Issue #85
#85 - Generational Awareness Is The New Cultural Awareness
September 29, 2023

"Seek first to understand, then be understood."

- Stephen Covey

One of the board games my kids love is "The Game of Life". Which is kind of neat, since I played the same game when I was their age. Last week, after they rejected my "Wanna play poker?" pitch 🙅🏻‍♀️, we sat down to play:

For those unfamiliar with it: "The game is one of chance. Each player must spin the "Wheel of Fortune" and randomly select cards prompting them to move along the gaming path which simulates the life of the player from university to retirement age. The aim of the game is to be the player who has accumulated the most money by the time they reach retirement." 🤔

This 👆🏻 version of the game is brighter and spiffier; the dollar amounts players start with has been, err, updated to reflect ongoing inflation. And the cover is more inclusive than the one I played, back in the day:

But by and large, the big milestones and the decision points are the same: college, career, marriage, kids, retirement. (My little ones are as excited to draw the "doctor" card as I was when I was their age, because doctors still make bank in "The Game of Life").

To its credit, the game -- like life -- is subject to chance. Players also have the agency to opt into college, a given career, marriage, buying a home, getting a pet, and/or having kids.

But the more we played, the more I kept shrieking to my (bewildered) family: "Wow, someone needs to update this thing!".

It was all just so....neat, and linear. College. Career. Marriage. Home. Kids. Retirement. And the pieces players use to navigate the board? Shiny, plastic car figurines. 🚗

Look, folks, I went to college, I started my career after that, I got married, I bought a home, I had kids. We have a really stinking cute puppy! 🐶 I even hope to retire someday. 🤞🏻

But suffice to say, I don't know that my kids' paths will be marked by the same milestones that defined mine. And I would bet everything on their career paths being even less linear and predictable than mine.

To be clear, I don't bemoan this. This is not a conservative, "The world is going to pot!" screed. It is, though, a "The world is changing" one. Or better put, "The world has changed." Our institutions -- including work -- have changed. Our faith in them has changed. And young people have every right not just to pursue their own path, but to question -- however fundamentally -- the traditional steps along that path.

Can someone just do us all a favor and build a more realistic board game for it? 🙏

This week, we use our Stories to underscore the extent of the generational differences that are unfolding. We ask what they mean for us -- and what we can do to understand and embrace them:

🎯 Story #1 - Getting a driver's license. Buying a car. Experimenting with alcohol. Going on a date. Standard rites of passage for young adults across much of the world, for many decades. Except that all that is changing now. We look at some downright shocking 😲 stats that help set a baseline for how radically younger generations are approaching some of the foundational markers of adulthood.

🎯 Story #2 - A best-selling author and business school professor, Mauro Guillén, has a new book out, "Perennials". Part of Mauro's thesis is right in lock-step with ours: he, too, believes that the traditional stages that have guided our lives and careers are changing; if not obsolete. With massive implications for all of us. ✅ Then again, his take on what that means at work is way off. ❌ We explain our beef in our second Story.

🎯 Story #3 - We like to end on optimistic notes at TalentStories, and our final Story is just that: a look at some fun stats (and "groovy" phrases 🤣) that bring to life the way different generations use different language at work, and how confusing that can be for all of us. But this is also an uplifting Story, about humans at our best: making the effort to understand one other. OMG. Guap! Sus. Amirite?

Thanks for reading and exploring with us -- and have a great end to your week!

Aki + Usman


#GenerationalAwareness #MyExperience≠YourExperience #Access

🤯 🤯 🤯

My goodness, folks, look at those trend lines. 👆🏻

For context to non-US readers, this is data on "12th graders" in high school, so respondents are ~16 or 17 years old. Granted, it's one study, and all the usual caveats apply. And to be clear: we are not here to judge the trends as better or worse.

But the severity of the changes, across some very foundational rites of passage, is striking. And it highlights just how divergent our experiences are becoming across generations. In fairness, my GenX experience was different than my boomer parents' experience. But it wasn't this different.

These stats reflect lifestyle changes: younger generations choosing not to engage in behaviors that were standard for many past generations. But here is another eye-popping stat that highlights the way younger generations also have less access; the way they are now often -- practically speaking -- shut out of the traditional markers around which we constructed our lives, and achieved status:

It's not just cars. This compares the plummeting cost a TV, to the wild increase in the cost of basic needs like healthcare, education, food, and housing in the US:

Most of us reading this newsletter also know that the cost of owning a home in almost every city we're reading from has also gone through the proverbial roof. Not just owning a home, renting one, too.

