In 1965, Pete Townshend of the British rock group, The Who, wrote the blockbuster hit My Generation. The song was later named the 11th greatest song by Rolling Stone of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Townshend reportedly wrote the song on a train and is said to have been inspired by the Queen Mother, who is alleged to have had Townshend’s 1935 Packard hearse towed off a street because she was offended by the sight of it during her daily drive through the neighborhood. Townshend told Rolling Stone decades later that My Generation was about trying to find a place in society as a young man.

Every generation wants to find its place, to be understood and to make a mark in the world. Today, we hear much about Generation Y/Millennials, and how they prize freedom, creativity, “warm and fuzzies” and technology. This particular grouping, spanning those born from roughly the early 80’s through the early 2000’s are also characterized as the “Peter Pan” generation for their slower transition into independent adulthood. They live at home longer and are often characterized by higher levels of narcissism and by their aversion to organized religion. 

 Older leaders from the Baby Boomer and Generation X’ ers (those born from 1946 to 1980 or so) are wisely advised to learn about and understand Gen Y/Millennial associates on their team so they know what motivates them, can learn how to engage them, draw the best out of them, and fully utilize their unique talents. There are dozens of books, articles and seminars to help Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers understand and relate to the Gen Y/Millennials. Unfortunately, there is far less information to school the younger folks on how to understand and relate to their elder peers; who in most cases own or lead the business in which they work.

While it’s unwise to generalize or categorize generations of people and label them across the board with a list of traits, and while there are always exceptions to such groupings, common traits and philosophies dominate each generation listed: Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y/Millennials.  While I don’t purport to speak for all in my generation—I was born on the dividing line between the Baby Boomers and Generation X—I’m listing here characteristics that many in my generation have in common. I offer these to enlighten the Gen Y/Millennial tribes on how we think, what we value and what makes us tick; just in case they are as interested in trying to understand others, as they are in being understood.

1.      We value team play more than individualism. We believe in troubling ourselves on another’s behalf and work hard to avoid catching “The Disease of Me”—where we expect others to subordinate their welfare to what’s good for our agenda, ego, or comfort zone. We look out for one another and help someone not because we want something in return, but because it’s the decent thing to do. Narcissism with all its selfish, prideful attributes offends us. We realize that we’re not the Center of the Universe; in fact, we believe that God is.


2.      We believe in hard work. We don’t mind coming in early or staying late, and are used to doing so without being asked. We consider clock-watching an affront and expect to pay a price for the success and for the life we want.  We believe that when things get tough financially, you get your butt to work; you can’t demand your way out, wait your way out, wish your way out, or whine your way out—and you sure as heck don’t go “occupy” something.


3.      We expect to earn respect. We don’t believe others should be awed by how special, unique or brilliant we think we are. We accept that meaningful respect must be earned through the consistent demonstration of character and competence. In these aspects we expect to have to prove ourselves.


4.      We expect what we earn and deserve.  We expect every bit of what we have earned and deserve; nothing more and nothing less. On the other hand, a sense of entitlement and entitlements in general offend us as they evince a selfish and arrogant mindset we find repulsive.


5.      We believe actions have consequences. We accept that when we choose a behavior we also choose the consequences for that behavior; we’re not victims. We have faith in sowing and reaping and fully expect that what we sow—good or bad—we will eventually experience. Thus, when things don’t work out we’re far more likely to blame bad decisions than adverse conditions. On the other hand, when we do gain victories, and take home the spoils, we never apologize for our success; nor do we feel inclined to indefinitely subsidize those who can’t figure it out.  


6.      We believe in absolutes.  We believe there is winning and losing; success and failure; right and wrong. We don’t buy into the Pollyanna palaver that life is one big, happy, gray area where you should be appreciated, coddled and rewarded just for showing up versus stepping up. We don’t believe that education, credentials, experience, or one’s alleged uniqueness substitutes for good old fashioned results.


7.      We are somewhat intolerant. In a world where sin has become sanitized through and on television, and where what’s immoral has become largely accepted as normal, we have a slightly different take: we believe that one’s character is defined by what he doesn’t tolerate, what he won’t accept, marginalize, trivialize, compromise or defend.


