Verizon seems to have a thing for generational themes in their ads. Jessie X pointed it out in her post about a kid in a recent Verizon ad, and now a friend pointed this one out to me:
Kinda sums up the attitude of Generation X as parents.
A viral video of a gaming session that went around a while ago that is interesting to watch from a generational perspective. It is a recording of a “World of Warcraft” session showing the group strategizing before a battle that ends up a disaster. The thing I find interesting is the amount of discussion going on before they go to battle. I don’t play video games anymore, and when I did we never had this level of teamwork. Is this the Millennial (born 1982-200?) training ground?
I realize that most gamers today are in the mid-30’s and older (Generation X, born 1961-1981), but I bet that the younger gamers are A LOT more teamwork focused.
PS. If you have never browsed www.collegehumor.com, you should. It is the funniest Millennial research you can do…
Over at my other blog I talk about how to sell into businesses (my day job). In this series of posts I will describe the best strategies you can use to sell to the various generations.
Each generation has a unique character, and members of those generations have common attributes. Although it is impossible to make specific claims about each individual in a generation (since they span 20 years or more) generational theory is useful in understanding how members of a generation will likely act in a sales situation. It is also very useful when assessing the character of an organization, since when members of a generation work together they often exhibit even stronger generational qualities.
The Boomer Generation, born 1943-1960, is well-known for their cultural influence in the US. They were the children born after WWII during the American High, a period of plenty where life was stable and the future looked bright. In their youth they rebelled against the establishment and tore down many of the institutions that raised them. During their midlife, in the 1980’s and 90’s, they fought bitter ideological battles for the hearts and minds of the people. And now, as they move into elderhood, their character is shifting again.
Boomers in elderhood are typically quite set in their ways, and their strong ideology makes it difficult to sway their opinions. They often want to deliberate about any decisions and revel in the discussion more than the outcome, although they expect things to go their way. They often will make decisions based purely on ideology, rather than the practical or pragmatic. They judge younger generations (especially Generation X, born 1961-1981) as self-centered and cynical.
Ideals and ideas are both important to Boomers and they often will have strong philosophical views and opinions. They are willing, and often enjoy, engaging in lively debate, but it is difficult to change their minds about their beliefs.
5 things to know for selling to Baby Boomers:
- If they are the decision makers (often the case) then you need to understand their ideal state. You are unlikely to talk them out of those ideals, but if you can convince them you will help them towards this ideal then you are on the right track. Boomers are often visionaries (or believe that they are) and if you can determine how to align yourself with their vision you will have a strong ally.
- They prefer face-to-face contact and can be overwhelmed when too much information is presented too quickly, especially if it is shallow and glosses over the deeper meaning. Boomers prefer to concentrate on a single topic and understand it fully before moving on, so being willing to take questions during a presentation or demo is critical for Boomers. Even if you end up on a tangent you may satisfy the prospect that you are willing to really understand their needs in depth.
- If they have a strong emotional reaction (for or against) to material they are willing to read and research in detail. This is good if they agree with your pitch, but a bummer if they don’t. White Papers, technical manuals, analyst reports and other detailed information (especially from a well-known and trusted source) can be very effective with Baby Booomers.
- They are often more loyal to brands and individuals than younger generations. Although Baby Boomers broke down most of the institutions of their elders they were still raised to believe that organizations can be trusted, and in their elderhood they hope that this can happen once again. If Baby Boomers are the decision makers and you perform well after your first sales effort, you be well set up for subsequent sales.
- They are getting close to what will be their “final act” in the business world and many are concerned about leaving a legacy. Although many are more focused on just ensuring their retirement in these difficult economic times, some, especially the leaders of organizations, know that how they act now will be how they are remembered. If you can offer the opportunity for them to make a difference, to “Change the World”, you may have strong allies.
Some people believe these characteristics are really about age rather than generation. Although the character of generations shift as they age, they don’t act like the cohort that came before (or after) them at the same age. For example, the GI Generation (born 1901-1924) acted nothing like the Baby Boomers when they were entering elderhood in the 1960’s and 70’s. They were not, for the most part, philosophers or deep thinkers and they were proud of the strong society they had created. Each generation has a unique character at each age and understanding that character can help you sell.
