As with all stereotyping, using generations to define the behaviors of an entire class of people is mostly a convenient and lazy fiction.
The Final Frontier for Diversity
The U.S. and most of the world’s developed economies have embraced and celebrate the importance of diversity in national origin, creed, race, and sexual orientation. We clearly have room for improvement, but the progress in this area over the last 200 years is one of humanity’s greatest achievements because it tears down the artificial barriers that prevent economic and social participation due to discrimination. In many ways, the increasing prosperity of the world depends on increasing our understanding of the value of diversity.
Yet there is still one place where we seem to have absolutely no qualms about calling people out for something they had no choice in, and it is the single greatest cross-cultural source of diversity, one that applies to every human being: the generation that he or she was born into.
Five Generations and Counting
With Gen-Z (born after 1995) just entering the work force to join Millennials, Xers, boomers, and matures, there are now five generations working side by side. This simply has no precedent in human history. (See my earlier article, “How to Seize on the Single Greatest Global Shift in 5,000 Years.”)
“As with all stereotyping, using generations to define the behaviors of an entire class of people is mostly a convenient and lazy fiction.”
So what’s our answer to this uber-generational workforce? For the most part, we dig in our generational heels even deeper. How often have you found yourself in a group where someone is bashing the behavior of Millennials with complete disregard for the fact that one or more Millennials are in the group? Can you imagine tolerating that same conversation if it was about gender, race, or sexual orientation? Of course not!
As with all stereotyping, using generations to define the behaviors of an entire class of people is mostly a convenient and lazy fiction. It’s an artifact from a time when we had no tools with which to understand individual behaviors. Guess what? Now we do! Facebook and Google know more about you than your spouse or S.O. does.
Equal Opportunity Bashing
I’m not arguing that the era in which we grew up didn’t shape some aspect of our worldview and create shared experiences. The point is that, going forward, social context is increasingly becoming shared global context across all ages. I can experience the thrill of Minecraft just as fully as my 16-year-old son can build an e-commerce business. I’m also not claiming that the mind of a 12-year-old is physiologically the same as that of a 60-year-old. But once you cross the line into the work force, the generational labels become much more divisive than productive.
And this is not just about bashing Millennials and Gen-Z. If you’re on the other side of that divide, as a boomer, you’re going to suffer the same generational ostracization if your “generation” is perceived as irrelevant. Yeah, that doesn’t feel so good, does it?
If you want to succeed in both building a 21st century business and in reaching a market that represents more than half the world’s population (4.5 billion Millennials and Gen-Zers), then you need to understand that it’s time to give up the generation bashing.
Six Reasons to Stop Generation Bashing and Move Into a Post-Generational Era:
1. We are all using the same technologies to communicate.
Grandmothers and 2-year-olds are using Skype on tablets to talk to each other. The barriers of affordability, usability, and utility are disappearing. The tools that once defined generations most are now nearly synonymous across all ages.
2. We cannot continue to think in generational terms when we have five to seven generations working side by side.
This sort of thinking will tear your organization apart. Try reverse mentoring, where younger hires mentor older hires on the benefits and tactics of social media. Connect, don’t divide.
3. Diversity leads to better solutions.
The single greatest source of creativity and innovation lies in viewing opportunities and challenges from every possible angle. Rather than think in terms of generational lenses, think in terms of the benefits of combining the experience of the past with the unfettered ambition of the future.
4. Education no longer has walls.
Open classrooms will allow anyone to educate themselves on anything, at any age. When we wrote The Gen Z Effect, we interviewed middle schoolers who were using 3-D printing to create novel medical devices and prosthetics as well as matures who were starting new careers in their 70s.
5. Our experiences will be shared online and increasingly through rich virtual reality.
It used to be that generations were defined by shared experiences that couldn’t be effectively reproduced. As we create fully immersive VR experiences online, we will also tear down the walls that limited experiences to just one generation.
6. With the ability technology gives us to target behaviorally, demographic targeting is quickly becoming a blunt instrument of force.
The single greatest shift in post-generational thinking will be in how we use behavior to identify and even predict preferences, attitudes, and interests.
The inescapable result is that, going forward, we are all part of the greatest ever global generational mashup of human experiences, unbounded by the artificial lines that we once drew to define and confine the powerful diversity of humanity.
Want to know more about Gen Z? Check out The Gen Z Effect.
This article was originally published on Inc.
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Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.