Remember Context: A Generation Necessity

By September 18, 2013Generations

Context is essential. In many situations, context is necessary into order to understand the question being asked or the statement being made. Context provides the circumstances or events surrounding both. Context is the stage and backdrop in which we interact.

Remember Context

We need to remember context. This is especially important when discussing generations.

Context Matters. Generations.Looking back on generations, it is easier to gain context. There is history, and it has been studied extensively and summarized in many articles and books. From World War II to the Great Depression to the Cold War to Vietnam and Watergate, each defined a generation and provided a context in which we discuss each. There is the benefit of greater hindsight.

For Millennials and Generation Z, the context is being developed and we, at times, may miss the larger view. Let’s look at some of the claims on Millennials specifically:

  • Coming back home after college, living off parents
  • Slowing the housing market by not buying homes at the same age as their parents
  • Willing to jump jobs quickly and often
  • Wanting to move up the organizational ladder sooner, meaning now!

The list can be longer, as many take small, snapshot statistics and build big claims from them.

Context – A Generation Necessity, Now More than Ever

In Saturday’s Wall Street Journal, a sobering article appeared – “Wanted: Jobs for the New ‘Lost’ Generation.” (September 14, 2013) This news story provides context for many of the claims being made about Millennials. Check out a few clips:

  • “The official unemployment rate for Americans under age 25 was 15.6% in August, down from a peak of nearly 20% in 2010 but still more than 2½ times the rate for those 25 and older—a gap that has widened during the recovery.”
  • “…the unemployment rate ignores the hundreds of thousands of young people who have taken shelter from the weak job market by going to college, enrolling in training programs or otherwise sitting on the sidelines. Add them back in, and the unemployment rate for Americans under 25 would be over 20%.”
  • “The median weekly wage for young workers has fallen more than 5% since 2007, after adjusting for inflation; for those 25 and older, wages have stayed roughly flat.”

Throw in rising college debt and the context for Millennials is messy, and this is an understatement. This context may explain the “claims.” For example, the reasons for still living at home or not being able to purchase a home may be driven by this fact:

“From Oakland to Orlando—and across the ocean in Birmingham and Barcelona—young people have come of age amid the most prolonged period of economic distress since the Great Depression.”

Context helps. The good news in all of this is most Millennials still have an optimistic outlook. Thank goodness, and welcome to the arena!

The points here are simple:

  • Context matters. We need to dig deeper, and we need to zoom out to take a complete look at what is happening and unfolding.
  • Understanding is essential. We need to take a deep breath and let the generation develop and lead forward. We need to guide where we can and help solve problems. We need to work together across generations.

There is an organization called The Can Kicks Back. I encourage you to take a look and read about the challenges ahead for Millennials (for example, the $200 trillion national debt). The Can Kicks Back website provides additional information for context. I applaud these Millennial leaders as they have formed this organization to raise awareness and mobilize people to act. Support them in any way you can and check out their The Can Kicks Back Tour.

We need to work together to build a future for the generations.

Gain context. Work together to solve problems. This where our focus needs to be.

Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz is one of the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business and highlighted as one of the Leaders to Watch in 2015 by the American Management Association. He also is the author of Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders. Jon serves as vice president of marketing at Corepoint Health. Outside of his professional life, Jon brings together a community to inspire Millennial leaders and close the gap between two generations of leaders.
Jon Mertz
Jon Mertz

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • Jon, you dedication to educating all of us on Millennial leadership and the issues surrounding it is truly commendable! Yes, context is indeed important, so is working together for a greater future, one that hinges on the leadership of young leaders today. If I may say so, working “upstream” even more, the context needs to begin with parents of young people, as modelers of beliefs, outlook and behavior of young minds as they’re being shaped. It’s a slight departure from the Millennial focus. Nonetheless, if we’re talking about context and working together, let’s not miss a great opportunity where the impact is the strongest–and, often, the most lasting. Thanks again, Jon!

    • Jon M says:

      Thank you, Alice. I agree. We do need to go “upstream.” Beliefs, mindsets, practices, etc. begin with parents, teachers, and other community members. To have the best impact on current and future generations, we need to work together productively and set standards that make everyone better. We all need to work on building a better context in which we all lead and live.

      Appreciate your insights. Thank you! Jon

  • Alli Polin says:

    Facts can often tell the story we want them to instead of giving the full picture – in context. It passes for truth but it’s also spin.

    Thanks for sharing The Can Kicks Back! Been checking out their site and today (19th) is the last day for their Indiegogo campaign.

    • Jon M says:

      Great point on “spin,” Alli. Even more reason to dig into the context ourselves.

      Glad you like The Can Kicks Back. I joined their campaign. They are doing good work. Have an interview with one of co-founders coming next week. Thanks! Jon

  • Hiten Vyas says:

    Hi Jon,

    This was very interesting point, and thanks for bringing the issue of context to light. The more I think about, the more I see just how important context is for explaining why Millenials might be charaterised as having certain traits. I think understanding context can also ensure we’re not too quick to judge Millenials, or any generation actually.

    Thank you.

    • Jon M says:

      Thanks, HIten. Beyond the generational stuff, too, it it essential to have context… It provides the right way to evaluate situations and potential causes of certain things. Appreciate your comment. Jon

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