In summer of 2018, Microsoft INSPIRE recognized Amy Lynch with a Speaker of Excellence award. Below are excerpts from her “Innovation Across Generations” presentation to that international audience.
Within this room, we are incredibly diverse. Each of us lives in a series of complex identity bubbles. Our gender identity, for example, creates a sort of bubble that shapes our experience, as do ethnicity and race and personality type. Then there’s geography. Each of us in this room identifies with a particular region, and usually a particular country. All these identities are like lenses we peer through to see the world and to make sense of our experiences. Finally, we inhabit generational identities.
Each of us grew up at specific time in history, watching a unique economic era unfold. Sometimes a shared economic experience transcends national boundaries.
Just for the record, I am painfully aware of the tendencies of US speakers to egocentrically generalize their experience to the whole planet. Please do not construe my comments today to imply that generations from different cultures are the same generations--or are like US gens. That said, let us explore those generational experiences or influences that were or are global.
For example, Gen Xers in Germany do share some experiences with Gen Xers in Japan or South Africa -- events such as the development of digital technology. Millennials in the UK have some of the same expectations as those in India. In fact, people all around the world share, and have shared for many decades, global financial networks. This is why, if we look at the world economy over time, we may find purchase with people of our generation from around the world.
If we EXAMINE the global economy over time, we are likely to recognize shared experiences with people our age around the world.
Global Depression and Our Great Grandparents
Consider the period between 1930 and 1946. This was called the Great Depression in the US and the Great Slump in Europe. But the effects of that downturn were felt in India, Japan, South Africa, Poland and Australia. The 1930s were economically difficult for most regions of the world.
I don’t know about you, but that was a revelation for me. I had not realized that there was a shared generational experience felt all around the globe at that point in history. Certainly, the national economies of 1930s were not as tightly knit nor as immediate as they are today, and digital technology did not yet bind them together. However, the experience of economic failure was both generational and global.
Baby Boomers: Maternity Wards and Miracles
Peacetime and good economies generally produce high birth rates. Thus the end of the Second World War saw a baby boom in the West. Roughly 20 years of economic expansion followed, and fertility rates continued to rise. The result was the massive generation called Baby Boomers in Europe and the US, called the Sputnik Generation in Russia and the Free Generation in India.
In Canada, the Alberta oil patch came in as Boomers were growing up, and in Europe the 1960s were so prosperous that investors called them the Swinging 60s. Even in Germany, where the economy was in ruins in 1946, people were talking about an economic miracle 10 years later. Meanwhile, in Japan the years between 1946 and 1954, also called a miracle, saw swift fiscal recovery.
As you look at your own country and what was happening then, you’ll see very different and nuanced patterns. But stand back, way back, and the broad strokes show us global markets on the rise. In countries where these Boomer generations had access to education, opportunity abounded.
Promise and Unpredictability: Generation X, Thatcher's Children, the Last Soviets
The generation born roughly between 1965 and 1980 is known as Gen X in many parts of the world. Named Thatcher’s Children in the UK and the Last Soviet Generation in Russia, this generation inherited an uncertain economy. Many of you in this room are part of this generation. You witnessed the beginning of the digital economy as vast computer networks were launched in Australia, Japan, France, the UK, the US and in Asia.
After the release of personal computers in the early 1980s, Xers saw industries disrupted, even upended by DOS and floppies and motherboards. Dot.com bubbles and busts occurred around the world as our shared economy shifted into digital mode. Suddenly the scale was huge. There was so much more at stake. Digital tech and globalization made the potential upside of ventures tremendous, but risk had grown too.
For instance, in Japan stock prices soared in the 70s and 80s, only to crash spectacularly in 1989. Meanwhile the 1981 Recession in the US prompted massive layoffs and acquisitions, and Brazil experienced a financial crisis exacerbated by the shift from dictatorship to civilian rule. When the wall fell in Berlin, West Germany sustained significant financial costs, and In Saudi Arabia, steeply declining oil prices created government deficits. Meanwhile, in China and India sudden reforms introduced promise, and at the same time unpredictable markets.
During the 1970s, heightened uncertainty shaped generation X. On the whole, Xers value self-reliance and tend not to trust their financial security to government or large institutions.
One interesting exception is Singapore. When Gen Xers were teens and young adults, Singapore attracted massive international investment by creating a stable, low-risk, if oppressive environment. The resulting security freed Singapore of much of the boom and bust of the era.
Millennials, Gen Y, Young Emperers, Generation Pu
Born between 1980 and 2000, Millennials the world over share technology and as a result, share each other’s experiences in unique, always-on connections. Called Gen Y in Europe, Young Emperors in China and Generation Pu in Russia, they were children or teens when the Twin Towers were attacked in 2001. The $2-trillion-dollar economic tailspin that followed was felt round the world.
They were children when the Twin Towers fell in 2001. The $2-trillion-dollar economic tailspin that followed was felt around the world. The global cost of terrorism has been a constant in thEIr lives.
Since then, Millennials have seen terrorism and its terrible consequences, move from being a horrible uncertainty to an equally terrible predictable risk. The global cost of terrorism has been a constant in their lives. An urgent global economy affected by terrorism shaped this generation. They turn to authority for answers, and they support government efforts to make citizens safe.
With the 2007 – 2008 global financial crisis, Millennials learned how quickly markets can spiral. This awareness has translated into a strong desire for financial success among this generation, with its strongest effect in BRIC countries and other regions where the economy has expanded rapidly and feels volatile.
Let's continue the conversation. Did your national economy correspond to the conditions described here? How did it shape your generation? Don't forget to add the name of the generation you call home.