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Generation Z as a “throwback” generation

Updated: Sep 28, 2019

The future generation...


Let’s get one thing straight before we begin. When I say “throwback”, I don’t mean that we should throw them back like an undersized fish that we caught at the lake. Throwback in this case means that it appears that they will think, act and behave more like a previous generation. This is interesting stuff. Hang on while I explain.


In 1991 #WilliamStrauss and #NeilHowe, in their books #Generations(1991)[1] and #TheFourthTurning(1997),[2] theorized that there were predictable generational cycles throughout #Americanhistory dating back to 1584. They speculated that generational behaviors repeated in four predictable cycles. They labeled these cycles as “#Idealist,” “#Reactive,” “#Civic,” and "#Adaptive.” They also wrote that each generation was marked by a triggering event, or “turning point” that defined that generation.

“If we follow their line of thinking, we can reasonably predict that Generation Z should be similar in thoughts and behaviors to the #traditionalist generation.”

As I explained in a previous rant….er, I mean blog…#generations are defined by more than the year of your birth. In fact, even more important that that is “first hand memory of historical events” and “popular social and familial trends”. Whether or not Strauss’ and Howe’s theory holds true for Generation Z is yet to be determined. However, there are numerous behavior-shaping factors and similarities between #GenerationZ and the #Traditionalist (WWII aka “the greatest generation”) generation that may indicate that this could be a “throwback” generation.



Among them are:

Both came of age during a time of economic crisis and recovery


Both came of age during worldwide conflicts


Both experienced the change of commonly accepted marital values

  • Marrying outside of your heritage, religion, native language

  • Marrying outside of your race, ethnicity, and same gender


Both came of age on the cusp of business/trades changes

  • Power tools, electronics, early computing

  • Robotics, unmanned aerial vehicles, artificial intelligence


Both came of age during a time of technology change

  • Commercialism of cars, flight, television

  • Smartphones, integrated wireless technology, internet of things


Both experienced a breakdown in national political trust


This is only the edge of the interesting comparisons between the two generations (if you want to learn more, you need to read “#ConqueringtheGenerationalChallenge”). But businesses I work with are already seeing a huge difference in engagement and work ethic from the #GenerationZ people who are coming to work for them. Maybe we do learn from our mistakes (no offense intended for those of the #Millennial generation. In fact it was the #BabyBoomers who made the mistakes that shaped you).


The good news is that older #generations are seeing that the rigid business structure they grew up with can be molded into a new, more productive #workplace. Millennials are adapting to working with older generations at a record pace. And Generation Z appears to be a bright and shining star in the workplace. Here’s to the future!


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[1]William Strauss and Neil Howe, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584–2069(Quill, 1992).

[2]William Strauss and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy—What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny(New York: Three Rivers Press, 1997).

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