Generation Clash: Greenhorns and Old Codgers

The differences between young and old people play an important role in many of the questions I encounter from clients in my work around diversity. In all sorts of departments and teams, generations are judging each other. The “greenhorns” still need to learn about real life before they can know what they’re talking about, and the “old codgers” are set in their ways, less productive, and inflexible.

These sorts of attitudes don’t help when it comes to making the most of what each other has to offer. Of course, the “old” folks have a lot to give: wisdom, experience, perspective, and insight into processes and patterns. And the “young” folks naturally have a lot going for them as well: fresh eyes, change, energy, and new knowledge. At the same time, as an “elder” you can also be very “young at heart” and even when you’re “green behind the ears” you can also act like an “old geezer.” With generational differences, it’s important to be cautious when using labels and creating stereotypes.

A study done by the Dutch change manager and generation expert, Aart Bontekoning, does an excellent job of showing how various generation groups have different outlooks on life and work. Just as with all other forms of diversity, this is a question of how we can learn from each other, and how we can recognize and acknowledge each others’ value patterns. In this context, we can speak of “generational learning”: intentionally encouraging and organizing the transfer of knowledge between generations, and advancing the interplay between the qualities of each generation. And that starts with being open to each others’ and our own qualities and shortcomings, with patience, interest, and curiosity. It’s with this in mind that I recommend watching the short, moving film here below about a father, a son, and a sparrow.

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