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Macklemore and relating to all generations

This room holds eight people, two workbenches and 70 servers. It’s small, but an immense amount of work gets done here, including this little article.

Jim is the youngest at 26. Ian is 36, and Aaron, John, Dave and Scott are in their 40s. JR is 55, and in a couple months I will slide in at 70.

So, one room, a bunch of equipment, and three generations of smart people ranging from 26 to 70, all trying to work together. Jim, at 26, could conceivably be working with his father and his grandfather. Scary, huh?

Does this sound familiar? Look around you. You see the same three generations in your store all trying to work together. You see them walking into your store and looking at your products. And sometimes ideas, words and references you use just don’t work across the invisible boundaries of time and experience that lie between you.

In a meeting I refer to a scheme that has just been discovered, saying “Well, the jig is up.” I get gasps around the table as the younger men think I have just spoken a racial slur.

Jim refers to something named “Macklemore.” I think it is a fish.

I mention a number I play on the piano as coming from “The Gay Nineties.” I just get funny looks.

Historians William Strauss and Neil Howe have spent a lot of time studying the 20 generations that have lived in this country beginning in the year 1584. Their take on our little work group, beginning with the youngest, would be as follows:

Generation Y (“Millennials,” born 1982–2002)

Jim’s generation is the most tech-connected generation in history. They have been raised in a computer world and find no surprises in new technology. That is the only world they have known, one where marvels are unveiled almost daily. They prefer texting to calling, and webinars over classrooms. They prioritize family above work. They are not afraid to question authority.

This group is least likely of all generations to believe in “The American Dream.” They are less likely to seek thrills or go to social excess, and they work hard to hold on to their jobs in face of heavy competition. They see technology as their key to the future. Their generation is bigger than the Baby Boomers, and more influential.

In the workplace:
Their time is worth more than money. They may question you about purpose or method and will need solid answers. They will welcome new challenges that are meaningful and goals that are measureable. Women Millennials do not see gender bias as an issue.

Persons of note include:
Leann Rimes, LeBron James, Michael Phelps, Lindsay Lohan, Ashley and Mary Kate Olsen, Ben Roethlisberger, Ashlee Simpson, Hilary Duff and Macklemore (I find he’s a rapper, not a fish).


Generation X (born 1961–1981)

Members of Generation X are largely in their 40s and early 50s. On the whole, they are more ethnically diverse and better educated than the Baby Boomers who came before them. More than 60 percent of Generation X attended college. They are the original “latchkey kids.” Many of them concluded early that they were on their own.

While still young, they heard much of body counts, riot, protests and assassinations. They saw a U.S. president resign. They saw gas lines. They saw the Challenger explode.

With this experience, Generation X has become the most independent thinking and inner-directed group of the three generations under discussion here. They are also good parents, trying to make up for the difficult things they themselves went through as children.

In the workplace:
Generation X dislikes authority and prefers to have responsibility and flexibility in their work. They will be loyal to a person, but not to a company. They respect productivity over tenure.

Persons of note include:
George Clooney, Ann Coulter, Barack Obama, Meg Ryan, Steve Young, Garth Brooks, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Whitney Houston, Michael Jordan, Melinda Gates, Shaquille O’Neil, Angelina Jolie, Kobe Bryant, Paris Hilton and Serena Williams.

Baby Boomer Generation (born 1943–1960)

I was born in 1944 at the leading edge of this generation. My first memories were of war-related events: care packages to Germany; memories of tall strong men in khaki pants; my Mom walking past a busload of returning sailors just off the ship, whistles all the way down the sidewalk; my dad watching Howard Hughes fly the Spruce Goose for its one and only lap.

Vietnam came. I went. And came home, unlike so many others. There was no band. There was no parade. I just got off the bus, walked home, called my old boss and asked for my job back at the prune dehydrator. He said OK, and I went back to work driving forklift. But there came a time when I talked with my Uncle Eddie (WWII Vet, Purple Heart, Battle of the Bulge …) about who had it the worst — him in Germany, or me in Vietnam. He told his stories; I told mine. At the pause, he said “Well Harold, I guess you had it pretty bad over there, but you know what? We won our war.”
It’s a little hard to put that one behind you.

In the workplace:
Baby Boomers value relationships above all. They want to work with suppliers, vendors, customers and managers that they know, or will know, well. They want names and places and experiences. They value commonality. They want handshakes and smiles. They will talk rather than text. They want to be remembered.

Persons of note include:
Bill and Hillary Clinton, Joe Namath, Rudy Giuliani, George Lucas, Dianna Ross, Cher, Dolly Parton, Donald Trump, Steven Spielberg, David Letterman, Bill O’Reilly, Jay Leno, Rush Limbaugh, Condoleezza Rice, Tom Hanks and Michael Jackson.

All eight of us from this room were sitting at a table just this past month. Lots of information, lots of ideas. As the table cleared, I noted that the two youngest were picking up iPhones. The 40 somethings were closing laptops, and the two of us from the Boomer generation were gathering up yellow pads.

This stuff is real. It affects everything we say and do. Focus on it. Learn about it. Adjust what you say and do accordingly, and you will find that you are a more effective owner, manager, counterperson, salesperson or technician.

Each generation has its own world. It’s your job to function smoothly in each of them.

Hal Ethington has been associated with the powersports industry for more than 40 years. Ethington is a senior analyst at ADP Lightspeed. Contact him at


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