When X marks the lot

Lazy generational tags are simplistic and insulting, writes Jim Bright.

Lazy generational tags are simplistic and insulting, writes Jim Bright.

Douglas Coupland had no idea what he was unleashing when, stuck in the Mojave Desert, he came up with the idea of calling people of a certain age Generation X.

His native Canada being populated by unassuming folk and wary publishers, went "Eh?" and promptly rejected his novel. Sadly, publishers in the excited states of America took it to their hearts. Sadly, that is, not because Coupland's novel is bad; far from it. Rather, because it gave a whole new language to every two-bit shyster and HR consultant with a creativity bypass. Now all they had to do to reduce a cohort to an oversimplified and mildly insulting stereotype was combine the word "Generation" with a letter, preferably showing minimal imagination by continuing on from where X left off, hence Gen Y and Gen Z.

In the two decades since Coupland's novel, there has been a steady stream of peer-reviewed studies showing that generational differences are a beat-up and that people vary more within each generation than they do between them.

Slowly the tide has turned and people are beginning to see the oversimplifications for what they are. It turns out that a person's birth date does not tell us a great deal about their work attitudes, or even their use of technology.

This is great news that means, finally, we might be rid of the much-used "Generation" tag. Of course, to wish this is to catastrophically underestimate the profound, perhaps hard-wired, dearth of creativity in what passes for the minds of some that inhabit the world of HR.

Now, God help us, we have Generation C. I give you this gem from a recent report trying to make a case for a collective description of people who are connected (they use a lot of communication technologies).

"Generation C isn't about being born within a particular time period or graduating college at a certain date. Instead, it is a psychographic group defined by how an individual uses technology or interacts with their social network."

Got that? "Generation" is no longer linked to age, but people who behave in the same way. Hey, this is catching! Why not Generation E (extroverts), Generation T (tea drinkers) and Generation P (too much tea)? I love the thinking here. These pesky words don't mean what I want them to mean, so, hey, let's just change their meaning. Let the world bend to my limited vocabulary - it's a lot easier than trying to learn anything.

This is the kind of mind-numbing, dictionary-plundering, language-lobotomising bandwagon bordering on numbskullery that is so gobsmackingly wrong, one is lost for words. The ultimate inanity of appending the word "generation" and then promptly redefining it to mean anything but generation is a most egregious exemplar of the opportunistic crap that far too often passes for business insight.

So what do we term those who make up uncreative and plainly silly descriptions of groups of people? Well clearly the word "Generation" must be in there, but one additional letter seems too insignificant.

I suggest we call people who go around labelling others with oversimplistic and insulting stereotypes Generation BS.

Jim Bright is professor of career education and development at ACU and a partner at Bright and Associates. Email opinion@jim bright.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheFactoryPod.

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