Who Moved Your Generational Cheese?

By Tom Davidson

Since 2003, new managers and experienced leaders alike have discussed the fabled mice in Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson, who coped with change in very different ways and got very different results. But what if we changed the title to represent how the major current generations cope with change?

The Veterans or the WWII Generation (born 1920–1943)
Because the Greatest Generation grew up dealing directly with hardship, depression and world war, these tough individuals might have called it, “How Will We Ration the Cheese So That We Can Get Through This Together.” This generation is practical, selfless and pragmatic. They didn’t pine about their situation but took steps to overcome whatever was thrown at them. Because they now look for lessons of the past and don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, they can be mistaken for being stuck in the past.

The Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960)
This generation benefitted from the generosity of the Veterans who wanted them to have whatever they couldn’t have. As a result, Baby Boomers were the first contemporary “Me Generation” who felt entitled, empowered and self-important. Because they had expectations of growing prosperity and took action to shape the world in their own image, this generation’s title might have been, “Get Your Hands off the Cheese I Was Promised!”

Generation-X or X-ers (born 1960-1980)
Named for the algebraic variable for the unknown, Generation-X was left largely to fend for itself as their Baby-Boom parents pursued their own interests, went back to school, worked extraordinarily long hours, changed partners and set a new norm for single-parent homes. As a result, Gen-Xers grew up self-sufficient, skeptical and competitive. If they had a motto, it was captured by the television show Survivor, which was “Outwit, Outplay, Outlast.” Their title for Dr. Spencer’s book might have been, “If You Want More Cheese, You’ll Have to Fight Me for It!”

Millenials or Generation-Y (born 1980-2000)
Born to Baby Boom parents who postponed having children while they pursued other interests and to Gen-Xers, this large generation (nearly as numerous as the Baby Boom population) has been both doted over by their adoring helicopter parents and threatened by terrorism, school shootings and declined prosperity. Rather than competing for scarce resources, this generation grew up being graded bon their teamwork, discouraged from individual winning/recognition, rewarded with impossible grade point averages and told they were gifted and talented for doing their homework. As a result, this generation’s title for a book like Dr. Spencer’s might be, “Show Me How to Make More Cheese for Everyone.”

Successful leaders need to understand how people differ so that they can respect those diverse perspectives and bring them together in creative ways to reach important goals. It’s the nature of diversity, the nature generations, and the nature of leadership.

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