I’ve noticed a discernible uptick in the number of blogs/articles/posts on Millennials and Boomers. They fall into two camps.
- Camp 1: Boomers gifting “advice” to millennials on entitlement.
- Camp 2: Millennials asking boomers to look in the mirror.
The issue is, both generations are looking at the issue from their own cultural bias that is derived from the sum of our lifetime of experiences. As much as we want to believe we are independent, master-of-our-destiny thinkers, our thoughts and behaviors are ruled by the cultural systems in which we've lived.
A beautiful story
A (boomer) friend is an incredibly talented musician who loves to repay this talent through service to his church. He was leader of the church band for years, but at some point the pastor decided to let some younger (millennial) musicians take the lead. This was incredibly difficult at first. He saw these younger musicians trying things he knew from experience wouldn’t work and wondered why they didn’t seek his advice and counsel (sound familiar?). Why not show the respect he felt he had earned?
But he realized his bias. He was seeing the situation through the lens of his many years of toil to achieve his proficiency. What if he looked at the situation as a young person being put in a role that was risky and fraught with landmines? He remembered the frustration and challenge he felt at that age when working with older musicians. He thought of life as a young adult, the struggle to be independent and figure out your identity. With that revelation, he put himself in service to their success and did whatever he could to assist them and help them to be successful - which they became.
We need to bring the same level of reflection and self-awareness to our thinking about positioning our brands with different generations. Many aspects of daily life may be different today, but we still seek to shape our identity as we progress through life. Rather than focus on the judgements of respect or entitlement, perhaps a better line of thinking is the cultural systems of how knowledge and wisdom are now shared. It may be we've realized Margaret Mead’s theory of prefigurative culture.
A favor to ask of every boomer and millennial
The next time you find yourself reacting to the other generation’s behavior or comments, step back for a minute. Ask yourself why they may be feeling the way they do, and what may be causing that. Then, consider how you can be of service to that person in some way.
As a boomer, you’ll discover that this younger generation gives you hope. You’ll find they have a lot to teach about collaboration, encouragement and support. They may ask a lot of questions, but it's not because they think you are wrong. It's simply because they are insatiably curious and passionate about finding the best solution. As a millennial, you’ll discover that boomers have many transcendent human truths to share that are timeless. They may not understand how they apply in today’s fail fast, rapid prototype business environment, but they are lessons can make you a much better business person.
My research with boomers and millennials leads me to believe that more are approaching their relationship with each other in this mutually-beneficial way that the pundits would have us believe. That makes me believe we have a very bright future, although it doesn't make a good headline...