New Can Never Be Good
Generational differences are something we seem to talk about (and notice) more than ever. Maybe the reason why this discussion continues to gain importance is because the past 50 years have included five individually unique generations all living in the same world, simultaneously agreeing, and disagreeing, on money, life, politics, economics and behavior. I have always been enamored with the way each generation seems to believe that the next generation will never amount to their level of success, nor understand how the world works.
When we look at some aspects of what some would call generational differences, we actually see many similarities. For example, many baby boomers embraced a hippie culture in the 60’s and 70’s significantly marked by Woodstock in 1969. Woodstock brought 500,000 people together, in a field in New York, searching for peace, love and music. Many searching for a higher consciousness and attachment to our world. The boomer generation made it through, built corporations, created massive wealth and birthed many Gen X’ers and Millennials. A long way from where their parents thought they would end up. Just think, many of their parents lived through the depression era, WW2, and when there was no space or time for soul searching and taking time try something new.
Fast forward 30 years later and we saw more than 200,000 of the baby boomer’s kids show up to Woodstock 1999. For those of you who don’t know, this was a gathering intended for peace, love, and music as well. A desperate (yet misunderstood) effort to recreate the event of 1969. But, the event backfired. As the same folks who created the original Woodstock tried their hand in 99’, they completely misunderstood a whole generation. Woodstock 99’ ended up turning into a mass rebellion over corporate greed and commercialism. The same system that many of their parents helped build. The event will go down as a massive unleashing of pent up angst. This aside, the musical part was still amazing to most.
This example is one of many. When we sit and think about it, all generations have their quirks. We, as humans, are typically searching for a better way. The goals may be similar in nature but the environment we must reach them is ever-changing. Therefore, we can’t always do it like those before us.
Many Experiences, Many Outcomes
These five generations, depicted by birth years, would be what are known as The Silent/Greatest Generation (1928-1945), The Baby Boomer Generation (1946-1954), Generation X (1965-1980), The Millennial Generation/Generation Y (1981-1996) and Generation Z (1997-2012).
While the Silent Generation is shrinking (pre-1946), the other end of the population, Generation Z (Gen Z), are on their way to completing college and stepping into the workforce. Gen Z-ers are voting, building careers, creating businesses and beginning to invest their assets for the future—much like the Baby Boomers did in the late 1960’s, Gen X did in the 1980’s and the Millennials are doing right now. However, the world that younger generations are entering looks very different from what their parents or grandparents may have experienced. Unfortunately, like every generation before them, the next generation faces the “square peg/round hole” feeling of trying to paint their beliefs, behaviors and vision onto a canvas designed by prior ones.
We all hold some bias for the unknown. That unknown includes the next generation of students, leaders and members of society. This begs a question—why? Instead of trying to figure out how to change the thoughts, behaviors or beliefs of younger generations, we may want to take a step back and study what makes the Millennials and Gen Z’ers tick. Why do they think the way they do, behave the way they do and focus on specific things over others?
This works both ways:
That said, this approach is a two-way street. Not only is helping older generations understand younger ones vital, but helping the younger generations look through the eyes of the older ones can help create a synergy that can create amazing outcomes. There are endless examples of the elder guiding the junior and vice versa. When it works, it is a beautiful thing. It’s possible that we don’t give it enough of a chance. Is it ego? Pride? Ignorance?
We are What we Experience
If we dig a bit deeper into the makeup of different generations, the differences are quite obvious. Recency Bias, a cognitive bias that favors recent events over historic ones, is a common theme. Many of us think of the great financial crisis when we hear the word “recession,” but fail to dig further into history for an example of other economic slowdowns and expansions. The most recent pain is our most relevant comparison.
Let’s use the Millennial Generation and Gen Z (spanning 1981 through 1997) as an example. Just like their elders grew up in a different time than their own, these two generations’ time on earth saw the horror of 9/11, a tech bubble crash, the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2008, a housing implosion and, most recently, a global pandemic followed by violent nationwide protests like we have never seen before. That is a lot to unpack, especially if your life is bookended by a terrorist attack and being locked down by a global health emergency. Many saw their parents lose jobs, homes, money and much of their wealth due to corruptions and inefficiencies within the financial system. Due to this, their mindset draws similarities to the Silent Generation (1928-1945), who lived through depression times, creating inherent distrust, frugality and a low appetite for risk. This result wasn’t just temporary as this mindset engrained itself over lifetimes for many in the Silent Generation. Sandwiched between them is Generation X whose teen and adult years experienced the rebellion against authority, punk rock music and the Gulf War. We are what we experience.
The Infinite Loop
Our world seems to continue the infinite loop of Creators -> Builders -> Keepers -> Disruptors -> back to Creators. Daniel Kahneman, author of “Thinking Fast and Slow,” stated, “people in their 30’s know where the world is going because they are going to do it. I’m in my 80’s so I have no idea.” Understanding where we have been can be just as important as where we are going.