Hello, everyone.

Recently I became aware of the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss.  William Strauss is now deceased and Neil Howe carries on their groundbreaking and controversial work on the “collective personalities of today’s generations—who they are, what motivates them, and how they will shape America’s future.”

1914 US cartoon showing Progressive Woodrow Wilson (Source:Wikipedia)

1914 US cartoon showing Progressive Woodrow Wilson (Source:Wikipedia)

I read an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled The Next 20 Years – How Customers and Workforce Attitudes Will Evolve.  In this article Howe and Strauss outline in broad terms their generational theory and how it enables business people to predict the behaviors of customers, clients, and employees over the next twenty years.  This methodology is similar in many ways to astrological theory so I wanted to share the high points with you and the key take-aways.

Generational Patterns

Studying American society and history since the 1500s, Howe and Strauss uncovered recurring patterns in generations, both in the outer events that shape the times and the type of behaviors that are a result of the era.  These patterns describe four repeating eras and four resultant archetypes, one for each era.

The eras trace the following pattern:  first, an Awakening; next a post-awakening era; next a national crisis; next a post-crisis era; leading to the next Awakening.  For example, the Progressive Awakening era of the late 19th Century, followed by the post-Progressive Era, followed by the Depression-WW II Crisis Era, followed by the post-Crisis era of the late 1940s and 1950s, leading to the next Awakening, the Consciousness Revolution of the 1960s.

Shaping a Generation

According to Howe and Strauss, a generation is primarily shaped by the era in which the members of the generation come of age.   From the article, “It matters very much to the makeup of a generation whether it comes of age during or after a period of national crisis, or during or after a period of cultural renewal or awakening.”  These crises and renewals lead the generation to exhibit a certain archetype with similar attitudes toward family, culture, values, risk, and political engagement.  And further, each archetype goes through characteristic changes and behaviors as they age.

This leads to the predictive aspect of the theory.  How will the Boomers respond as Elders?   Answer:  With wisdom, like the last time their archetype was in the Elder category in America, during the Crisis years of 1929 to 1946.  What will Generation X be like in midlife?  Answer:  Pragmatic, like the last time their archetype was in the Midlife category in America.  Our  Millennial generation will be similar to the GI Generation of 1901-1924, possessing the same archetype and passing through the Crisis stage as they enter young adulthood, the post-Crisis stage in midlife, and a new Awakening as they enter elderhood.

Today’s Generations

According to Howe and Strauss there are six generations coexisting in America today.  They are the GI Generation (born 1901-1924, now age 83-106), the Silent Generation (born 1925-1942, now age 65-82), the Boom Generation (born 1943-1960, now age 47-64), Generation X (born 1961-1981, now age 26-46), the Millennial Generation (born 1982 to roughly 2005, now age 25 or younger) and the Homeland Generation (born roughly 2005-2025).

In the next twenty years business will provide goods and services to Boomers as Elders, Generation Xers in Midlife, Millennials in Young Adulthood, and Homelanders in Childhood.  The key to providing the right goods and services is to understand what stage of life each generation is in, and what are the archetypal needs and habits for each stage.

So what can we expect from each of these categories based on their archetypal behavior and patterns?  We’ll examine this further next week.