The Myth of the Generational Divide: Just Another Brick in the Wall

ABC generations

“Hey teachers, leave us kids alone.” It was the rallying cry for a generation of teenagers – dubbed Generation X – predicted to be nomads, slackers and underachievers. It was 1979. I was ten years old…and it was my favorite song.

At this point, I expect mixed reactions to the lead into my latest article:

  • Applause from Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers and perhaps a few Traditionalists who immediately recognize (and will probably sing) the lyrics from Pink Floyd’s iconic rock anthem “Another Brick in the Wall.”
  • Confusion from Gen Y and Z who will promptly Google the song, bring up a Spotify playlist or just move on to another article.
  • Curiosity from music lovers – young, old and everywhere in between – about the song, the band and exactly why I’ve used this pop culture reference to make a point.

Okay, I made a few assumptions that led to a few generalizations about people and music. To some degree they are, in fact, rooted in truth. But before I create any “Bad Blood” between different generations, let me explain.

The term ‘generation gap’ was, in the past, used mostly to describe conflicts between parents and children, but over time it’s taken on an entirely different meaning. Today, it’s been replaced by the phrase ‘generational divide,’ where employees from different generations are finding it difficult to work side by side because their experiences, goals and expectations are different. What was once considered a set of minor differences has, allegedly, become a great and challenging divide.

As I prepared for a recent team building workshop, including a conversation about the so called ‘generational divide,’ I searched for a creative way to debunk the pervasive notion that time, age and experience conspire to create a deep and divisive barrier to effective communication and collaboration. And then Pink Floyd showed me the writing on the wall.

I walked into Starbuck’s wearing a Pink Floyd t-shirt. The twenty something barista smiled and said, “Welcome to Starbuck’s. What can I get started for you?” I gave him my order, scanned my Apple Pay and fell back into a comfy chair dreaming of pumpkin spice latte and crisp autumn mornings. When my warm delight was ready, he called my name and yelled, “Awesome shirt dude. PF rocks.” As I sipped my little piece of heaven I whispered, “Yes, my millennial friend, they do.”

That was my ‘a-ha’ moment:  confirmation that the connections between generations are much stronger than the disconnects. And it’s not just music.

Yes, there are many differences driven by age and experience, but those differences only create a ‘divide’ when we see them as challenges rather than opportunities. The incessant, and frankly annoying, focus on the ‘generational divide’ is a recurring myth that arrives on cue every 15-20 years. And it predictably creates barriers – those metaphorical bricks in the wall – that distract us from what actually connects us.

We’ve spent so much talking about the idea of an entire group of people, that we’ve lost sight of people themselves:  real, individual, unique people and the relationships that allow us to connect, collaborate and create value for ourselves, our teams and our organizations. There’s one simple truth that we’ve all overlooked:

The workplace isn’t changing simply because one generation has come of age while another has grown old. It’s because we collectively – regardless of age and experience – have evolved.

We need to re-focus on connecting with people, not adapting to an entire generation. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

The music of Pink Floyd and other classic rock bands is uniquely celebrated by older generations, but the love of music – in all its forms – is not a generational ‘thing.’ Music is core to the human condition. It provides the soundtrack to our lives and connects us across time and space. I should know, I’m listening to Taylor Swift right now…and so are millions of Gen Zs.

So, listen to the music, but please, don’t put another brick in the wall.

Until next time,

Connect, Collaborate and Create!™

Ryan

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www.connectcollaboratecreate.com

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