In this episode of the TalentGrow Show, Jessica Kriegel, author of Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit From Ditching Generational Stereotypes, explains everything wrong with the idea of generational differences. She shows how most of the information we read and hear about generational differences is actually built on a “bed of lies”—scant anecdotal research, contradictions, and oversimplification. She offers insights from her own research and specific examples to show us the ways we’re harming ourselves and our businesses by clinging to what amounts to stereotyping and bias. Jessica offers actionable advice and calls on us all to completely ditch this type of labeling, suggesting it can be life-changing!
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
- Understanding Jessica’s “dual career track”: she explains the synergy between her day job (working at Oracle) and building her own personal brand (book authorship and her Forbes blog) (6:30)
- What Jessica found during her research on generational differences: contradictions, lack of common themes (9:25)
- How the industry of generational differences is based on a “bed of lies”: scant anecdotal research, false assumptions, and oversimplification (9:43)
- Why the temptation of classifying groups of people around us is so tempting and comforting to the brain (12:02)
- “The Store for the Millennial” fiasco: here, Jessica shares a real life example of how these impressions can adversely inform our business decisions, completely steering us in the wrong direction (13:01)
- What people don’t like to be told (14:13)
- What we can do to combat and reverse these stereotypes (14:33)
- Why we need to check ourselves for unconscious bias that could be informing the way we interpret the actions of people around us (14:58)
- Imagine if the title of the article “5 Tips for Managing Your Millennials” was changed to “5 Tips for Managing your 65-Year-Old Employees” (15:31)
- The “Millennial” label is nothing more than age discrimination in disguise (15:56)
- Jessica reminds us to also be careful to avoid making assumptions about the next generation (“Generation Z”) (16:33)
- Jessica gives an example to counter the case that the era in which people come of age molds their worldview and expectations in a specific direction (17:55)
- Jessica shares a story highlighting the importance of open communication (20:20)
- Jessica’s specific advice for leaders seeking to build trust and connect with their employees (22:53)
- What’s new and exciting for Jessica (23:30)
- What simple but actionable tip does Jessica hope people walk away with? (25:04)
- What surprised Jessica about people’s reaction to her book (25:46)
- How to stay in touch with Jessica (26:30)
- Jessica’s website
- Jessica's book: Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit from Ditching Generational Stereotypes
- Follow Jessica on Twitter
- Follow Jessica’s blog
- Check out the TalentGrow Show on C-Suite Radio
- Like the Facebook page of The TalentGrow Show!
- Join our Facebook group – The TalentGrowers Community! Share your advice, your progress, your successes and your challenges and questions. Interact with other listeners and with me. Let’s support each other in becoming the kind of leader that people *want* to follow!
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- Intro/outro music for The TalentGrow Show: "Why-Y" by Esta - a great band of exquisitely talented musicians, and good friends of mine
ABOUT JESSICA KRIEGEL
Dr. Jessica Kriegel works as a Senior Organizational Development Consultant for Oracle Corporation, where she acts as an adviser and strategist in matters of organizational development, change management and talent development.
In 2013 she completed her doctoral degree in Educational Leadership and Management with a specialization in Human Resources Development from Drexel University. Her dissertation research focused on generational differences.
She was awarded the Association of Talent Development "One to Watch" Award in 2015 and Training Magazine’s “Emerging Training Leaders Award” One to Watch in 2014. She was also Valedictorian at the Drexel University 2013 Commencement.
She lives in Sacramento, California with her husband and two step-children.
Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.
Halelly: Hello there TalentGrowers. Welcome back. This is episode 53 of the TalentGrow Show and this week my guest is Jessica Kriegel, who wrote a book called Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit from Ditching Generational Stereotypes. It’s a pretty controversial issue and I found Jessica’s to be so interesting. Her book is one of the most recommended books of the year for last year, so I have to have her on the show so she can talk about everything that’s wrong with this idea of generational differences, according to her research. First we get a little bit into her dual career track, because you know that always fascinates me when someone has a day job that’s successful and also pursues a side gig where they blog or write a book or do whatever. So we talk about that a little bit. Then we get into the research that Jessica did as part of her Doctoral studies, which really surprised her and led her to write this book. She says that all of the buzz about generational differences is really based on a bed of lies, that there’s scant, anecdotal research, false assumptions and oversimplification and basically we’re just doing a whole bunch of stereotyping. So she talks more about her research. She shares a real-life example of how these kinds of impressions can really steer us completely in the wrong direction, and what each of us can do and what she says we should do to stop and combat and reverse these stereotypes. So I hope you’ll give it a listen and consider her plight.