One errs if he claims one generation is “right” or superior, and that another is “wrong” and substandard. There is ample cultural good, bad, credit and fault to be spread amongst all. At the same time there is no greater indictment of one’s self-centeredness than to expect others to understand and adapt to their values and beliefs, without the sincere application of reciprocal effort, and to that end Baby Boomers and Gen/Xers must speak up and offer insight. For you to lead effectively, you must not only seek to understand others, but must also make certain that what you stand for, value, and what you expect, is made perfectly clear.

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Comment by Chris Saraceno on January 11, 2013 at 8:33pm

Excellent Post Dave

Comment by Dave Anderson on January 3, 2013 at 5:59pm


My understanding is that the condition you mention makes all sorts of odd things possible! You may have figured it out.

Comment by Ketty Colom on January 3, 2013 at 4:34pm

That  might be true, but I think that when she hit her 50s she realized that life is too short to be acting your age? I don't know, maybe it's because of menopause, who knows! 

Comment by Dave Anderson on January 3, 2013 at 4:31pm


Not all that odd really if it's in only in a handful of areas. Cultural trends can influence behaviors. My guess it that more of her true generational traits still persist than not: beliefs, values, habits, morals, etc. I have three Gen Y'ers working in my office, and within the confines of our high-performance culture they all step up, work together, and do a great job. On the other hand, our Baby Boomer/Gen X team members are sometimes inclined to get a bit entitled...but not for long! Rarely does anyone fit their generational "mold" 100% of the time, but  certain traits are sure to dominate more often than not.

Comment by Ketty Colom on January 3, 2013 at 3:40pm


My mother was born in 1960, when she was younger she fit this description of her generation. Now that she is a hit the 50s I feel that she's taking on traits of Gen Y.  It's odd to see my mother glued to her cellphone like the tweens that are around the mall. I actually have to tell her to put her cellphone away when we're eating because its rude.  Odd?? 

Comment by Dave Anderson on January 3, 2013 at 2:28pm


Very well said...and thanks for the Gran Torino reminder. It's totally relevant to the article's focus, which is to encourage everyone to strive to reach an understanding of each generation's undeniable dominant traits without having to make one superior/right and another inferior/wrong.

Comment by Daryl Fawler on January 3, 2013 at 2:07pm

Dave, great job. This was one of the most insightful posts I've read in a long time. Being born in November 1962 makes me a late baby boomer. No matter what anyone wants to think, it is very clear that "attitudes", and beliefs in what is important have changed and evolved with different generations over time. Listen to older music, watch older movies/television shows and tell me with a straight face that's not true. It's very important to me for each generational group to understand the others. Both of my children were born between 84-89 and are text book descriptions of GenY/Millenials even with me encouraging my beliefs and values, they think and act independently. I am gradually understanding and appreciating how they "functon" in life. That also helps me in my profession. I love selling someone their first car, which will hopefully lead to many more. Most first time car buyers are GenY/Millenials. I find no faults with any of the generations. It's just the way life goes. I just became a grandfather 6 weeks ago and look forward to whatever his generation will be thinking and doing. I just want to understand and embrace whatever that may be. Although I'll probably be retired by then? One of the greatest actors of our generation is Clint Eastwood and my favourite movie of all time is Gran Torino. Yes there was a very powerful message in that movie.

Comment by Dave Anderson on January 3, 2013 at 12:27pm


Thanks for the comment. Sadly, in your haste to be offended, you've done a remarkable job of missing the point.

Comment by Stephen Jackson on January 3, 2013 at 10:16am


Millennial here. Just wanted to say thanks for the education. I wouldn't presume to write a manifesto for my generation, but if pressed, I think there would only be one real tenet:

1.  We recognize that there is no "we" at all.  Just because we were all born within a few decades of each other doesn't mean we have anything in common. And trying to lump all individuals into a subset, a meaningless categorization of supposed "shared beliefs," doesn't do anyone any good. In fact, it's kind of a crutch - making assumptions about people might just be the root of all ignorance.

As for our "immorality," hey - people try to get us down just because we get around. Maybe you know what I mean.

I do hope you manage to get those kids off your lawn. :)


Comment by Big Tom LaPointe on January 3, 2013 at 1:57am

cool piece. as a gen x'er, it was interesting to me that we as a group were 'kind of lazy' because we didn't fall in line to work a deadend job for 30 years so we could collect a watch and a pension. . . MANY gen x'ers are about to become empty nesters, so marketers BETTER pay attention. the other challenge is that we are also sandwiched into boomerang parents and kids moving back home due to financial reasons... or they're just lonely lol

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