a passionate pursuit for answers to the question of how best to facilitate the flow of knowledge between different generations.
While conducting my doctorate research the question was asked of both baby boomer (born 1946 – 1964) and Generation X (born 1965 – 1976) participants “How might you view intergenerational differences as an impediment to the effective transfer of tacit knowledge?” Tacit knowledge is defined as “knowledge that is based on personal experience and is difficult to articulate and share with others.” Neither generational cohort felt that intergenerational differences were an impediment to the flow of knowledge between individuals. However, in the qualitative portion of my research study the answers to several open-ended questions revealed a significant generation gap existed between the two generations. The failure to make the connection between knowledge transfer barriers and generational differences was of great concern to me. If the generation gap is not recognized as an impediment to knowledge transfer then obviously, there is no attention being paid on how to bridge the chasm between generations.
The perspective of the baby boomers was that the Gen Xers were not respectful or appreciative of their years of experience and accumulated knowledge. The Gen Xers felt that the baby boomers were purposefully hoarding knowledge and felt threatened by the younger generation. Sadly, the baby boomers told me that they wanted to share their knowledge but only with individuals that approached them with a respectful and appreciative attitude.
This drastic misunderstanding and mistrust between generational cohorts both shocked and scared me. As the baby boomers leave the workforce, they may refuse to share the rich tacit knowledge that resides in their heads if they do not feel that the younger generation is respectful and deserving of their hard-earned knowledge. What a tragedy this would be for any organization.
The results of my study raised concerns that the chasm between the two cohorts is wider than predicted. If Generation X employees perceive baby boomers as purposefully hoarding knowledge out of a fear of loss of power and control, then Generation X employees may project an attitude of resentment and disrespect. If the baby boomers are willing to share tacit knowledge, but perceive a lack of a visible and mutual respectful attitude from Generation X engineers, then the lack of communication and misunderstanding among generations could effectively block the flow of knowledge.
This research was the impetus for my passionate pursuit of optimal multi-generational knowledge transfer strategies. It is my desire to see employees of all generations develop more productive and emphatic relationships with members of other generations for the sake of themselves and their organizations.