Also, I wanted you to know that I am still in the 60 reviews in 60 days challenge and I haven’t yet met my goal. So if you listen to this show – even if you’ve listened to one or two episodes, that’s okay – and if you’ve found them beneficial and you want to help me reach more people, just go on over to iTunes and leave a very short review. It can be one sentence, two sentences, three sentences – doesn’t have to be a huge book. And the rating, that will help me show up in search results so much more on iTunes, so thank you in advance. I really hope you’ll do this. In the meantime, let’s go ahead and take a listen to episode 53. Here we go.
Welcome back. This is Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist and this week I have a guest, Jessica Kriegel. She is the author of Unfairly Labeled: How Your Workplace Can Benefit from Ditching Generational Stereotypes. Dr. Kriegel works as a senior organizational development consultant for Oracle Corporation, where she acts as an advisor and strategist in matters of organizational development, change management and talent development. She was recognized by the professional association that in fact we’re both members of – the Association of Talent Development – as one to watch. She got that award in 2015 and Training Magazine’s Emerging Training Leader’s Award, one to watch in 2014. And she was also valedictorian at Drexel University for their 2013 commencement where she completed her Doctoral degree in educational leadership management, with a specialization in human resources development and her dissertation research is what led to the book that we’re going to discuss today and Jessica also shares one other thing – at least one other thing that I know – in common with me, which is she lives in California, she lives in Sacramento. Jessica, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.
Jessica: Thanks so much for having me. It’s a pleasure.
Halelly: Well thank you for joining us. We really appreciate it. Before we get into this really hot topic of generational issues and your perspective, which is probably the voice we’re not hearing as much, which is why I wanted you to come on this show, let’s just go back down memory lane and tell us a little bit about your professional journey. Where did you start, how did you get to where you are today?
Jessica: Well, I graduated from college with a major in theater, and knew that I wasn’t talented enough to do anything with acting or directing or in show business in general, but I wanted to go explore Europe, so I moved to London and then moved to Italy and was visiting various areas of Europe, trying to decide where I wanted to live. Got a job teaching English in Italy, in Milan, Italy, and my first client was a person who had a leadership development consulting firm. And so he needed to learn English because he said he had a high demand for English language leadership development courses and didn’t speak well enough to deliver and so I immediately said, “Why don’t you hire me? You can teach me everything you know about leadership development. I can use my theater skills to manage the room and facilitate a conversation with presence and projecting my voice, and we’ll take it from there.” So he hired me, I ended up working for him for a few years, and everything that I started to learn about the industry came from his 20 years of experience and all of the clients that I worked with on his behalf.
It was such a wonderful experience, but I quickly realized that I didn’t really know enough about the world and about business to be effective. So I left Italy after three years and went and did my MBA in Boston. Graduated from my MBA and joined a talent management company, doing, learning development and training work which was eventually acquired by Oracle, and so I am now still with Oracle, many years later, doing organizational development internally. My clients are Oracle employees, within the organization, and I do talent management, strategic planning, leadership development, team effectiveness, really everything in the organizational development realm.
Halelly: Amazing. And how fortunate how the synchronicity of that client really changed the direction of your life and gave you this amazing career to where you’re obviously rocking it.
Jessica: Absolutely. I just fell into it and it was something that I absolutely loved and was very fortunate to have that opportunity so early in my career, so that now I can have the opportunity to continue working on it as I get older. I mean, it’s been fantastic.
Halelly: Congratulations and good for you. And I definitely want to talk to you a little bit more about this dual career track that you’ve got. This is something that’s just personally intriguing to me, and I think it’s interesting to my listeners. I’ve had several gusts on the show who seem to be successful in two tracks. You’ve got the day job, where you’re working for an organization, obviously doing a great job, really successful, obviously vested in doing good work and being high performing, and yet at the same time, you’re building your own personal brand on the side. You wrote a book, I think you blog, right?
