Generation Gaps, Millennials, and the Future

I remember an interesting and impactful article I read in college in the Atlantic magazine about the different cultural norms in the generations in the U.S.  We have added a few more named generations to the progression since that article was written and got my attention.  The business world is in a tizzy about how to attract, retain, and motivate the famously free-spirited “millennial” generation as increasingly we are losing members of the “greatest generation” every day.  We wonder about the shift in our population, work forces, and voter ranks based on these changing demographics.

I heard Perry Hewitt from Harvard University talk recently about how some corporate cultural attributes like collaboration acted as “millennial nectar,” helping organizations attract new talent like colorful and fragrant flowers would attract bees and birds to a plant.  Conversely, an insistence on fixed job structures, long-term and slow-building career paths, and corporations that act too “corporate” act something like a millennial repellant.  I suppose each generation has their own nectar and repellant.

As part of the ill-defined “Generation X,” I am intrigued and puzzled by these generalizations.  I think each generation has faced its own impactful events and infrastructure.  Some things are consistent and many things have changed dramatically from generation to generation, leaving the “young people” of each generation to find their way.  A second world war, which came to US soil, demanded that the greatest generation develop a sense of duty and a fight for the common good and we wondered by in other times it wasn’t replicated by their children or grandchildren.  Today the world’s knowledge (and misinformation, as well) can fit in our pocket and we are puzzled when children raised with any answer only a click away, might feel impatient with corporate career paths and having to “pay their dues.” 

As I think of my own children, who have never known a world without the internet, cell phones, and on-demand entertainment, I am excited and curious what they will take for granted and the implications of this to their psyche and culture.