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The Generation Game

2 February 2020

There are lots of pivotal statements that are said to you in your life, that somehow or other, make it onto the great ‘statements I will never forget’ stone tablet of your mind.  When people say them to you, I wish that there was some kind of mental *ding* as the statement is carved into long term significance.   I suppose the ding isn’t necessary because there’s a definite *ding* every time it pops up again in your conscience.  

“How old do you think I feel Sarah? I feel exactly the same inside as I did when I was 18. Exactly the same.”

It was probably followed by some kind of declaration that “I’d understand one day”.  Words spoken by my mum, I think whilst in the midst of some kind of argument.  Perhaps it was when she went to study a degree at University at the same time as when I started senior school.  To my shame, I remember being greatly dismayed at her newfound verve and obvious excitement at the new opportunities opening up to her.  I remember the sadness of her sudden shedding of mumsy floral dresses and picking me up from school to be replaced by leggings and baggy jumpers and having to suddenly get THE BUS home. She also started to spend a lot of time with new friends at the then University of Glamorgan Student Union and Otley Arms. How dare she develop new interests beyond the realms of me! 

As I get older, marriage, stepchildren, children, I keep going back to those words. I feel exactly the same inside as I did, as I always have done. Even as your body ages, everything that you want, hope for and love, doesn’t. You still want to go out raging, you still want the excitement of new things and its astonishing that the world starts treating you differently, when you just feel… exactly the same.  A phenomenon that is surely shared by most. 

So I’m intrigued by the labels and differences attributable to different generations. I’m a Xennial apparently, defined by those people who grew up without the buzz and lure of technology but were still able to easily grasp technology when it did arrive. I attended a Cardiff University Enterprise lecture and the speaker stated that as Xennials, we had a special and urgent responsibility to our children as we were the last generation of people who remembered what it was like to be free from all of the shackles that digital life brings and that we had a responsibility to try to create such ‘free’ spaces for our children as they no longer understand or know that freedom. 

Generation Z can seem quite free though. I met a few of them earlier when taking my little girl to the park. They were all well dressed, in dark padded jackets and pristine jeans and gave off that familiar, foreboding ‘pack’ presence.  I felt moved to speak to one of them as he proudly dangled a large glob of gob from his mouth (life annoyance #647 people spitting in the street). He didn’t appreciate my interference, I imagine because certain types of men feel that the ability to spit forth in the street directly correlates to their masculinity and being advised not to do so by a middle-aged woman with a child on a scooter whilst in front of your 4 other male friends, doesn’t.  (When is crushing toxic masculinity going to end? Sigh. You can produce saliva and project it away from your body? Well done. You can answer back to someone who asks you not to?  Congratulations.) So yes, Generation Z aren’t scared of standing up for themselves and such things as ‘not disrespecting your elders’ doesn’t seem to matter than much to them (sweeping generalisation there, but the difference, to me, is startling and overt).

This quality of course, can be a good thing.  Why should they feel the need to respect their elders when their elders are those who have caused so much damage to the economy, the environment and their futures? They are driven to change the world and have a huge amount of creativity and technological savvy, laced with healthy disrespect of systems and structures, to help them achieve that. (Not those boys I hasten to add. They were just gits.)  

There are so many wonderful young people who are changing the world though, thank God,  and we should listen to them and embrace the new perspectives they have to offer.  Last week we held a Breakfast Briefing that shared all of the different ways that businesses could access the fantastic student talent that we have at Cardiff University. The session was led by the University’s Careers and Employability team and gave an indication of the sort of qualities to expect from Generation Z but also, the sort of things that they are looking from the organisations that employ them, see picture for more insight. 

Something that was a surprise to me was this group’s need for stability, that they craved job security as a consequence of only ever knowing tumultuous political and ecological times. I hadn’t appreciated this and thought that the famous shorter attention spans nurtured by flitting about the internet meant that they would seek transience within employment too? Not so apparently?  What was even more interesting was that after posting the above picture on Twitter, several people responded that this wasn’t just a wish list for those born in the late 90s/early 2000’s, it was their wish list too, and indeed, is mine.  

Of course, it wouldn’t be me if I didn’t say that lots of the aspirations above, are what can be achieved from a successful lean implementation (naturally) – there are lots of tools and practices that help provide the ability for workers to challenge hierarchical decisions, to align work to purpose, to seek stability over the long term. Toyota’s Jidoka is, an automation story. Much resonates. If only lean could stop teenage boys falling victim to the patriarchy. 😀