Jessica: I do, yeah. But there’s a lot of synergy between what I’m doing, with the work I’m doing at Oracle. So the blog that you’re referring to is a piece, a regular piece that I have in Forbes, but it’s as part of the Oracle voice brand. So I’m working on the side project, which is this book that I’ve written, but there’s also a lot of synchronicity with the work I do at Oracle and it’s helping Oracle also be at the forefront of research in generational stereotyping. I’ve had the opportunity to have enough of an impact within our organization internally that I think they really see the value and have supported the work that I’m doing and the book that I’ve written, so it’s been wonderful, because it’s really been embraced.
Halelly: So you’re just the certified lucky person, great. Good for you. But I like it because I think that people can maybe be inspired not to think that it’s not possible. I think a lot of people just don’t even try it or don’t even believe that it’s possible to have an organization that can support you doing something that benefits both them and you. So, let’s talk some more about your book and your research. It’s really the buzzword about generational differences and managing the Millennials and all of those buzzwords around generations, are everywhere. You can see a list that will pop up probably once a minute about how to do something with Millennials or the problem with Millennials. I know that you basically are saying “Stop it.” That it’s really not fair, and it’s not right. Give us the overview of your message in the book.
Jessica: I started when I was doing my dissertation research for my Doctoral degree. I was studying generational differences and I did believe there were differences in generations, like almost everyone does because that’s what we’ve been told and that’s what all the articles say. So I was specifically trying to understand the themes of the differences and planning on writing a dissertation on which I outlined what a Millennial is like and what a Gen-Xer is like and what a Baby Boomer is like, particularly as it pertains to learning and development opportunities and how learning and development professionals can optimize the work that they’re doing to best teach to those different learning styles in the different generations and their personality types and what motivates them. What I found when I was doing this research is that it was really hard to find the themes because so much of the research contradicted each other. So one book would say one thing and another book would say something completely opposite. So then I started digging into the research to understand who was really doing the strong research in this area and I couldn’t find any of it. All of the research that’s done is very small population sizes that cannot take the results of the research that they’ve done and apply it to the entire population of Millennials or Gen-Xers or Baby Boomers because it’s just too large of a population and there’s so much diversity in the group. Most of the research isn’t even scientific research. It’s really just anecdotal that the authors had an impression or had a story to tell and that informs what they believe defines that generation.
So when I saw that, I realized that I think this entire industry is really built on a bed of lies, so to speak. It’s built on assumptions that we make about people. It oversimplifies the complexity of human behavior by putting people in boxes. If you think about Millennials alone, there are 80 million Millennials in America today. Some of them are CEOs in Silicon Valley. Some of them are these entitled Millennials the way we think about them when we read about articles about what Millennials want. And some of them are illegal immigrants in the Midwest who may not fit that description at all. And so who are we to say that they all have one personality, they’re all motivated by one thing, they need to be managed one way? It’s really silly, actually. If we were to do that same kind of stereotyping or classification with a different kind of demographic like racial demographic or a cultural demographic, it would be really offensive. But when we do it with generations, it somehow seems okay to talk about in that way, when in reality it’s the same kind of stereotyping. Really, it isn’t even appropriate.
Halelly: And those labels, you know, they’ve really become entrenched. I remember when it just first started popping up and it was sort of intriguing to people, but I actually remember people saying, “Is this okay to do?” Something offended them, I think, intuitively, that it would be okay to label people and to put them into these categories within this realm but we all know that it’s not okay to do it within that realm. Now it’s almost like it’s just taken as gospel and accepted and everyone just moves forward. It sounds like you’re saying that we’ve built it all on a bed of lies and so why do you think that is, that its become so entrenched?
Jessica: I think the brain really finds comfort in categorizing various groups around us, and it’s something that we’ve always done in many different areas of our lives. The brain doesn’t like ambiguity. When something is unknown, it triggers a threat response. When something is predictable and there’s a pattern, then we feel much more comfortable. So we classify things and we make things black or white, as opposed to being comfortable in that gray area, where the unknown is constantly possible and we have to use a discerning eye with every person that we meet, every situation that we encounter. So we’re looking for ways to simplify the world around us by labeling and categorizing. It’s what we do as humans. The problem is that then that creates this kind of unconscious bias where now we’re making assumptions about the people that we work with and the people that we are interacting with and that can be really detrimental. It also is informing these impressions that we have or informing business decisions that we make which can lead us in a completely wrong direction.