Look for further posts on each living generation in the coming weeks. If you would like to learn more about how to sell to generations, please sign up for notification of my upcoming e-book on the topic “Selling to Generations”.
A few months ago I put together a list of “The 10 Best Generation X Movies Ever” and got lots of comments both for an against my choices. I have taken some of those to heart and created a new list of movies. I tried to focus on films that caught the character of Generation X at various stages of life. There are some very recent films that capture the spirit of our mid-life, but I don’t think they are popular enough to really rank on the 10 best yet.
- Breakfast Club – John Hughes (boomer) at his best. All the characters are here. The slacker/stoner, good girl, etc… but each is an individual and all are uncomfortable with being part of anything.
- Swingers – Dating was a minefield for Gen X’ers and this LA based movie has all the embarrassing comedy about the 20-something dating scene. And it introduced the world (or maybe just me) to Vince Vaughn in what was perhaps his funniest role ever (“You’re so money and you don’t even know it!”)
- Fast Times at Ridgemont High – This movie has it all, the jocks, stoners and geeks that made High School in the 70’s such a painful experience. Cameron Crowe does it again (this time as the writer). From Jeff Spicoli (“People on ‘ludes should not drive! “) to Brad Hamilton (“Jeez. Doesn’t anyone fucking knock any more? “) this crew knew how to party. Time to put this one on my Netflix queue again.
- Singles – This list would be nothing without a film from Cameron Crowe (another Boomer who gets Gen X). Life as a 20 something Gen X’er in the center of it all: Seattle during the Grunge movement. I never much liked Curt Kobain, but everyone else seemed to. Pearl Jam has a role the band members of “Citizen Dick”.
- Office Space – This one replaces Reality Bites from my first list. The humor here is darker, closer to Brazil with the pointless job in the massive corporation. Probably every Gen X office worker in the US had heard a real life version of: “We need to talk about your TPS reports.” during their working life.
- Say Anything -Again, Cameron Crowe nails the angst of the young Gen X’er. John Cusack (he’s on this list more than once and I left out “High Fidelity”) is fantastic as the loner trying to find love in a tough world. Go through the Memorable Quotes for this one and it will all come flooding back to you: “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.“
- Reservoir Dogs – This film was not about Gen X’ers, but it was made by Quentin Tarantino (an early X’er) and features some of the key elements of our psyche. The world in the film is brutal and the group that comes together are a bunch of independent mercenaries, willing to collaborate (as long as the get a cool name) but ready to turn on each other at any time. The movie is all about being cool and surviving, both of which define Gen X.
- Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Okay, I realize this is the second John Hughes film on the list, but the guy really gets Generation X. I wished I could be Ferris and I am not even sure why! He just seemed to make things great wherever he went.
- Fight Club – the book was written by an X’er (Chuck Palahniuk) and it definitely has the feel of the nihilistic world that is unraveling. The closest thing these guys get to community is kicking the crap out of each other. One of my favorite movies of all time, although because of the rules, I can’t talk about it.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer – (quoted from Matthew E who commented on my last post) Didn’t have the depth that the TV show did, but the central concept – out-of-her-depth California teen forced to fight unspeakable evil – was already there.
- Clerks – Ultra-slacker film by the ultra-slacker bunch. I think this one represents X’ers well because of the way it was made. They put the production costs on a credit card and filmed it all with a few buddies. No big studios to help and a “fuck it, who cares” attitude. If that is not Gen X in action, I don’t know what is!
Once again, the list goes to 11, and they are not in any particular order. Any suggestions of films in the last 5 years?
Matthew E over at Legion Abstract just turned me on to a great blog written by a Gen X’er: XTCIAN. Written by Ian Williams a screenwriter and director, it is mainly his own personal blog, but has some great posts about generations (he was a contributing writer on 13th Gen: Abort, Retry, Ignore, Fail with Howe and Strauss).
This post from last week is a great example. Williams is asking whether Generation X (born 1961-1981) is going to produce any monumentally great writers like earlier generations. His take on our position in the generational scheme is hilarious. For example, when it comes to our Silent Generation parents (born 1925-1942) he has this to say:
Every generation has a fatal flaw. The Silent Generation had one of the worst ever: they went through the “sexual revolution” at the same time as the Boomers – except the Boomers were doing it at 18, and the Silents were doing it at 38 with their spouse and kids at home. It was just bad luck for the Silent Generation; awesome sideburns, finding your G-spot, and having sex with your neighbors just came around too late for them to partake without fucking up us li’l Gen Xers.
