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College Quarterly
Fall 2011 - Volume 14 Number 4
The Kids Are Alright: How the Gamer Generation is Changing the Workplace
John C. Beck & Mitchell Wade
Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2006
Reviewed by Gregory G. Gaydos

The Kids Are Alright! No, not 'The Kids Are All Right,' the recent film with Annette Bening and Julianne Moore playing a lesbian couple raising two perfectly proper children from the same sperm donor, who are infiltrating the suburbs, but a book from the Harvard Business School Press with much the same message about the Gamer Generation infiltrating the business world. Both film and book challenge the Baby Boomer prejudice that these alternative lifestyles (non-traditional families, and non-traditional entertainment with electronic games replacing TV) threaten our civilization.

John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade wrote this book to reassure the Baby Boomer senior management that the Gamer junior executives not only pose no threat to American business, but possess the mother lode of talent that will propel American business to new heights with the skills that have been hard wired into their brains through gaming. The task of senior management will be first to acknowledge their unique talents, and then smooth the edges of the Gamers, who may arrive with tattoos and body punctures, and integrate them into teams with the senior executive cadre.

The authors require a paradigm shift from the rest of us who have accepted the typical generational cohorts of G.I. Generation, Quiet Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X and Millennials,  and divide the business world into Boomers (born 1946-1964) and Gamers (born 1965 +). Some older Boomers and pre-Boomers remember playing Pong in the 1970s, but we dismissed it a few years later as a trivial pursuit unaware that  the Sony Play Station would arrive 10 years later and find a place in 25% of our homes.

The authors claim that the Boomers were reared on television, which is passive learning in which we retain 10%, of the knowledge presented, while Gaming is active learning in which the participants retain 75%, and hard wires their brain for success in the business world. Boomers tend to stereotype Gamers as reclusive antisocial nerds who lack the social skills to succeed.

The authors' research, based on several thousand participants in survey research and several hundred in-depth interviews, revealed just the opposite results. Gaming makes the gamer want to be the hero, learn from trial and error, take good risks (for profit, not for thrills), which results in an active, team-oriented worker who wants to win.

This book will not only assist the business world, but the professoriate which will profit immensely from an understanding of these strange creatures, who have insinuated themselves into our classrooms over the last thirty years. I do not fully endorse this generation, for I have witnessed the constant texting and emailing in class, as they pretend to take notes, which Doonesbury exposes from time to time, and appears miraculously posted to faculty office doors the next day.

Yet, this book unlocked a mystery that has baffled me for several decades, and has revolutionized my teaching. I always used the Socratic Method, as had my professors ever since the 1960s, and it worked well into the 1980s. Starting in the mid-1980s, I began making annual treks to my Department Chairman, at his request, to answer complaints by students who said I was too opinionated and trashed their cultures. This always baffled me because although I do have strong opinions and do not pull any punches when analyzing the political world (I utilize the Hegelian dialect and present a thesis, looking for the students to provide the antithesis), I always rewarded students who argued with me with higher grades at the end of the semester. In fact, in over 40 years of teaching, I have never had a student complain to the department chair, after the semester was over, that they received a low grade because they disagreed with me in class. Having suffered that fate as an undergraduate myself, I am very careful not to perpetuate that error. I have always received good evaluations from students, but there were always one or two students who rated me as the worst professor at HPU. I wrote them off as malcontents, or immature students who could not stand up to the arguments of anyone with whom they disagreed. Fortunately, I usually have three or four who say I am the best professor at HPU, but I always wondered why I could not reach them all.

The Kids are Alright was an epiphany on 'the road to Damascus,' which explained that, for the last 25 years, I have been teaching Gamers, whose central feature is that they want to be the hero. Playing Thracymachus to my Socrates never allowed them to win, because they came to the argument ill-equipped with an American secondary education. Forget the Peloponnesian War, the Medieval Period or the Renaissance. Forget Julius Caesar, Charlemagne or Napoleon (only one student in my class had heard of him and he was from France). Forget Teddy Roosevelt, FDR or (shock of shocks to Boomers) JFK. One student asked, 'Whose side was Hitler on in WW II?' The Gamers do not watch television, spending more time and money gaming than going to the movies. The Dreamworks publicist said they titled their film, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, rather than Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider, because more of the youth knew Lara Croft than Angelina Jolie.

If the students want to be the hero, Socrates must step out of the way, inject a pertinent question into the class, (e.g., Should the U.S. pull out immediately from Afghanistan, withdraw according to the 2014 time frame announced by President Obama, or stay the course until the Afghan government can defend itself from a Taliban takeover?), and allow each of them to become their own Socrates. I recede from my position as the fulcrum of the class, to being a stately traffic cop, who ensures everyone has a say, make certain everyone treats everyone else with respect, and makes a few wise comments summing up the discussion.

Voila! I immediately sensed an improved attitude on the part of the students, and for the first time, I did not have bomb throwers at the end of the class evaluations, saying I was the worst professor at HPU. This does not mean that I have reached perfection, because reversing 40 years of teaching is like turning around an aircraft carrier. I keep slipping back into Socrates, but at least I catch myself and immediately return to the class for their perspective, preserving the Hegelian dialect. All professors should allow the students to be the hero. It works.


Dr. Gregory G. Gaydos, is Associate Professor of Political Science at Hawai'i Pacific University in Honolulu. He can be reached at ggaydos@hpu.edu

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