Cross-generational collaboration – embrace the generation gap for success


Gordon Hooper | Managing Director | Bateleur Brand Planning | mail me |

I find it interesting to learn about the different perspectives that each generation has on the generational divide.

As a member of the baby boomer generation, I remember living through the “generation gap” of the 1960s and early 1970s, where there was much turmoil, anguish, and misunderstanding caused by the length of hair gap between fathers and sons, not to mention the business of burning bras, which divided mothers and daughters.

Challenges that exist between generations

However, in modern times, there are still challenges that exist between generations. Those long-haired, marijuana-smoking, flower-powered ne’er-do-wells of the 60s and 70s are today’s Baby Boomers. They are us – the ‘conservative establishment’.

We baby boomers bestow somewhat sanctimonious attributes onto ourselves. In our recent Vantage Point survey of 1,500 South Africans, baby boomers describe themselves as hard-working, responsible, reliable, practical, principled, wise, loyal and disciplined. This glittering cascade of self-accolade is underpinned by further self-adorned compliments of being realistic, friendly, honourable, caring, confident, dedicated and generous.

Hold on, aren’t these the Hippies we are talking about? That’s some change. In answer to the questions about how we baby boomers perceive Generation Z, the so-called Centennials, produced results that are somewhat less than pretty.

Baby boomers perceive Centennials as disrespectful, unappreciative, opinionated, demanding and irresponsible. If this is not disparaging enough, these labels are further sullied with our accusation that our children and grandchildren are arrogant, inconsiderate, lazy, selfish, argumentative, impatient and careless. Wow!

Now, let’s flip the coin

Centennials have a wonderfully familiar and nostalgic self-perception if you remember the Hippie Era. Centennials perceive themselves as creative, sociable, freethinking, confident and spontaneous. This is supported by self-perceptions of being enthusiastic about life, adaptable, fun-loving, passionate and sensitive.

But hold on, are we talking about the Hippies again? Or are we in a time warp? And yes, Centennials attribute some negative traits to themselves (unlike us baby boomers).

Centennials are self-critical when describing themselves as opinionated, argumentative and opportunistic. Perhaps this is what makes some baby boomers nervous about the younger generation. When asked to share their opinions about baby boomers, Centennials are less disparaging about us than we were about our parents back in the Hippie Era.

Our children and grandchildren describe us as cultured, kind, wise, caring, friendly and reliable. This is emphasised by perceptions that Baby Boomers are patient, loyal, calm, disciplined and principled.

Yes, there are negative perceptions about us, too. Our young loved ones feel baby boomers are difficult, opinionated and narrow-minded. Of course, this analysis of our Vantage Point survey data was created using the extreme counterpoint of comparing baby boomers with Centennials and vice versa. In between the two lie millennials and Generation X.

Potential collaboration

Despite our differences, I believe there is tremendous potential for collaboration and growth between the generations.

By blending our wisdom and rationality with the creativity and spontaneity of the younger generations, we can produce winning outcomes in business, such as new product and advertising development, brand planning, and corporate strategy.

I strongly support nurturing a culture of integration across the generations. Many successful companies are already creating environments where inter-generational flows in thinking are nurtured. By embracing the generation gap, we can capitalise on the free spirit and wisdom of each generation to produce successful outcomes across all marketing mix elements.

I’ve noticed some advanced and successful companies are actively creating environments where inter-generational flows in thinking are nurtured. Instead of ‘us and them’, these companies talk about ‘our’. Modern thinking on diversity and inclusion incorporates this notion of firmly embracing the generation gap.

So, a simple generation gap, which I believe is ever-present independent of the era we find ourselves in, provides a potent cocktail and force for successful business planning.



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