1:00 AM 25th November 2023
Is There Any Point To Generational Cohorts?
Photo by little plant on Unsplash
We’ve all seen lots of comments about the differences between generations. You know the labels: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials, Generation Z, and the latest, Generation Alpha, which refers to the group of individuals born between 2010 and 2025.
These are familiar labels, loved by the media, and the basic building blocks for campaigns by some marketing and sales professionals.
The question is, do they really have any true merit?
The reality is that we are all individuals; we have freedom of thought and opinion, although most of us can be swayed by so-called experts, influencers, and our peer group.
Photo by little plant on Unsplash
I’m bang in the middle of the Baby Boomer Generation, but I don’t believe I fit the stereotype because I know plenty of other ‘boomers’ who have very different opinions, tastes, and behaviours from mine.
I could define myself by a range of other labels. Gender, ethnicity, geographical dimensions, even by star sign—I'm a ‘libra'—but I don’t fit that label very well either.
Are we really defined by the year of our birth?
If a pair of twins are born either side of midnight on December 31st, 1979, or January 1st, 1980, making one a Gen X and the other a Millennial, will they reflect the era they are each born into, or will their upbringing, family influences, and even genetics have a greater influence on their attitudes and behaviours?
Using stereotypes can get you into a terrible mess. So many of the awful sub-conscious biases and prejudices that are a blight on society are based on incorrect and unfair stereotypes.
I remember my views and opinions clashing with those of my parents when I was young. My parents would have been officially classified as the Silent Generation. I can assure you they weren’t short of views and opinions, so I don’t know where the word silent came from.
In my twenties, I would have been considered a Gen Z in the current definitions; I had views that had a degree of idealism about them; I was full of hope and ambition; and I didn’t agree with the older generation on many fronts. By the time I was in my thirties, married with a child and a mortgage, some of those views were tempered by a big slice of reality.
Now that I’m retired, reasonably comfortable, and a granddad, my views have changed a lot, but the basic feelings of hope and positivity still remain today.
The funny thing is that at each leg of that journey, plenty of my peers had different views and outlooks. I never felt I was part of some amorphous group.
I know anecdotal evidence is a poor standard, but if I look at the people I know or come across in any generational cohort, I see very different people from each other.
I am suspicious of large-scale research that asks people questions to try to find common themes by generation type. When answering questionnaires about views and attitudes, many people fall back on established stereotypes associated with their particular generation.
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
There are obvious differences driven by, among other things, technology. Millennials were the first generation to experience the Internet, and Gen Z had omnipresent and ubiquitous social networks.
Time spent in front of a computer screen or on a smart phone has a major influence on behaviour, but there were similar developments affecting earlier generations from the predecessors, but they are all very superficial.
I don’t believe we should define ourselves by the year of our birth or any other random definition.
Everyone is an individual, and we do a disservice to people if we choose to define them by any of these labels.
Ian Garner is a retired Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (FCMI) and a Fellow of the Institute of Directors (FIoD).
Ian is a board member of Maggie’s Yorkshire. Maggie’s provides emotional and practical cancer support and information in centres across the UK and online, with their centre in Leeds based at St James’s Hospital.
He is founder and director at Practical Solutions Management, a strategic consulting practice, and skilled in developing strategy and providing strategic direction, specialising in business growth and leadership.