That hits painfully close to home for me.
And how he sums up our problem:
Here’s Gen X’s problem in a nutshell: the internet appeared in the world at EXACTLY the right time to ensure we would never dive into our Masterpieces. As we were winding up to slap the world upside the ass with our lusty, groundbreaking works, we were fucking sidetracked by that “I KISS YOU!!!” guy from Turkey.
Is this the reason that my table on “Defending the Honor of Generation X” never got filled up?
I highly recommend reading his posts on generations. Here are few more (titles changed to make the topic clear):
- How Gen X and Gen Y are different
- Another Post asking where the great Gen X Artist are
- Predictions about Gen X’ers as Parents
- Ian’s Gen X vs. Boomer Battle on Oprah
- On Baby Boomer Hypocrisy
Great stuff, all. I am officially a fanboy.
In The Fourth Turning” the describe the roles of each generation during the various “Turnings“. At the end of the book there are “scripts” for each of the generation in the Crisis (aka “Fourth Turning”) that represents the next 10-15 years in American history. Each script describes how the generation in question should act for a positive outcome from the Crisis. I already posted the script for the Millennial Generation (born 1982-200?), Generation X (born 1961-1981) and the Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960). The script for Silent Generation (born 1925-1942) is shown below (emphasis, items in italics and links mine). “Artist” refers to the archetype of the Silent Generation.
Having witnessed the last Crisis as an anxious child, the Artist will approach the next one as an anxious elder. He will see its catalyst and feel its mood shift but will probably pass away before learning how it turns out. In the Fourth Turning, therefore, the Artist must disengage and refrain from interfering as other archetypes do their necessary work. In an Unraveling (the Culture Wars from 1984-2005) , the old Artist sees little of his own empathic quality in the Nomad (Generation X in this case) who (he fears) will ignorantly shatter his own achievements. The Artist may even worry that refinement and sensitivity are themselves dying with him. He is unaware that a new Artist archetype is soon to be reborn in the Fourth Turning, nurtured by the Nomad to possess exactly the traits the old Artist wishes to preserve.
In the Fourth Turning, the Silent will be fading from power, with less chance to act than to veto (or, as always, to entangle) the actions of others. Their vestigial powers will reside mainly in courtrooms. If they block the Next New Deal, Silent jurists would follow in the Crisis-aggravating saecular footsteps of Roger Taney in the 1850’s and the “nine old men” in the 1930s. They should avoid intruding on the moral judgments of Boomer legislatures and avoid using detail, complexity, and delay to stifle the recrudescence of civic authority. Crisis-era antagonisms will not be amenable to being smoothed over, and warring sides will refuse mediation. Decisions will not be improved by adding new layers of procedure, and urgent problems will not await further study. The Silent should defer to the X’er view that experts can be dead wrong, that professional elites can stumble over simple choices, and that kind intentions do not always produce kind results. As the Crisis deepens, X’er-style survivalism will trump Silent-style procedural democracy every time.
Through the remainder of the Unraveling, however, a Silent dose of what the Progressive Generation’s Ella Wheeler Wilcox called “just the art of being kind” could usefully help America prepare for the challenges ahead. With measured checks and balances, the Silent can artfully deflect Boomer anger and challenge X’er apathy, preventing those two generations from imprudently plunging America into dangerous rapids before the Fourth Turning arrives. At the turn of the Millennium, the election of an empathic Silent president might stretch out the Unraveling era just long enough to restrain Boomers and X’ers from engaging their worst instincts until both have had a chance to mature further. Once the Crisis catalyzes, however, the time for Silent leadership will expire.
Though eager to mentor youth personally, the Silent should realize that Millennials are not like X’ers and are even less like Boomers. The rising generation will not want to expand the frontier of individualism and introspection. They will want the opposite—teamwork and construction. The child’s world is just now recovering from what Silent parents, educators, and pop-culture leaders did to it back in the Awakening in the name of reform. Millennial nurture depends on this change continuing. The kindest thing the Silent can do for Millennials is to be the helpmate. Perhaps, by dint of their smaller numbers, the Silent can sneak through unnoticed with a GI-style elder reward. Rut by acceding gracefully to requests that they relinquish some of their late-life public reward, the Silent could prove that good intentions can make a difference, that nice people can alter history.
