As we enter the 4th industrial revolution, Millennials, the largest demographic on the planet, are now shaping humanity, together with next generation technologies. Here are two words that are a key to understanding and preparing for the transformation.
“The future promise of any nation can be directly measured by the present prospects of its youth.” – John F. Kennedy, 35th President of the United States
Youthquake is defined as: “a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people.” It was Oxford Dictionary’s 2017 word of the year.
Surprisingly, this is not a new term. Youthquake was first coined by Vogue magazine’s editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland in 1965 to describe the cultural movement on the streets of London by a new generation of young people we now know as Baby Boomers. Vreeland wrote in her article titled Youthquake: “Youth is surprising countries east and west with a sense of assurance serene beyond all years.”
Ironically the term ‘renaissance’ five decades later has been used to describe Baby Boomers’ children – the Millennials. We shouldn’t be surprised that the first and most powerful influence on Millennials was their parents. Youthquake for Baby Boomers was well captured in the lyrics, of Scott McKenzie’s 1967 hit single song and generational anthem, ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair):
There’s a whole generation
With a new explanation
People in motion
That song reached number one in the UK. It encapsulated the spirit of a generation during the sixties craving significant cultural, political and social change.
Shaped by their environment
An unusual generation? A problematic generation? A puzzling generation? A preoccupied generation? An entitled, ungrateful generation? Was there ever a rising generation in history not given those labels? As George Orwell so well-articulated, “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
Or are Millennials simply a generation that, like their Baby Boomer parents, has shaped their social, cultural and economic beliefs based on the environment in which they grew up? For example, might Millennials’ perceived disloyalty reflect their perfectly understandable need to explore life’s options? Might their perceived entitlement be a misinterpretation of their empowerment? Might their preoccupation with technology reflect their desire to remain connected with their own relationships within their communities?
The tsunami of stereotyping and typecasting directed at Millennials would seem to be over-generalisations born of misinterpretations. However, they seem to be clearer than many older generations about how to live in the contemporary world, and they have a vision for its future. So, to them, the world is their neighbourhood.
It’s worth reflecting on one of the many essential points about their mostly Baby Boomer parents to help explain their influence on Millennials. The Baby Boomers’ view of the future was shaped by two different and contradictory influences.
First, Baby Boomers grew up in the postwar economic boom of the second industrial revolution where electric power was used to achieve mass production and the division of labour. There wasn’t just a baby boom, but manufacturing, mining, and housing booms. That period also saw the rise of the working class. Baby Boomers were enveloped in prosperity. They developed an unquenchable thirst for in-home appliances, telephones fixed to walls, white goods, televisions, motor vehicles and leisure activities. These fuelled the creation of many new consumer markets.
The era ushered in suburbia. New neighbourhoods sprang up and the locality symbolised status, class and lifestyles. To Baby Boomers, life was a never-ending pathway of gratification, with the promise of success, wealth and opulence.
This was spoilt by the threat of no future at all.
The second powerful but contradictory influence on them was the Cold War. They were growing up in the era of ‘mutually assured destruction’. This was the era of nuclear weapons being massively stockpiled by the USA and the then USSR. This went alongside the threat they would be used, triggering World War Three. Baby Boomers grew up with tension points in countries around the world that were backed by the two superpowers.
So how did they reconcile these contradictory influences? Their motivation shifted from delayed gratification, to embracing instant gratification despite this description being synonymous with Millennials. Baby Boomers’ generational catch-cry was:
We’re not here for a long time; we’re here for a good time
The ‘Me Generation’
They became famous for their impatience – rushing into marriage, rushing into parenthood and rushing into debt. They were known for their frivolous spending, and for their reluctance to plan for the long term.
Baby Boomers were labelled the ‘Me Generation’ by their parents – the Silent Generation born between 1927-1945 – who were puzzled by their self-indulgent, live-for-now mentality and liberated sexuality brought about by the contraceptive pill. Baby Boomers were, though, living in a way that was consistent with the aforementioned contradictory influences.
As history now records, Baby Boomers were thankfully here for a long time – but a difficult one. The good times of the 60s were not echoed by the events of the 70s, 80s and 90s. Subsequently, life was much harder for the Baby Boomers than they envisaged.
