In his book Managing Generation X: How to bring out the best in young talent, consultant and author Bruce Tulgan sought to dispel certain myths about the generation overtaking American workplaces. Prior to authoring his book, Tulgan left a Wall Street job to found RainmakerThinking.
According to Tulgan, here's what you need to know about Generation X:
1. Generation X is not disloyal.
There is a common misperception among pundits, managers, and the media that Generation X is disloyal.
This is not true.
Generation X was affected by growing up in a tumultuous era, and, according to Tulgan, "learned contempt for institutions in the echoes of Watergate, Three Mile Island, the Iranian hostage crisis, and Iran-Contra."
(Those Iranians really had an influence on Generation X.)
These events, capped by the fall of the Soviet Union, taught Generation X that everything is temporary, from global empires to sweet corporate jobs at Blockbuster.
Generation X learned it's gotta get paid, and get paid now, because life is short, just like Mikhail Gorbachev's reign at the top.
2. Generation X knows there's more to life than the bottom line.
Unlike prior generations, Generation X was shaped by "divorce, multi-sexuality, and commuter marriages."
As a result of their upbringing, Generation X values diversity in "family situations, lifestyle options, sexual preference, race, gender, political, and religious orientation."
While managing Generation X can be challenging, the more-tolerant, conflict-free world this new generation will build makes all the hassle worthwhile.
3. Generation X wants to make the world better.
Never a generation to rest on its reputation, according to Tulgan, Generation X wants to "leave calling cards in the form of valuable results." In particular, they "seem to like great opportunities where we can quickly leave a mark."
"We work interactively, brainstorming ideas, doing research, and thinking creatively and strategically about new business opportunities for the company," says one anonymous business development associate quoted in Tulgan's book. The business development associate goes on to say, "I'll tell you, that is a huge incentive to do great work."
Unlike their Baby Boomer predecessors, Generation X is actually, truly different. They will clearly be immune to the fear, change, and life events that robbed prior generations of their idealism as they aged.
This article, in case it wasn't obvious, is satire.
I found Mr. Tulgan's book for fifty cents in the discounted book section of my local St. Vincent DePaul thrift store. It was published in 1996, and though the Internet is mentioned just once, most of the book could easily be updated for Millennials, Generation Z, Generation Super Alpha (or whatever term consultants invent for the generation that comes after Generation Z) with a simple copy and paste.
The biggest takeaway is that regurgitating trite stereotypes and passing it off as "thought leadership" predates the Internet. Stereotyping any group of people as entitled/stupid/"so much worse than we were" is lazy, unoriginal thinking. It's the opposite of standing on the broad shoulders of historical giants. Instead, it's peering over the narrow shoulders of the shallow thinkers who preceded you.
Or, put differently, when the second generation of humans climbed down from the trees, the first generation said, "Look at those ignorant fools. They have no idea how to protect their coconuts. They do it completely differently than we did."
"They are little more than shaved apes."
To which the second generation responded with, "Quiet you. We've invented this bow and arrow, so that we can eat more than just coconuts--and if need be, take our neighbor's coconuts. Can't you see?"
"We're changing the world."
This has been going on forever.
So, let's do something truly original, and stop taking groups made of millions (and, globally, billions) of people and assigning character traits, as though only those born between certain years want to change the world. It was a tired routine when the exciting new generation was Generation X, and it's an even more tired routine now.