Mind the Gap

Each generation faces unique situations or certain defining moments that have a profound impact on beliefs, values and perceptions and help in creating a particular identity set of that generation. Culture changes through generations which change with time. The fluidity of culture is captured powerfully from the perspective of a generation.

Members of a generation share among things an age location in history. They tend to share certain momentous events that impact their world views. Some incidents are deeply etched in the collective consciousness. Images of Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, breaking down of the Berlin Wall, assassinations of Kennedy and Gandhi, 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center etc. create powerful imagery and vivid memories Not only such events, but people too have a remarkable influence on thinking. Steve Jobs, The Beatles, Swami Vivekananda and Barack Obama have impacted millions of people across generations in different but powerful ways.

Another factor that shapes the behavior, attitude of a particular generation is the era or the times in which they are born, go to school, pursue a university degree, seek work and raise a family. Choices made at each stage stem from the compulsions of economic conditions of that time, for example, generations raised in prosperous times will have different attitudes from those raise in a recession.

Generations tend to have a membership psyche and tend to develop a bond. They consider themselves to be a unique group because they share memories, life lessons, stories, music, movies, etc.The difference in various generations was till now a topic for mild conversations between parents, teachers and children and was casually referred to as a generation gap. But what was considered a mild gap then has now become a chasm and is playing out like never before.

The US election was historic for a number of reasons but a pertinent one is the conflict between younger generations which valued environmental concerns, diversity and did not care much about race, color or a nationalist agenda. The older generations wanted the good old days back. Also the cultures collided over Brexit which clearly saw the young up against the old. As article in The Herald by Vicky Allan titled ‘The Real Breaking Point: How Brexit fueled fear and loathing between the old and the young’, indicates, “We tend to think that what divides us most is class, or culture, or race. But what if we are ignoring one of the biggest inequalities and potential clashes – between the young and the old?”. Shiv Malik, with Ed Howker, authored Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth believes what we are now seeing is “unprecedented inequality between generations”. Already, before the Brexit vote, he was writing of how a “combination of debt, joblessness, globalization, demographics and rising house prices was depressing the incomes and prospects of millions of young people”.

The classification given below is by two of the influential generation theorists of our times, Neil Howe and William Strauss who have been researching on generations for decades now. They have as critics point out now combined history with prophecy. In a much acclaimed book titled “The Fourth Turning” the authors have developed a cyclical theory regarding generations. According to Neil and Strauss, each generation cohort spans a period of twenty years and each has an archetype which typically represents a prevalent thought pattern. It takes 80 years or the fourth cycle for the archetype cycle to repeat itself. It is essentially a process of creative destruction. These turning points as evidenced by history are turbulent and chaotic.

The generation’s can be broadly classified as under:

Baby Boomers still, run and control many nations and organizations. Some famous Baby Boomers are:

Donald Trump - 14th June, 1946

Teresa May - 1st October, 1956

Vladimir Putin -7th October, 1952

Xi Jinping - 15th June, 1953

NarendraModi- 17th September, 1950

Warren Buffet- 30th August, 1930

Ratan Tata- 28th December, 1937

Bill Gates- 28th October, 1955

Currently in their sixties and seventies, the Baby boomers control many nations and corporations. Described as, hardworking, proud, and patriotic but stuck in their ways.

Famous X’ers

Barack Obama - 4th August, 1961

Emmanuel Macron - 21st December, 1977

Justin Trudeau- 25th December, 1971

Satya Nadella - 19th August, 1967

Sundar Pichai - 12th July, 1972

Elon Musk - 28th June, 1971

Michael Dell - 23rd February, 1965

Currently in their forties and fifties, they are leading modern companies and some nations too. Described as being hardworking, pragmatic, determined, committed but not change agents.

Much research is underway to understand the millennial and the work culture. According to a Deloitte, at work, millennials are described as being comfortable with speed and change, impatient, thriving on flexibility and space to explore; they value guidance but demand respect, collaborative and innovative thinkers and love challenges.

Famous Millennials

Mark Zuckerberg - 14th May, 1984

David Karp - 6th July, 1986 (Tumblr)

Evan Sharp -1st January, 1982 (Pinterest)

Jessica Alba- 28th April, 1981 (The Honest Company)

Brian Chesky- 29th August, 1981 (Airbnb)

John Zimmer -14th March, 1984 (Lyft)

Daniel Ek- 21st February, 1983 (Spotify)

Currently in their twenties and thirties, the millennials are described as being disruptive, individualistic, pragmatic, entrepreneurial, connected.

This generation is still growing up. However it already has celebrities. Interestingly, most are social media stars. Yara Shahidi: age 16, (half Iranian - half African) actress, social activist, STEM activist, is a mini celebrity and a lot of following on the internet. Many young people like her are influencing this generation through social media.

Here’s an analysis on what shaped each generation:

Many political parties have raised the rhetoric about patriotism and Nationalism in response to deepening income inequality and job losses being attributed to globalization.

Elections have become battlegrounds for different generations as suggested by Economist Report, “Forget Brexit, class and education. This election has pitted the young against the old.” The data published by YouGov which is an International internet based market research firm based in the UK, voters between the age groups were strongly in favor of Britain remaining in the European Union by 78% to 22%. Voters aged 65 years and older supported the leave campaign by 68% to 32%.

Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement and the Brookings report reveals that Donald Trump received only 37% of the millennial vote. This conflict around cultural and social values is escalating and is the cause of deep divisions in many societies.

The world before 1900 seems fictional now. It was a world of Kings and Kingdoms, of exotic and perilous voyages to faraway lands. Bloody conquests, colonization, savage and barbaric practices of slavery seem horrific and unbelievable now. The Greatest Generation veered the world in another direction. They were the heroes who disrupted the old and created the new. According to Neil and Strauss, it takes four generations to create a turning point and new heroes emerge again. Turning points are always filled with strife, social tension and angst. Millennials have and are disrupting the established world order and the the Founders will rebuild probably under the watchful gaze of Generation X and Millennials.

Changing generations provide the kaleidoscope through which we can understand cultural changes and gain insights into socio economic shifts. The understanding helps to understand the dynamics of change and bear the birthing process of new realities.

A deeper purpose is also to develop cross cultural sensitivity not only for people who belong to other races, religions or nations but also for people who belong to another generation or time. The concept of intergenerational equity works both ways and hence to make the transition less chaotic and painful, it is imperative that we appreciate the contribution of people who were born earlier. Just as we cannot foresee all the consequences of networking and technological innovations now, probably earlier generations could not foresee climate change and income inequality then. Newton famously said, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

(Excerpt from forthcoming book)

56 views0 comments