Let the Homelander Movies Begin!

With the oldest of the [Homelander] entering their tweens in the next few years, it appears that Hollywood is preparing for the new mythology for their generation. According to [S&H] the Homelander generation will be similar to the [Silent] in that they will be forced into a very conformist view of success through both parental and social pressures. This is definitely reflected in two different summer movie releases.

The first is “Divergent“, based on the 2011 novel of the same name. Here is the summary from Wikipedia:

It is a young-adult dystopian novel set in the so-called Divergent Universe,[1] that features a post-apocalyptic version of Chicago. The novel follows Beatrice “Tris” Prior as she explores her identity within a society that defines its citizens by their social and personality-related affiliation with five different factions. Underlying the action and dystopian focused main plot is a romantic subplot between Tris and one of her instructors in the Dauntless faction, nicknamed Four.

 

Divergent imagines a society where children are raised to become workers based on their aptitude, and secondarily, their choice. But once this choice is made it is set for life, and those that have multiple aptitudes are considered “divergent”. These “divergent” along with anyone that changes their mind about their direction after their choice are cast out of society. The goal of the society’s leaders is to avoid the suffering that occurred before their utopian system was devised.

The second movie is “The Giver” which is based on the 1993 novel of the same name. The plot here is similar:

It is set in a society which is at first presented as a utopian society and gradually appears more and more dystopian. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the twelfth year of his life. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness,” a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Jonas is selected to inherit the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. Jonas learns the truth about his dystopian society and struggles with its weight.

In the movie the protagonist is 18 while in the original book he was a mere 11. But the story is very similar to the later Divergent in that the elders of society are choosing for the youth their path in an effort to preserve a perfect society.

The rebellion depicted in both films smacks of [Boom] rebellion, but the oppressor here is not the [GI] of from the Boomer’s youth, but rather a depiction of current [X] parents as stifling in their control of their children. Strauss and Howe predicted that the Homelanders would be sensitive, helpful and rule-playing because of how they are “carefully” raised by Gen X parents (I think this is a politically correct way of saying it).

Although there have been many books and movies on the theme of breaking away from uniformity of society (Fahrenheit 451, Gattaca, 1984 etc…) these two have a particular spin that is unique. The idea that society can be made perfect by each individual “choosing” (the amount of choice varies in each movie) their purpose is the central theme for both. That is the part that fits with the Homelander generation, who, like their Silent grandparents will have a life path that is sheltered and directed with close guardrails. The thing that struck me about these two movies is how they came out close together and with almost identical plot lines. 

This is somewhat of a contrast with the other dystopian blockbuster “The Hunger Games“. In that series the themes are similar but the governing powers are much more obviously corrupt and society is nowhere near equal. The societies in “The Giver” and “Divergent” are perfect and balanced but only if everyone does not question the role they are given at an early age.
Millennials were raised with excellence, cooperation and success as the goals. Homelanders will have safety,purpose and conformity emphasized in their youth. “The Hunger Games” feels more Millennial while “The Giver” and “Divergent” have a more Homelander character.

The business world is already moving in the direction of purpose as the driver for careers. Author Aaron Hurst has written a book titled “The Purpose Economy” on just this topic. He even provides a way to test your purpose with “The Imperative” (the definition of imperative? “of vital importance; crucial” and the second definition? “giving an authoritative command; peremptory“). These concepts are perfect for our time because they address the needs of [Mill] and Homelanders to have structure and a clear path to success or safety. The collective nature of both of these generations allows them to accept the categorization of their talents as long as they know that there is a guaranteed method for them to succeed (Millennial) or avoid risk (Homelander).

But 30-40 years from now there will be a massive backlash against these types of methods, which will be viewed by the Millennial’s children (Boomer’s grandchildren) as oppressive. That is where “Divergent” and “The Giver” are prescient in understanding the eventual rebellion.

P.S. The Giver was written by Lois Lowry, a Silent who has seen this path before in her youth, while “Divergent” was written by Veronica Roth, a Millennial who probably felt these nascent pressures growing up.

Generation X vs. Millennials: Agile Development

A vast majority of managers in most companies today are [X]. This is mainly just a factor of age (Gen X’ers are now between the ages of 32 and 54) and certainly isn’t motivated by the desire of Gen X’ers to climb the corporate ladder (we are the original slackers, after all).

When Gen X’ers got their start in the work world we entered a culture created by the [GI] but dominated by the [Silent] and [Boom] in management. The GI model for management was based on their experience from their youth: a hierarchy based on the military circa WWII. Although the Boomers struggled mightily to break these institutions, their workaholic tendencies often meant that their values of commitment and endurance reinforced the structures in place by requiring long tenures to advance. That is the world that Gen X entered into in our work life and we reacted in a way that has become stereotypical for our generation: we sighed “Whatever” and compensated with a drive for a work-life balance instead of challenging “The Man” to change the structure.

So even though most Gen X’ers think that the strict heirarchies in most companies are rather silly, we have not challenged them much in our careers. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but for the most part we just decided to lampoon the “Office Space” and devote ourselves to our children and our tribe. The result is that the structures left over from the days of “Mad Men” remain in place in much of the work world today.

Strauss and Howe have characterized the Silent and Gen X generations as “recessive” in contrast to the “dominant” Boomer and [Mill] generations. As Gen X’ers we take a back seat in society to the dominant generations we are sandwiched between. The good news is that we don’t need to shoulder as much blame for the screw-ups (we can justifiably point fingers at the Boomers for many of the challenges we face today) but it also means that we have to count on other generations to truly drive large social change. Which brings me to the Millennials in the workplace.

