Into what generational demographic would you place someone who is in their late 70s, smart, with a highly active career, passionately in love, athletic, 100% fit and healthy, energetic, technologically sophisticated, worldly, spiritually grounded, active socially and with the arts, highly educated, and making a difference in the world? Here are your choices:
2000/2001-Present: New Silent Generation or Generation Z
1980-2000: Millennials or Generation Y
1965-1979: Generation X
1946-1964: Baby Boomers
1925-1945: Silent Generation
1900-1924: G.I. Generation
Did you pick The Silent Generation? Had you ever heard of it before? In 1951, Time magazine published an article which described children born between 1920 and 1945 as unimaginative, withdrawn, unadventurous, and cautious, referring to them as the “Silent Generation”. The description has stuck ever since, but it seems a rather poor definition of the individual described above, don’t you think?
In 1994, Boyan Slat was born in Holland. This would make him a Millennial. Millennials are described as having developed work characteristics and tendencies that are the result of doting parents, structured lives, and contact with diverse people. When he was 16, Slat was shocked by the amount of plastic garbage floating in the sea while he was on a diving holiday. It is estimated that there are about 6 trillion pieces of plastic floating in the ocean and about 12,000 m³ of it alone washes up each year onto the beaches of Tsushima, an island off the coast of Japan. Using a crowdfunding site called Indiegogo to fund a project called Ocean Cleanup, young Slat had the idea of building a 2 km long floating boom, the longest floating sea structure in the world. In 2016 he expects to place the device into the prevailing current in a shallow arc so that the plastic garbage is drawn to the center where it can be later collected and hauled away. A structured life?
And what about Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, described as the world’s richest Doctor, ($12 billion), born in 1952 (baby boomer), whose firm, NantHealth, has developed a cancer test, called GPS (genomic proteomic spectrometry), now commercially available, that can examine more than 20,000 genes, within a cancer tumor’s specific genome as well as the patient’s entire genome. This will enable doctors to tailor treatments to a patient’s exact cancer, making that person the “n of 1”, in research parlance, thereby revolutionizing our entire approach to cancer treatment.
When we segment in the superficial ways to which we have become accustomed – pigeonholing people into categories based on their birth date – we lump people into convenient categories, and then labor under the illusion that we understand their differences. But since we are all one, while, at the same time, possessing unique characteristics, how is it possible to generalize in such a broad, sweeping way? As the three examples above suggest, we human beings come in 7.5 billion different packages – and there is much more to us than our birth year.
In some ways, this is just an example – a metaphor even – for how blind and numb we have become in corporate life. Strip out the soul, trivialize the individual, reduce everything to a metric and compartmentalize it all. As with a lot of things, the solution to reversing these tendencies is simple – just do the opposite: honor the soul, inspire everyone, treat every human as sacred and view the organization as an integral part of the whole.
Then, we will be able to restore the soul to corporate life – a loss widely lamented every day by millions of workers, as well as those for whom they work.