If the Silent play their script badly, they will end their lives like Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, fearing that the national greatness hoisted by others in their childhood will pass away with them. If they apply their script well, however, they can go into history’s good night like those who reached their eighties in the Great Depression, old Progressives like Louis Brandeis and John Dewey, who (in the latter’s words) remained “committed to an end that is at once enduring and flexible.”
Silents are certainly stepping aside now (see my post on the makeup of the legislature). Unfortunately the Silent Generation did not get it’s president at the turn of the Millennium – we got another Boomer (George W. Bush), which did seem to push us further into crisis. And that last item I highlighted is why Generation X will always be cynical about the role of parents, educators and pop-culture leaders.
This interesting article in MSN by Susan Gregory Thomas describes parent’s attitudes today. The article makes some great points about the nature of Generation X’ers of parents, but I think it misses the marks in regards to their children.
A couple particularly good quotes:
“Generation X parents seem to have mistaken emotional ‘enmeshment’ for ‘attachment parenting,’”
“Our parents, the Boomers, didn’t pay so much attention to us — they were getting divorced and working and respecting independence, so they left us a lot of times to Scooby Doo,” says Calhoun. “But we’re going a bit far in the other direction and paying so much attention that we’re picking up on every blip in our kids’ whims.”
(note that many parents of Gen X’ers were actually of the Silent generation born 1925-1942)
But this one totally misses the point:
As for today’s little kids? “No one will want to hire them,” says Brody. That’s not an encouraging thought, especially in these economic times.
The kids described in the article are the generation AFTER the Millennials (born 1981-200?), tentatively known as “Homelanders” (born after 2003 or so). They are likely to follow in the footsteps of the Silent Generation by becoming conformist young adults. How is this possible? Consider that most Gen X parents are not particularly permissive with their children. They often enforce strict rules and boundaries for thier kids inside and outside the home. But Gen X parents don’t really care what society thinks about their parenting or whether their kids obey society’s rules. So the kids get two messages: my parents will protect me from the outside world as long as I follow their rules (and they will be there to enforce them).
The message that Gen X’ers give their kids is, “Follow MY rules and there will be a good outcome”. Once translated into an adult mentality (in the Homelanders) that sounds a lot like a recipe for conformity (“Follow the BOSS’s rules and there will be a good outcome”). I think that some of the psych’s interviewed are confusing the permissiveness of the Silents and Boomers with the “I don’t give a damn what anyone thinks” of the X’ers. Just because we don’t care whether Johnny takes away your kid’s toy, doesn’t mean we are permissive: it means we don’t give a damn about YOUR kid.
In Strauss and Howe’s book “The Fourth Turning” the describe the roles of each generation during the various “Turnings“. At the end of the book there are “scripts” for each of the generation in the Crisis (aka “Fourth Turning”) that represents the next 10-15 years in American history. Each script describes how the generation in question should act for a positive outcome from the Crisis. I already posted the script for the Millennial Generation (born 1982-200?) a few days ago. The script for Generation X (born 1961-1981) is shown below (emphasis and links mine). “Nomad” refers to the archetype of Generation X.
Survival skills are what a society needs most in a Fourth Turning, and those are precisely what the most criticized archetype—the Nomad—possesses in abundance. Through the natural corrective force of the saeculum, the Nomad was raised to excel in exactly those skills that history will require from him in midlife at a time of real public danger. His challenge will be to stop dispersing these skills for scattered purposes and start gathering them for one larger purpose. Through the Unraveling, the Nomad has been able to withdraw from civic life, but come the Crisis he cannot. It will be his duty to ensure that whatever choices society makes will work as intended. In public life, the Nomad must cut through the paralytic residue once built by his shadow, the old Artist. In private life, he must rebuild the family and community rituals once discarded by the old Artist. As he does this, the Nomad will nurture the new child Artist.
The Fourth Turning will find other generations with lives either mostly in the past or mostly in the future, but it will catch X’ers in “prime time,” right at the midpoint of their adult years. They must step forward as the saeculum’s repair generation, the one stuck with fixing the messes and cleaning up the debris left by others. Every tool X’ers acquired during a hardened childhood and individualist youth will be put to maximum test. If X’ers apply these tools for community purpose, they will become antidotes to pathologies remembered from their own Awakening-era childhood— from divorce and latchkeys to public debt and cultural decay.
