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Why Is This Generation Gap Different?

Throughout most of history, in most societies, every new generation has come along with new attitudes and expectations that differ – at least in part – from those of previous generations. That’s why every new generation prompts a generation gap.

The current generation gap, however, is about much more than a clash of styles and preferences; much more than the creative energy of youth challenging the cautious wisdom of experience; more than simply the new butting up against the old. The generational shift unfolding today is of historic significance, defined by the confluence of macro forces driving change at an extraordinary magnitude and pace. The Second Wave Millennials coming of age today have been shaped by those same forces of change. As such, the current generation gap is not only an important diversity issue, but also coincides with a qualitative transformation in the norms of life and work and society at every level. Everything is changing so much, and so fast, that the youngest, least experienced people bring to the table a unique wisdom that comes from being in sync with the immediate and intermediate future. That’s why generational differences evident in today’s youth can serve as a powerful lens through which to understand the trajectory of today’s changing world.

Our efforts remain focused on understanding today’s changing workforce, changing workplace, changing nature of employment, and even changes in the very nature of work. To that end, we continue tracking the same six profound historical forces of change we’ve watched unfolding in plain sight now for more than two decades.

These six macro forces continue to accelerate and define the transformations evident in every aspect of life and work:
 
Globalization
We are all now capable of connecting and traveling to work across borders in every direction and combination. Unlike any other time in history, we can all look forward to a lifetime of interdependency and competition with a rising global youth tide from every corner of this ever-flattening world.

 
Technology
The pace of technological advance today is unprecedented. Information, computing, communication, transportation, commerce, entertainment, food, medicine, war – in every aspect of life, anything can become obsolete at any time. Possibilities appear and disappear swiftly, radically, and often without warning.

 
Institutional insecurity
Ours is a world threatened by terrorism and environmental cataclysm, one in which the economy fluctuates wildly from boom to bust; governments sometimes shut down or run out of money; and great companies conquer or fail or merge or continually downsize, restructure, and reengineer. Institutions in every domain have been forced into a constant state of flux just in order to survive and succeed in this constantly changing world. We all know that we cannot anymore rely on institutions to be the anchors of our success and security.

 
The information environment
We are all now forced to think, learn, and communicate in a never-ending ocean of information. Ours is an information environment defined by wireless internet ubiquity, wholesale technology integration, and immediacy. We have seemingly infinite access to information and ideas and perspectives – unlimited words, images, and sounds.

 
Human diversity
In every dimension, the world is becoming more diverse and more integrated. Each generation is more diverse than the last. That’s true in terms of geographical point of origin, ethnic heritage, ability/disability, age, language, lifestyle preference, sexual orientation, color, size, and every other way of categorizing people. Every single individual, with his or her own combination of background, traits, and characteristics, is his or her own unique diversity story.

 
Online identity
Through social media-based chatting and sharing and gaming we can now be plugged in to an endless stream of content and in continuous dialogue – forever mixing and matching and manipulating from an infinite array of sources to create and then project back out into the world our own ever-changing personal montage of information, knowledge, meaning, and selfhood.


Young people are always going to go through similar growing pains when it comes to their careers, but the Millennials indicate that there is a larger shift occurring. Learn more in my YouTube video: Developmental Career Stages vs. Generational Shift

If you’re interested in learning more about what the Great Generational Shift means for you as an employer, employee, or workplace leader, check out our white paper: The Great Generational Shift: Update 2018.