Friday, 26 April 2013

A Generation Gap Looming for 'Associations' ...

I have recently read an interesting article written for those who manage and develop 'professional' and other associations and societies in Queensland, Australia. The main thrust of the article is that, unless an association or society adapts, makes its activities and its aims attractive and accessible through all the modern media, electronic and otherwise, it will slowly wither as it faces increasing competition from others and perhaps even new rival organisations. The author points out that the majority of current 'associations, societies and institutes/institutions' are run and directed by Baby Boomers and now face the challenge of trying to attract and engage new members from Generation Y.

Generation Y is, according to the author, savvy, critical and demand open access to information. They are the 'connected' generation and expect organisations to engage them through the new media.

Reading it made me realise just how far apart my generation is from Generation X, never mind Generation Y! As my eldest daughter, the Postulant, pointed out to me, I fall on the borderline between the 'Silent Generation' made up of the pre-war and wartime kids with the immediate post-war children, and the Baby Boomers. Mine is the generation that was always too young to be experienced, and then to old to be allowed to take the senior positions and leadership of anything. We watched as the War Leaders were displaced by the Sixties Hippy revolution, and found ourselves sidelined by the new group. The Baby Boomers knew exactly what they wanted, or appeared to, so while the likes of myself struggled to make our way into careers and to raise ourselves and our families to meet the challenges of the societies we found ourselves in, the Baby Boomers grabbed the reins and set out to change the world.

While they were at it, the technological revolution took off and changed the game rules for everyone, but, if you are already in the driving seat, it is easy to remain there. As long as you don't wreck the ship, of course. The Baby Boomer generation were 'joiners.' They joined societies, associations, movements and worked furiously to get control and then change them. Where my generation accepted the world as it was, found a niche and then worked hard to climb the often slippery slopes of careers, to counter political interference and sometimes outright nepotism and the odd 'glass ceiling' it often seemed the Baby Boomers were taking a sledgehammer to everything. An example I have often had to confront is a simple one. Ask any church committee (usually dominated by Baby Boomers) how we could best engage with young people. You are immediately swamped with proposals for doing away with formal liturgy, scrapping organs and choirs and bringing in sing-a-long choruses round a guitar.

The tragedy is that the proposers can never see that, while this may have appealed to them as teenagers, today's teenagers may (and often do) have completely different tastes and desires. This difference is now coming home to bite - and with a vengeance. As the Baby Boomers reach retirement, the organisations they have dominated for so long are struggling to attract and engage new members from Generation Y. According to the article I read, it is because the current 'leaders' of our associations, societies, etc., simply aren't technically 'savvy' enough, but I'd suggest it is also because they have successfully alienated Generation X. I suspect, the new kids on the block have spotted the control freak approach of many Baby Boomers and want no part of it.

It does seem a shame that many Generation X folk find themselves caught in the same situation as my generation. On the one hand being told by Baby Boomers that they are not yet experienced enough, and on the other by their own offspring of Generation Y, that they are too old or not savvy enough with technology. There has always been, it seems to me, a 'generation gap' but the speed of technological development, especially in communications media, has turned it into a chasm for many. Generation Y has never known an age without mobile telephones and the internet. Generation X may have vague memories of telephones being tied to landlines and all mail being delivered through the letter box at the door, the Baby Boomers may recall the 'telex' machines that gradually replaced telegrams, but none of them are likely to have lived in a house without television, radio, or at least one telephone.

There is one more trick to all of this as well, and that is that the 'boundaries' between the Generations may be different in different countries and may be much wider in some than in others. One thing this member of the 'Silent Generation' is sure of is this - the struggle for control of all manner of things and for the hearts and minds of the next generation is going to be fascinating, probably unpleasant at times and very, very hard on the losers ...


  1. The Monk makes interesting points about the generation divides. I speak as one born on the cusp of the British Baby-Boom / GenX and I can empathise with many of the Monk's feelings about always being too young then suddenly becoming too old for professional advancement. I would quite like to have been born 5 years earlier than I was, that would have meant that I left Grammar school with the swish of the cane in my ears and arrived at university just in time to cast off the sports jacket, tie and college scarf in favour of the emergent hippie generation, enjoy the “free love” and save a fortune on haircuts. As it was, I left school two years after the cane lost its power and arrived at College to pick up the waning dregs of “the Sixties” which followers of my ramblings will know I consider to last from 1967 to 1972.

    What this meant for me was that many of my tutors were of the Monk's age, my Prof was pre-war, however, he was very “switched on” and kept pace with the younger faculty without effort, possibly because the advances in his branch of the biological sciences had been so dramatically re-invigorated by developments spawned by the war, particularly in developing strains of wheat that required fewer than 110 “frost-free days” as a growing season. Any one who has seen wheat grown in Scotland owes a debt of gratitude to my old prof and his PhD thesis, before the 39/45 war, in practice until the mid-sixties it was oats or barley only north of the Pennines. Similarly there are those of us of my age who are reasonably aware of the workings of the computer and its associated systems that gave the connected generation their connections, mostly because we invented and developed them so that the GenX/GenY cusp generation could perfect and minaturise them.

  2. We are now at the cusp of the GenY/GenZ generation, the children at primary schools today will join a workforce dominated by the ageing gurus of GenX/Y cusp, people the age of my Son, in another 10 to 15 years. What will the world be like for them? I suspect that it will be an even smaller place than it is today, and today it is tiny compared to the world that the Monk's “Silent Generation” knew. The September 1947 ABC Guide shows 27 passenger flights a week west across the North Atlantic to the US and Canada on BOAC and other European airlines and most of them stopped in either Shannon, Gander or Newfoundland en-route. Taking currency out of the country was severely limited well into the nineteen seventies; I remember a friend smuggling his summer earnings in French and Swiss Francs into the country so that his Grand-Mother, who worked for a travel agent could “launder” his ill-gotten gains. By contrast, I have had credit accounts with banks as far afield as Maryland and Hong-Kong, I can buy on-line from the US and pay in US Dollars with no difficulty at all.

    It seems me that the people who both suffer and benefit from generational changes are those on the cusp, those born firmly into one or other era have fewer choices to make; their education is tailored to the times and not ten years out of date, their employment prospects may be better or worse, but they will be stable, their financial planning can be long term; my Son informs me as his salary takes yet another hike to more than double the National average that he will be able to increase his savings by an extra £300/month in a short while as his student loans payback will be complete. At his age, I was still trying to get two brass farthings to rub together! How did I escape the problems of being a “cusp child”? Well firstly, I got out of the teaching business, it was the wrong time, things were changing far too fast for the Head teachers (Sorry, headmasters and headmistresses.) who were, naturally two generations behind the times, to come to terms with, and I joined a fire service that was firmly rooted in black and white pre-sixties times. The new 1974 local authority areas produced new metropolitan Brigades, indeed mine styled itself the Greater Manchester County Fire Service, but the first Chief Officer (Sir) Peter Derby, later Chief of London and Chief HMI, was born in 1925, so how “modern” were his modernising methods? He was just 50 as the Brigade got past its birth pangs, the age at which recent chiefs have grabbed the pension and run because the rules have become most unfavourable to long service. But I suspect that 1925/6 was a “cusp” period, as was 1940/42, 53/55, 1970, 1980 and 1990. He could well have served under a Victorian as a young man. Tuck the beard in the mouth and crawl low.