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Flashpoint blog: Generalization X

Jan. 15, 2009 - It seems that I am a member of Generation Jones. I thought I was a Boomer, but apparently not. . Gen Jones is the name given to the second half of the post-war Baby Boom, comprising those of us born between about 1955 and 1964.

January 15, 2009
By Peter Sells

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“The youth of today love luxury. They have bad manners, and they show contempt for authority. They love to chatter instead of study. They contradict their parents, gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

It seems that I am a member of Generation Jones. I thought I was a Boomer, but apparently not. Gen Jones is the name given to the second half of the post-war Baby Boom, comprising those of us born between about 1955 and 1964. This, like the other cultural generation definitions, is nothing other than a theory put forward by social commentators and marketing professionals. They fall short of being pure science, but these definitions can be useful in understanding the different ways in which people of different ages behave and react in the workplace, marketplace and in their personal relationships. Although most of the literature over the last 20 years has focused on Generations X (1965–1980) and Y (1980–2000), Generation Jones is being talked about in the context of its most prominent representative, Barack Obama.

But let’s get back to X and Y. Back to the future, I guess, given that these generations are the short-term and long-term future of our society. Xers and Millenials (another term for Generation Y) in the fire service have taken quite a hit in various articles and publications. Most of these attacks have focused on the contrast in workplace characteristics between the younger generations coming onto the job and the Boomers (or even “Veterans”, born before 1946) in the senior ranks. Aside from the quirky but unimportant differences, like Millenials not understanding such similes and metaphors as “sounds like a broken record” or “take your time, it’s your dime”, the most common complaints are that too many questions are being asked, there is a lack of commitment to the service, deference to authority is lacking and they all want to know what’s in it for them. All of that is consistent with people who are cynical, opinionated, confident, expect career advancement and high salary and are perfectly willing to change jobs in order to get what they want. There are some differences between X and Y, but these mostly accentuate the heightened technological savvy and expectations of Millenials. Other than that, Y is like X on caffeine.

I have always taken the strategy of showing people “what’s in it for them”.  Use their own characteristic of self-interest to gain their trust and commitment. Butting egos together is counter-productive. Expecting people to behave in opposition to their nature, just because you would prefer it that way, is likewise a waste of time.  Talking down to them because of your age or rank is a sure-fire strategy for failure to communicate.

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So here is my blog whine for today – it is no longer a case of Boomers supervising Xers; we are now at a point where Xers are the junior officers supervising Millenials. Is this resulting in a lack of cohesive organizational focus? Is this why the trucks aren’t as shiny as they were 20 years ago? Am I just a whining geezer or does it seem like nobody is willing to take up the torch?

By the way, I think it is just as dangerous to rely too heavily on generational stereotypes as it is to pigeonhole people based on culture, race or gender. Hence “Generalization X” as the title for this piece. Also, generational conflict is not a new phenomenon. The quote at the top of this is attributed to Socrates, circa 400 BCE.


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