I’ll give you an example with Whole Foods. Whole Foods, a few years back, came out with a new store concept. They wanted to de-clutter their stores and add more technology in the aisles and make it a little bit cheaper so that they could attract a new population of shoppers, which they believed Millennials would be attracted to. And when they came out with the concept, they called it the store for the Millennial. In theory that sounds great – they’re marketing to Millennials. They think they know what Millennials want, but in fact, there was a lot of backlash online that they received from Millennials and also Baby Boomers. Baby Boomers were going online saying, “Hey, Whole Foods. What do you think, we like cluttered, expensive stores? Why is it something only for young people? We would want to go to these stores too.” So they rebranded. They no longer call it the store for the Millennials. It’s called 365 and it’s now just a modern store. But, the problem that they had was by using the labels, they were putting certain people in a box, other people in another box and saying, “We want these customers. We don’t want those customers.” People don’t want to be told what they think, or what they like. Even if you may be accurate, they just don’t like to be told that you think you know who I am. So I think it’s incredibly divisive and can create actual problems for your business if you adhere to these stereotypes and believe that these are true.
Halelly: So what would be more helpful? What should people do instead, and also what can listeners do to combat or reverse some of this entrenched thinking?
Jessica: The first thing I think we need to do is completely eliminate all the generational labels from our vocabulary. I really don’t see the value in even categorizing people that way and having the conversation. If we can get away from it by removing the labels, then that would be fantastic. The second is people have to really check themselves and see if they have some kind of unconscious bias that is informing the way that they interpret the actions of the people around them. We’re making assumptions about people around us, based on what we think we know, that we’ve read online. So if I’m a manager, for example, and I go on my homepage, Yahoo.com or whatever it is, and I see an article that says, “5 Tips for Managing your Millennials,” and I click on it, then I’ve got this idea about this is the kind of manager I need to be for my young people that are on my team. Imagine if I changed the label of that article so that instead of “5 Tips for Managing your Millennials,” it was “5 Tips for Managing your 65-year-old employee,” that would be outrageous. Because it’s age discrimination, and people would say, “Wow, that seems inappropriate. That doesn’t seem right.” And as a manager, I probably wouldn't even adhere to those tips because it just seems so silly. But with the Millennial label, we’re hiding age discrimination in a generational label.
So the first thing is, stop using labels. Second thing is, ignore what you read online about what Millennials want or even what Baby Boomers want, because Millennials are not the only ones being stereotyped against. Really, Baby Boomers are considered to be less innovative. They’re less tech-savvy and that is a lot of the time not at all the case. And companies can make hiring problems for themselves if they think, “Oh, we want a more innovative team, let’s hire younger people.” That could be a terrible strategy and lead you down a wrong path, completely. The third thing I would suggest is to just be careful that we stop doing it for the next generation as well. I mean, we’ve already seen so much information out there about Generation Z, and they’re still kids. I’ve read articles about what Generation Z thinks about political leaders and how they’re going to buy, what their buying habits are going to be, and really, it’s just consultants who are trying to get ahead of the game and be the first to have an opinion about the next generation, but it’s the same detrimental assumptions that we’ve been making about all the other generations.
Halelly: Interesting. I mean, I certainly know in the research that I’ve read – well, it’s not the research, I guess, things that I’ve read – the case was made that it wasn’t so much the age, but it was the era in which people came of age that shaped their world view and their expectations and the things that they were either very accustomed to or craved. What do you think about that? I mean, in a sense that young people, if you think about a younger person 20 years ago, they would be very different young person than a young person now, versus a young person 20 years from now.