The X’ers gravest Fourth Tuning duty will be their society’s most important pre-seasonal task: to ensure that there can indeed be a new High, a new golden age of hope and prosperity. For the Crisis to end well, X’ers must keep Boomers from wreaking needless destruction and Millennials from marching too mindlessly under their elders’ banner. They will not find it easy to restrain an older generation that will consider itself far wiser than they, and a younger one that will consider itself more deserving. For this, X’ers will require a keen eye, a deft touch, and a rejection of the wild risk taking associated with their youth.
From now through the end of the Fourth Turning, X’ers will constantly rise in power. From 1998 until around the Crisis climax, they will be America’s largest potential generational voting block. As the years pass, their civic contributions will become increasingly essential to their nation’s survival. They will have to vote more and participate more, if they want to contain the Boomers’ zealotry. They will have that chance. Their own elected officials will surge into Congress as the Crisis catalyzes, eclipse Boomers around its climax, and totally dominate them by the time it resolves.
As they go one-on-one with history, X’ers should remember that history is counting on them to do whatever hard jobs may be necessary. If X’ers play their script weakly, old Boomers could wreak a horrible apocalypse, and X’ers demagogues could impose a mind-numbing authoritarianism—or both. If X’ers play their script cleverly but safely, however, a new golden age will be their hard-won reward. As they age, X’ers should remember Hemingway’s words: “Old men do not grow wise. They grow careful.”
This was written in 1997 and I am personally amazed at how true it holds today. Us X’ers have a tough and thankless job ahead of us (just like our tough and thankless childhood/young adulthood). But perhaps knowing how critical our role is in this transition will bolster our morale.
I have been meaning to write this post for some time, but perhaps I am a little embarrassed about the topic. My 8 year-old daughter is into the American Girl Doll Books and we often read them to her during the day or as bed-time books. At first I rejected the whole American Girl Doll thing as terribly mainstream. Since our kids go to a Waldorf School, we are fairly counter-culture in how we go about parenting. Just look at the things:
They reminded me too much of the whole “Just Like Me” dolls and the hyper-narcissism that they imply. Our daughter did manage to get two American Girl Dolls (as gifts) but I really started to balk when the books started showing up in the house (from the library).
But then I took the time to actually read one of them to my daughter and I realized they were fairly interesting. Each book is based on a specific girl from a period in history (I think there are several based on current times as well). All the girls in the stories are between the ages of 10 and 12 (I think) and are based in different eras and generations:
When my wife and I were reading through the “Julie” stories we were struck by how well the reflected the times we grew up in. Of course it did not hurt that Julie lived in in the San Francisco Bay Area (where my wife grew up) and she was in exactly the same age group. But the portrayal of the times, with divorced parents and rebellious older siblings was a good picture of those times. Likewise the world of Kit, growing up in the Depression Era gave a very clear (and different) picture of what those times were about. The books have a somewhat moralistic tone (the kids are mostly do-gooders) but the times they live in are fair representations of history.
Reading the stories about the 1930’s were a particularly interesting lesson. One of the important concepts of generations is that we often repeat generational cycles because we don’t have a living history of those cycles. But books that give a 10-year-olds view of the Great Depression (a time similar to our current part of the cycle) are a great window into how to view that era and the people living in it. Hearing the compromises, fears and triumphs of kids living in the Depression (who would later go on to be the WWII heroes) is a unique perspective. Giving kids a perspective on what other children their age, in different times, have dealt with is a gentle introduction to how generational cycles work. My daughter did roll her eyes when she heard me say something about generations after reading one of the books. The kids hear enough about that stuff with Dad around…
It is also interesting to note that although the GIs, Silents and Generation X are represented in the series, there are no stories about the youth of the Boomers (born 1943-1960). Did Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best cover that period already or was their childhood just so boring that no one would be interested?
Gen X’er Elizabeth Gilbert best known for her book, “Eat, Pray, Love” has a unique take on the nature of creativity. Her perspective, to me, is very Gen X in that it looks at the practical implications of creative fame and how to manage it. It inspired me to think differently about where creative genius really comes from.