In recent discussions with Gen X managers in Silicon Valley I have noticed a shift that portends what Millennials may look for once they have the reigns. Most Gen X managers in technology are familiar with a project management technique known as Agile (aka SCRUM or Extreme). Created by programmers to give a more flexible way to manage projects in an iterative manner, it was cutting edge 15-20 years ago but has become the standard for project management today, particularly in software. I even use this method to manage projects on my team even though we don’t do programming. This method was probably developed by Boomers, but Gen X’ers were introduced to this approach early in their careers. As a result of growing up with these techniques (and seeing the failures of the previous approach known as “Waterfall“) many Gen X’ers in the Valley see this methodology as orthodoxy.

One  feature of Agile* that is worth noting for generational discussions are the daily meetings (sometimes called “Standups”) where each member of the team describes what they did the day before, what they will do the next day and any potential roadblocks to getting their work done. These short meetings ensure that each team member can work independently while staying coordinated with the entire team on a daily basis. Quick adjustment based on the information gained in a Standup are a hallmark of a well-run Agile project and are one factor that keeps projects from running off the rails unnoticed for months.

Gen X’ers can be characterized as individualists and so these meetings are a wonderful way to coordinate the activities of many individuals on a team. But Millennials were raised to be much more collective in their attitude (think Barney and High School Musical) and have been working together on projects from grade school through College. Most things with Millennials are group decisions and peer communication is constant (Gen X parents might say obsessively so).

I have heard to several Gen X managers who complain that their Millennial workers seem to think that Standup meetings are optional or that they can just communicate the information via text or Skype. This attitude is perceived as entitled and (optimistically) a bit naive. “Agile is the ultimate project management methodology and who are these kids to ignore its precepts?”, thinks the experienced Gen X manager.

But watching how Millennial teams organize and manage projects gives some insights into their thinking. I have seen Millennial development teams sit in the same conference room together for weeks during a project. After the work day ends they all head to the same bars together before heading home (often to shared living arrangements). They spend the entire day in constant communication, either in-person or via technology. The thought that they would need to “Check in with the team” for 15 minutes every day seems ridiculous. Based on their perspective there can only be one reason for the Standup meeting: to report to Gen X managers on their work. That’s right, Gen X, what started as way to empower individual team members and speed projects is seen as micromanaging on the part of many Millennials.

I have coached the Gen X’ers to work with Millennials to help them understand the importance of the Agile process through the needs of the larger group. Motivating them based on this larger picture can be effective, but it’s not just the Millennials that need to adapt in this situation. Millennials continue to move into management ranks, and, unlike Gen X’ers who succumbed to the existing structures with sarcastic acceptance, Millennials will push for large scale change once they are running the show. Whether it is forward thinking Gen X’ers (such as Tony Hsieh who has adopted the Holacracy for his organization) or Millennial leaders who will instigate these shifts, the Millennial workers will follow their lead.

Forward thinking organizations need to recognize these dynamics go well beyond the Agile example given above. The question to ask is not “How do we attract and retain Millennials?” but rather “How can we change as an organization to make Millennials more effective?” I think the answer will result in some wonderful new approaches to work in our society.

*I realize that Agile is a big umbrella and that Standups, Sprints, SCRUM  and other terms have very specific meanings and are not necessarily interchangeable. I use Agile to refer to the general organizing elements of these methodology. I also realize that standups are just one element of Agile methodologies but they serve as a good example of the differences between generations. Purists can flame me in the comments below.

Millennials are All the Rage

In a fit of meta, this article from last weekend’s Sunday NYTimes states:

“Suddenly, as you may have noticed, millennials are everywhere.”

And its true: people are talking about Millennials (and generations) at a rate not seen in a long time. Since Neil Howe and William Strauss coined the term back in 1991, its usage has climbed steadily. But so have the terms “Boomer” and “Generation X” increase in that time. Below is a chart of the use of these terms in books cataloged by Google:

What does this tell us? First, it says that the terms “Millennial” and “Boomer” probably refer to something other than generational cohorts (since their numbers were high before 1990) but secondly it means that interest in generations, not just [Mill] is rising.

There are good reasons for this dynamic. Part of it comes from the popularity of Strauss and Howe’s theories. In the NYT article it quotes Morley Winograd and Michael Hais who are often refer to the Strauss and Howe theories in their books. But a bigger part comes from the transition we are going through as Millennials shift from childhood to early adulthood.

This shift in a generation’s life stage always heralds a new awareness of the different character of “young people” at the time. This was true back in the 80’s and 90’s when [X] came of age and were pegged as “Slackers”. Looking back another 20 years, the [Boom] were noted for their rebellious and counter-culture as young adults. These shifts always catch the older generations by surprise (unless they have read Strauss and Howe’s theories!) and captivate the collective consciousness.

The NYT article points out that the perceptions of the older generations about the Millennials is somewhat warped. This, again, is no surprise since the way X’ers and Boomers behaved in young adulthood was very different from Millennials and we judge them on that basis. It’s hard to turn off the tape recorder in our brains that says “Back when I was your age…”

The good news is that all this attention is also breeding a bit more understanding this time around. Although some may judge Millennials as narcissistic or entitled, many others recognize that these perceptions are largely based on our biased frame of reference. I have seen many conversations in my personal and professional life become much more productive once people understand the basics of generational theory. And, yes, that means that if you are reading this you should get started on understanding generations too.