The trouble with generations

2 Apr

Mercy. Can a month pass without someone somewhere making up a new name for a generation? Millennials, Gen Y, Gen X, Echo Boomers, Generation Jones … I even heard Generation C recently. Silent, Veterans, the Lucky Few, The Greatest, The GIs … come on, people. Oh, and then the years. Ask “the experts” (read: people trying to get paid consulting fees) about when generations begin and end. Yeesh, even people out and about speaking of generations, teaching, coaching and consulting on this stuff are all over the board.

Let me share with you — assuming you have a modicum of curiosity in the subject — a bit about generations. They are created by life conditions. They are not created by US Census demographers, nor journalists, nor wanna-be-a-guru consultants. Nope. They are created by conditions. And while the edges and those in first and last waves often share traits bridging across generations, and while generational qualities speak not equally to each and every member of a generation, the personality of a gen is cyclical, archetypal and — dare I say it — rather predictable if you know the theory.

So, while I understand it may not be your schtick. May I simply offer that there is a lovely body of work — robust to point of tedious academic research, yet also available in some more readable forms. It’s by two professors: Strauss & Howe. And in their materials, you’ll be exposed to the compellingly cyclical nature of generations and how each gen makes better what a generation before us forged, balances out the excesses of other generations, and creates gaps and deficiencies that others behind us need to fill. It’s really quite cool.

Just be wary of the consultants. The tell-tale sign they might be winging it a bit? If the years they use for the modern cycle of gens are off. Here’s your cheat sheet:

To understand the four generational archetypes better, you may wish to read The Fourth Turning, by Strauss and Howe.

Rock on.


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