Are you as sick of these generational stereotypes we have been reading ad nausea over the past decade as I am? What more do we need to know about Boomers retiring, and not retiring? Are there really any other Millennial engagement or retention strategies to be discussed?
Every time I read one of these articles crammed with stereotypes, my mind cannot help but think of the myriad of examples to the contrary. Being a student and practitioner of organization development in the 21st Century, I have no choice but to read these articles, books, blogs, and vlogs. The more generation-focused content I peruse, the more fallacies of generational thinking are exposed. What can we do to debunk the myth of generational gaps?
For eons, the word “generation” has served as an identifier. If you were a part of a certain generation, then you grew up with a certain technology, like the cotton gin, or the radio, or the car. Technology largely defined the generation gaps (older generations’ aversion to the emerging technological advancement adopted by the younger generation). This tension and the surrounding set of beliefs shaped how the two predominant generations identified one another. But things have changed.
Given the ever-accelerating pace of technological advancements (and their subsequent ubiquitous adoption), the day-to-day experience of the 2.7 billion humans on earth connected to the Internet is largely a shared experience. No longer does it take a generation to adopt fully a new innovation (i.e. the telephone, the radio, etc.). It takes increasingly less time for technologies to become rapidly commonplace.
Did you have a Smartphone five years ago? How many do you have now? Could you have dreamed of having WiFi on your flights five years ago? What ever would you do with all that in-flight time without being connected now?
No longer is being a part of a generation an identifier of values, technological prowess, or an exposure to unique experiences. Generations are still communities, having been born in a similar point on the space-time continuum, yet they ultimately do not provide useful identification outside of that. Generation has come to mean a set of dates, not an identifier of shared experience.
Technologies are introduced and adopted by all who hope to keep up with modern times. And with our work-life expectancy keeping pace with our life-life expectancy, older generations must keep up with the latest technology. Some are even inventing the next technologies. At the same time, on the other side of the age spectrum, we have pre-teens and teens creating breakthrough products with 3D printers in their garages. They no longer have to wait until they graduate to exert their influence on the world.
As my favorite poet continues to crone, “The times, they are ‘a changin.” What constitutes a “generation” is being challenged. The utility of this construct is being dismantled. How we are all living and working is being disrupted. This is all very exciting.
The possibilities that come with the evaporation of generational pigeonholing is nothing short of remarkable. The first step towards realizing the possibilities that exist is to treat every person as an individual and see that we all have more in common. The decades of generation-specific thinking have served their purpose. And just like the phonograph made possible the iPod, let generational thinking make possible post-generational thinking. We all belong to a shared future, and we all have an important role to play in creating it. Let us focus on our shared experiences and come together to create a better tomorrow.
Daniel Weinzveg, M.A. Organization Development, is a consultant specializing in designing, training and developing diverse, intergenerational workplaces. He lives and works in Northern California. For more information, visit dweinzveg.com, or connect with him @danielweinzveg.