Jessica: Well, I think there is a lot of jumping to conclusions that happens with that kind of thinking. Logically, it seems to make sense. And because it seems logical, people accept it as truth. I’ll give you an example that really kind of destroys that theory. It has to do with the Traditionalists, which is the generation that’s older than Baby Boomers. This is one of the most common stereotypes and conversations that we have, that Traditionalists are incredibly frugal because they lived through the Great Depression. They were coming of age during that time, and because there was so much scarcity and hunger and difficulty with money at that time, they are now incredibly frugal. That seems so logical, and it seems so easy to accept as true. But the reality is that those same traditionalists who were coming of age during the Great Depression were young adults who had a lot of spending power right after World War II. Right after World War II, it was major league, keeping up with the Jones time. We were a very materialistic society and those same people were spending money left and right like crazy on all sorts of gadgets and things. And those same people are now incredibly frugal with their money when they’re in their late retirement. So is it possible that the frugality that we’re currently seeing from that generation is due to being on a fixed income in retirement and does not have anything to do with the Great Depression? Because in reality, there was a huge period of time where they were spending money like crazy. I think it’s actually probable that that’s the case, but because it makes so much sense that the Great Depression leads to frugality, people accept it as truth.
Another thing that people are saying now about Millennials is because they came to age during 9/11 that they’re incredibly Patriotic. But I’ve also read a lot of articles about how this is the last Patriotic generation. So which one is it? Are we the most or are we the least and does 9/11 shape that? I’ve read articles about Generation X that says they’re the MTV generation, because they came of age during MTV. But what does that even mean? Does that have to do with music? Does that have to do with television? What does being an MTV generation person mean in terms of your values and your personality and your behaviors? No one actually explains that anywhere. We just accept it as, “Oh, yeah, they’re the MTV generation,” because it sounds good. I don’t actually subscribe to any of that either. I think that’s all made up as well.
Halelly: All right, so listeners are a leader in their organization or they’re an aspiring leader. What can they do, then, instead? I’ve heard you – let go of the label, stop thinking about people in these kind of formulations or categories, and do what?
Jessica: Well, I think it has to do with open communication, having conversations with the people on your team to get to know the person that’s actually in front of you and not informing your opinion about them based on what it is that you may have read or your bias about that generation. So, I’ll give you, I’ll tell you a story to kind of highlight what I mean. There was a person that had attended the speech I was giving on this topic and after listening to my spiel for a little while, he raised his hand and said, “You know, I understand what you’re saying, but I still think there’s a difference, and I’ll give you an example. There’s a guy at my work. He’s a Millennial and he wears headphones all day long. When he goes to the bathroom, his headphones are still in, and when he goes to the Xerox machine, his headphones are still in. And it’s because Millennials are completely out of touch with interpersonal skills and they have to connected and it’s just super awkward, and that’s definitely a generational thing.” And there was someone else in the same room who raised his hand, who was a Millennial, who said, “You know, that’s interesting that you say that, because I have headphones in my ears all the time at work. But it’s because I grew up in the Projects and I had a really chaotic home and I listen to music so that I can focus, because I’m really trying to do my best work and that’s the only way I can kind of tune everything out and really get my work done.” So there was a reason that perhaps this colleague that this person had had his headphones in and it had absolutely nothing to do with interpersonal skills or being connected or whatever the stereotype was about Millennials, but it really had to do with wanting to do his best work and wanting to be as hard of a worker and as effective as all of the other employees, and having these challenges because of the way that he grew up.
That older person would never have considered that. He never would have thought, “Maybe there’s something deeper here that I need to consider.” I think checking, the leaders need to check their bias and check in with the people that they work with. That older person that was raising his hand and told that story, imaging if he had gone up to that Millennial and said, “Hey, you have your headphones in all the time and it makes me feel disconnected from you and I’d love to get coffee sometime. Do you want to go chat? Because the headphones make me feel weird and I’m not sure if we can do that.” That would be honesty and totally terrifying and is not usually what we do. Most of the time, people just make judgments from afar, go home and talk to their spouse about how annoying that person is, and they don’t actually do the hard communication that allows people to build trust and connect. So that would be, I think, number one for leaders. Having those difficult conversations, thinking critically about what’s informing their perception of motivation from their employees and then also leaders need to be really careful about the language that they use and not using language with their team that makes people feel like they’re being stereotyped.
Halelly: That’s great advice. It’s very specific, I like that. So, before we talk a little bit about how people can get in touch with you and stay in touch with you and also that one last specific action you suggest for folks, tell us what’s new and exciting for you? What activity or project has your attention these days?
