Some time ago, Glynis Horning, a South African journalist asked me what advice our ‘older generation’ could give the ‘younger generations’. That was a thought-provoking question! My answer appeared as part of an article in the Psychologies magazine.
My first comment was that the younger generation lacks a sense of permanence. But, maybe that’s good? It was hard growing up in an era where choosing your first job was like a life sentence. ‘Nice people’ didn’t change jobs.
It’s not like that now. Staying in the same job often gives the impression that you lack initiative. Being able to recognise and immediately optimise opportunities is one of the keys to success. Being flexible and able to operate in ambiguous conditions is essential in our current conditions which are often volatile.
The shift from ‘made to last’ to ‘disposable’ affects aspects of our value systems and changes our attitudes. Older generations grew up expecting to stay in their jobs, remain in their cities, remain close to their families and often tended to regard relationships with a sense of permanence. (I’m not implying that all modern relationships don’t have a sense of permanence.)
Conflicting attitudes often cause lack of understanding between the generations. And this is important because for the first time ever, we now could have as many as four generations in the workplace or organisation at the same time. An example given to me recently was that the ‘older folk’, those who had been working for the company for some time, found it hard to cope when a new ‘whiz kid’ was appointed as their leader. He ‘swept in and changed everything’. While the majority were still trying (somewhat reluctantly?) to become part of that change process, the leader moved on to another exciting position, leaving perceived chaos in his/her wake. I realised I was hearing one point of view. I would have enjoyed holding a conversation with the ‘whiz kid’!
Young people, raised in an era of ‘don’t fix the printer, just buy a new one’ will certainly not place as much importance on ‘made to last’ as our generation did. Even our pens were ‘made to last’. Do you remember how we used pens that we dipped into inkwells at school. My husband tells the story of one of the boys in his class at school who was caught smoking. He had the desk lid lifted (yes, we used to sit at old-fashioned wooden desks!) was smoking and the smoke rose through the hole made for the ink well! The teacher saw this and immediately sent him to the headmaster’s office.
Products, jobs, location, relationships have all become more disposable. And anything that is faster replaces that which is slower. A friend tells the story of how his grandfather, going on a business trip, used to go to the train-station to catch the train from his town to the city. If he missed the train, he came back a week later and caught the next train. His father on the other hand, in the early days would be taken to the airport and if he missed the plane would come back the next day to catch the next flight. Now, if my friend misses his ‘wedge’ of the revolving door, he becomes totally stressed. Everything has become faster. But has it become better?
The younger generation could benefit from learning to appreciate ‘permanence’ - but then look at how much they can teach us about flexibility, coping with change and technology!
Where there are differences, or where there are changes, there will always be perceived benefits and perceived disadvantages. In the ‘Handwriting on the wall’ (‘Who moved my cheese?’ – Spencer Johnson) we are reminded that we need to ‘smell the cheese often’. We need to scan the environment, recognise change and reflect on which opportunities are closed down and those which are opened – and then take appropriate action.
1. What is one of the main lessons you could learn from:
- Two generations above yours
- The generation above yours
- The generation below yours
- Two generations below yours (may not be applicable)
2. What is the main lessons each of those groups could learn from your generation?
3. Which products in your life are disposable?
4. Which products in your life are ‘made to last’?
5. What, if anything, is ‘permanent’?
6. How do you go about scanning the environment for change?
7. And how do you use that information to your advantage?
For more information on ‘Executive Coaching’ or keynote speaking please contact Brenda Eckstein on +27 82 4993311 or firstname.lastname@example.org