Generations of Experience
A “generation” spans about 30 years and includes all the people born during that time. The cultural and economic influences at work during a generation’s formative years help shape the values and attitudes that each member carries throughout life. For the most part there are four generations mixing together today, each with its own set of values and attitudes:
1922 – 1945 Silent or Traditional Generation
Values: Privacy, hard work (because it’s ethical), honesty, economic restraint, and patience.
Attitude: Pay your dues, follow rules, make do, trust authority.
1946 – 1964 Baby Boomer Generation
Values: Competition, change, hard work (for personal achievement), and health.
Attitude: Work hard to get ahead, show me vs. tell me, rules must be necessary, obligated to change the world.
1965 – 1980 Generation X
Values: Resourcefulness, life balance, diversity, fun, and independence.
Attitude: Distrustful of institutions, work to live vs. live to work, global thinking, and information hungry.
1981 – Present Generation Y (Why) or Millennial Generation
Values: Reason, work hard (if it makes sense), creativity, and speed.
Attitude: Knowing why is important, optimistic (future), realistic (present), rejects blind orders, proof of ability matters more than seniority, impatient.
It’s easy to see how grandparents, parents, and kids often find it hard to communicate. It can be an especially big problem for grandparents wanting to influence their grandkids.
The Economy Answer
The industrial economy shaped the values and attitudes of today’s grandparents. People of this economy understood the industrial game; in exchange for job and retirement security, workers showed up, follow orders, and didn’t ask questions.
Parents perfectly prepared their children for success in this economy by ruling the roost and not sparing the rod to teach kids to be good soldiers who follow orders. “Be seen and not heard” worked, and “Because I said so” worked.
It was a beautiful arrangement—‘was’ being the operative word. Without updating the ways in which we prepare our kids, we will perfectly prepare them for a world that no longer exists.
Downsizing and Broken Promises
Business Insider reports close to 400,000 people have lost jobs this year. Hewlett-Packard cut 27,000 and even Google fired 4,000. The New York Times reports serious underfunding of pension plans for over half of the Standard and Poor’s 500—General Electric having the biggest gap of $21.6 million.
The rules of the game have changed drastically. The skills required for success in the industrial economy will get you fired in the experience economy. The game now requires workers to question rules and to innovate beyond the boundaries. Rather than follow orders, we are challenged to think for ourselves.
Teach to the Test
The test for success in the industrial economy was straight forward. Questions were simple with one right answer—true under all circumstances—and cause and effect statements were framed as truths.
If I work hard I will keep my job. True
Our parents and grandparents perfected the test questions and helped teach us how to answer each one correctly. We were perfectly prepared to pass the test of life in the industrial economy.
The experience economy swept in and changed everything, including the test questions. We can’t just memorize and restate the answers to life anymore; we are challenged to think.
Multiple Choice Test
Questions about continuing education now have multiple right answers; the challenge is to bravely declare personal desire and objectively assess strengths and talents. No one can give you the answer to that one.
Questions have become complex statements requiring independent thinking and critical analysis—answers do, too. Unless you’re sure of yourself, you’ll get mislead by distractions, bias, or the paradox of more than one right answer. We’re challenged to know a lot of objective information, and then to apply it to our real-life choices.
Parents promise kids to teach them how to thrive in the world. The promise is strong, strong enough for it to extend to grandkids. To help grandparents continue to make good on their promises, we simply need to help them understand the world for which they are preparing the grandkids. That’s it. Knowing that creativity, innovation, and consistent challenge to boundaries is required to thrive in the experience economy, will be enough to help grandparents find new ways to bring their much needed experience and wisdom to their grandkids. And who is better suited to invite a child into creative thinking, exploration, discovery, and self-awareness than a grandparent? Nobody.
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