The point here is not politics. It is math. We see data like this -- about radical changes in behavior and experience, and how hard it is for young people to access many of the basic, traditional markers of comfort and status that have defined modern life for decades -- and we can't help but wonder:

🎯 Is it fair to think that young people should opt into the stages we followed, and the markers of success we chased? Do they even have the ability to? Would it be wise to try?

🎯 If you're reading this newsletter, no matter your age, the experience young people are having will be markedly different than the ones you and I had. And that trend will only compound. Which means the shared experiences and outlooks we bring to work will only become even more diverse going forward.

🎯 This puts the onus on us to be aware of those differences if we hope to understand what's going on around us, and work productively alongside younger colleagues that comprise the lionshare of our workforce.


#GenerationalAwareness #Vocab #Postgenerational?

We're suckers for a great turn of phrase, and with "Perennials", Wharton professor and best-selling author Mauro Guillén has come up with a doozy. We also agree wholeheartedly with this argument from the book:

When universal schooling and “old-age” pensions were first introduced in the 1880s, life became organized into a simple sequence of stages. Infanthood was all about growing and playing. School, and perhaps college, would follow, and then work. Before we knew it, we would be in retirement, looking back at the linear pattern that a full and orderly life was supposed to be, hoping that our children and grandchildren would successfully replicate the very same trajectory in their own life spans. Our time in this world became compartmentalized into a rigid series of distinct stages ever since.
I call this way of organizing our lives the sequential model of life. Over the past 150 years or so, every generation has been told to follow the exact same rules all over the world, from Japan to the United States, and from Scandinavia to the southern tip of Africa.

We cannot agree more with Guillén that the "sequential model of life" is becoming obsolete. That technology and demography play real and compounding roles in this; and that the impact on all of us will be massive.

But what's hard to discern in Guillén's narrative is any discussion of how and why we got here, over and above demographics and technology. Instead, Guillén leaps to explaining we are now graduating together into a collective "postgenerational revolution". A revolution that will:

...fundamentally reshape individual lives, companies, economies, and the entire global society. As a result, we will witness the proliferation of perennials, “an ever-blooming group of people of all ages, stripes, and types who transcend stereotypes and make connections with each other and the world around them … they are not defined by their generation,” in the words of Gina Pell.

Again, we agree with the sea change that's upon us. But we also think it's incomplete (and awfully convenient) to ignore the way decades of economic change are playing out across different generations. Just because the sequential model of life is irrelevant, doesn't mean there are no longer generational differences; or that we can skip straight to a postgenerational nirvana. That feels naive, at best.

Ironically, one of the case studies Guillén cites is BMW, and the way it integrated five generations working in its main plant in Germany, to achieve outsized results in productivity and employee satisfaction. It's an awesome story! But BMW achieved what it did precisely by acknowledging the differences in experience, styles and strengths of its multi-generational workforce. It approached them with curiosity and intent. It didn't ask employees to check their differences at the door. It studied them, then it took advantage of them.

Coverage of the book also rankles us. Take this headline from an article about "Perennials", which cites the same BMW example:

Kudos to BMW though. They saw the differences, and figured out how to leverage them to build a productive team (with results to show for it). But again, they started by acknowledging differences. Not by asking what they could get if they weren't, actually, there.

If this thinking sounds familiar, it's because it applies to any effort to build a diverse team, and get it to work well together. That work is hard, but it starts with awareness, and acknowledging differences, followed by the effort to get those pieces to hum together -- and then the realization of how powerful a diverse team can be when you pull it off. Generational differences are another form of diversity, and in that sense, another opportunity for those willing to invest in understanding them.

As it happens, we're already doing that work. Below is an awesome look at the lift we all make to understand the language and phrases that different generations use at work.


#GenerationalAwareness #Vocab #SeekToUnderstand #Curiosity

Fast Company summarizes the fun and fascinating findings of a report from online tutoring company Preply. The big takeaway? Nearly a 25-33% of each generation in the workplace struggles to understand other generations:

If you sometimes feel like your older or younger coworkers speak another language, that’s because, well, they do. No matter your age, the generation you belong to has unique vocabulary—slang—that makes perfect sense to you but can leave others scratching their heads. And this generational slang divide is causing communication confusion in the workplace:

It's not just our language that's different -- the way we go about translating other generations' terms is different too! (I can confirm that my kids are my go-to 🫡 )

What about the phrases we're each trying to inject into our vocabs?

We love this. We love all of it: the fun language; the reminder of our quirky, human differences; most of all, that we are seeking to understand one another, and the human need and curiosity that drives that effort. Even if, sheesh, we're doing it in different ways. 🙃

Thanks for reading. 🙏

Work moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.
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