Generations of Thinking

Different generations often have difficulty understanding each other. My late Father used to say: when you’re a teenager, you are surprised at how little your parents know, or understand, about life; then by the time you reach twenty-four or twenty-five, you’re amazed at how much they have learnt.

The generational differences were stark when I started working in Russia, back in the 1990s. The Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991. An entire region of the world was suddenly faced with a huge cultural learning curve. For many people, who had grown up under the Communist system, it was almost impossible to accept some of the changes. But for the younger generation, who had been champing at the bit for change, it provided wonderful opportunities.

In the next few years, I saw two types of management team in the pharmaceutical factories I was visiting. There were the older, former Soviet bosses who managed to stay in power somehow, adapting slowly, but still harking back to old regime. On one memorable day, I was called to a meeting with a General Manager and his subordinates, some of whom were looking very sheepish to say the least. He told me their computer system had crashed – and wanted me, as the visiting ‘expert’ to advise him on which of his team was to blame and should therefore be punished. I explained the facts of computer life and suggested if anyone was to blame it was young man in America, called Bill Gates – but I don’t think he really believed me.

The other type of team was made up of young entrepreneurs, busily starting up companies and making a success of it. There was one in particular, where not one manager was above twenty-five years old. I christened them The Kindergarten Board – and luckily for my contract, when someone informed on me, they took it as the joke that I had intended.

When I gave up the day job to write full-time, I took an MA in Creative Writing at Exeter University. Although I was not the only mature student, the class was mostly made-up of recent graduates, gaining a second degree before moving into the world of work. I vividly remember one seminar when we were jointly devising a storyline which included an older woman in a restaurant with a younger man. The woman put her mobile on the table. And at that point, one of the bright young graduates burst out: “Come on, this is a woman of 63! What’s she doing with a mobile?” And if that wasn’t bad enough, she couldn’t understand why I was so cross with her.

So today, if I am dealing with people from other generations, I will try to remember their thoughts may not always be the same as mine, but that doesn’t necessarily make them wrong.

By Elizabeth Ducie

Elizabeth Ducie was a successful international manufacturing consultant, when she decided to give it all up and start telling lies for a living instead.

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