They were living through a youthquake that was characterised by transformations such as the gender revolution. This reshaped our views on marriage and divorce and redefined the nature of family life. Economies were restructured including a radical redistribution of work and wealth between classes. There were levels of unemployment not seen since the Great Depression. And then there was the beginning of the information technology revolution.
While Baby Boomers were living the dream of retiring at 55, changes to the retirement age in many countries, a lack of planning, and the global financial crisis has seen most continue working for longer to achieve financial security in retirement.
Youthquake for Millennials, on the other hand, will be quite different from that of their parents.
A whole generation with a new industrial revolution
Millennials have grown up in the digital revolution that began in the 1980s, where the advancement of technology saw the shift from mechanical and analogue electronic technology to digital electronics. In that information technology environment, they have become the most highly educated, diverse, media saturated and connected generation ever. Therefore they are now shaping the 21st century, and will propel the fourth industrial revolution.
To Millennials, their voice and influence is global through the social media they continue to fuel. It’s instantly delivered to their smart phones and that’s become as natural to them as the air they breathe. It is efficiently consumed through the artificially intelligent, personalised, platform-based, exponential models serving them. For this generation, their catch cry will be:
We’re here for a good time and we’re here for a long time; so we’d better take care of our world.
Just like their parents who gave rise to the economic boom, this generation will give rise to the next technological boom.
Millennials (18-34 year olds, as at 2018) have now become the largest demographic group on the planet. They represent one in three (2.1 billion) people. They are likely to be the first generation to have a 50% chance of living to 100 years. This means they are also likely to see the emergence of four-generation families. Therefore our notion of family structure will profoundly change from what we’ve ever known. Their proportionate representation in society – whether it’s as business leaders or policy makers in the workplace, government or institutions, or whether they are influencing spiritual, academic, scientific or technological advances – will only increase from here on.
We need to embrace Millennials; not ostracise them. We need to listen – they crave to be heard.
Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. – John F Kennedy, 35th President of the United States.
My 2017 word of the year, juvenescence, is defined as the constant state of youthfulness. We can apply the meaning of this word as a principle upon which we live our lives. It is a leadership principle for how we manage organisations which need to constantly adapt in a world of accelerated change.
Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, describes, “we are at the beginning of the 4th Industrial Revolution that is fundamentally changing the way we live, work and relate to one another.” He also proposes that, “Businesses, industries and corporations will face continuous Darwinian pressure and as such, the philosophy of ‘always in beta’, always evolving, will become more prevalent”.
The evidence to date suggests that nations, industries and corporations are yet to fully capitalise on the benefits of the current digital revolution. Consequently, this may well be the single biggest barrier to unlocking the potential of the fourth industrial revolution.
How did these two words influence and change my life?
My life’s purpose is to make the world a better place through thought leadership. For over 15 years, I’ve been privileged to research how this remarkable Millennial generation and digital technology are impacting our world. Importantly, we have now crossed two major inextricably linked inflection points. This requires new thinking and leadership about human and technological adaptation.
As 2017 was drawing to a close, I was saddened by the illnesses impacting my family and friends. I couldn’t wait for the year to end. Serendipitously, it was announced that the term ‘Youthquake’ was the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year 2017. My sadness immediately dissipated, replaced by an overwhelming sense of joy and happiness. The word not only reflected the ethos, mood and preoccupations of 2017. It was also judged as having lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.
As an ambassador of this amazing Millennial generation, this was just the best news. “Yes,” I thought, “the world finally gets that it’s their (Millennials) time, and this juvenescence is a singularity for us all to embrace and celebrate.”
A future of accelerating change
Every invention or innovation – whether the steam engine from the first industrial revolution, mass production from the second industrial revolution, or a computer or smartphone from the third industrial revolution – began as an idea imagined in someone’s mind.
The world we know today was designed and built as an extension of our imaginations. So let’s begin imagining the 4th industrial revolution.
My heart is filled with joy by the thought that in my lifetime I will witness the world’s leadership by this Millennial generation that will bring to life the human kind advancements that the 4th industrial revolution offers.
I hope these two words, youthquake and juvenescence, will empower you to think about what role you want to play in adapting your life to a world of accelerated change, as they have for me.
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