Jessica: Well, I’m really excited about one of the things that I’ve looked into as I’ve done the research on generational issues is how the media will take scientific, peer-reviewed research and hype it up into a headline that gets a lot of clicks that actually changes the messaging from what the authors, the scientists actually want it to convey. So for example, there are lots of people who do research on generational issues who then have their information distorted by the media to make a headline. The scientists may, in their research, say, “This data cannot be applied to the entire generation due to the sample size,” and yet the media still does it because they’re trying to get clicks. So I’ve been really interested lately on how we are creating fake news, essentially, which has a new fancy name but has been around for a very long time in reality, in order to create that viewership that may distort data in order to simply get people interested. That’s what I’ve been looking into lately, it’s been fairly interesting.
Halelly: Wow. Do you plan to write about that? Is that something that you’re pursuing as a writing project?
Jessica: I mean, I’m not probably going to write another book right now. I’ve got some time before I really get deep into it, but I’m doing research and writing blog articles and just starting to let that noodle around and see where it takes me for the time being.
Halelly: Very interesting. Well, Jessica, thank you for your time. Before we wrap up, we always like to end with a very actionable tip. What is your tip?
Jessica: I think if I could take one of the tips that we’ve talked about today that people should walk away with is just stop using generational labels. Just completely take them out of your vocabulary. Whether you’re a leader, whether you’re an employee, whether you’re a marketer. I really don’t see the value. If we could just stop saying Millennial, stop staying Baby Boomer, start talking about people, that would be life-changing I think.
Halelly: And that’s, wow, that’s a big goal and probably now almost like an uphill battle for some of us, where we’re just so used to using that language. It’s insane.
Jessica: The more conversation about it, the easier I think it will get. Surprisingly, when I talk to people about the research I’ve done and when people read my book, surprisingly I thought I would get a little bit more pushback, but the reaction more often that not has been, “Oh, I’m so glad you said this. I’ve been thinking this for a long time.” So we may be reaching the tipping point soon.
Halelly: Cool, good. So you are kind of like the fighter, right? You’re leading the fight against injustice and thank you for that work. I thought that this was something that listeners to the TalentGrow Show would definitely want to consider and think about and they should get a copy of your book and read your writing some more to get some of the background and understand the case that you’re making a lot more. How can people stay in touch with you and learn more about what you’re doing?
Jessica: I’ve got a website which has all of the information about the things I’m working on, which is www.JessicaKriegel.com.
Halelly: And I will link to it in the show notes as well as to your book. Are you active on social media?
Jessica: Yeah, I am on Twitter, at least. I’ve got the same Twitter handle, @JessicaKriegel.
Halelly: Okay, fabulous. We’ll link to that as well. Again, thank you for your time. Listeners, one thing you might like to know is I'm extra thankful to Jessica because in fact, we recorded before and I lost the file! I completely have no idea where it went, and this is the first time it’s happened to me in two years of podcasting, and Jessica is extremely gracious to grant me a second chance so that I can bring you this amazing content, so that you can think about it some more and improve your life, and I appreciate you, Jessica. Thank you so much and thanks for coming on the TalentGrow Show.
Jessica: Not a problem at all. It was a pleasure.
Halelly: Awesome. Well, I hope that you found that beneficial and kind of eye opening. I know that I did because there is really a lot more information that goes in the other direction, which is how do you manage Millennials? I know I even had an episode on this previously, so it’s something to think about. I hope that you take action based on Jessica’s suggestion. I appreciate that you’ve been listening to the TalentGrow Show. I hope that you’ve joined our community on Facebook. It’s a growing community. We’d love to have you there. It’s called the TalentGrowers Community and you just search on Facebook, find this group – it’s a private group, so whatever we say on there, other people can’t read. Only people that are members of the group. But anyone who is a listener can join. So come on over and we can share what you’re working on, your leadership skills that you’re trying to develop, any kind of leadership challenges. We can support each other. I hope on there and answer questions and other people in the group as well. So come on over and join us.
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I thank you for listening. I am Halelly Azulay. I’m your leadership development strategist, and until the next time, make today great. Bye.
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