Pete Townshend reportedly wrote the lyrics to The Who’s ‘My Generation’ on a train from London to Southampton in 1965. Thankfully, he didn’t die before he got old – his hope in his song. He was 20 when he wrote the song, and at 78 he’s still playing with The Who today.

But how valid is the idea that there are ‘generations’ of people who share similar characteristics because they were born between certain years? Boomers, millennials, Generation Z – and so on – these have become common terms in heated online business discussions. Search ‘Managing Generations’ on Amazon and you’ll be presented with a choice of over 8,000 titles.  

Pete Townshend certainly didn’t invent the idea of generational differences - writing in ‘The Atlantic’ in September 2014, Sarah Laskow traces societal cohort generation thinking back to the 19th century.

In an attempt to reconcile the constantly expanding literature and claims about generational differences, Dr Andrew Clements of Aston University published ‘A Critical Review of Research on Generational Cohorts’ in June 2023 – admittedly, an article in pre-print and not yet peer reviewed.

Much popular literature seems designed to promote conflicting values between people labelled in generational terms – e.g. Baby Boomers held as having a higher ‘work ethic’ than other generations; Generation X being described as slackers.

Clements’ research warns of the negligible evidence that such characteristics can be assigned on such generational definitions. He also cautions against organisational policy being determined by ideas of ‘what generations want’. Both warnings are significant in relation to the recruitment of older workers and how they are treated in the workplace.

Clements is not alone in expressing concern about the use of generational stereotypes. Cort W Rudolph of Saint Louis University, et al. published ‘Leadership and Generations at Work; A Critical Review’ in ‘The Leadership Quarterly’ in February 2018.

Rudolph et al. argued for ‘a lifespan developmental perspective’ as a better capture of age-related dynamics than a generational representation.

In other words, our characteristics and preferences may be better aligned with experiences accumulated over time and perspectives linked to our age – as opposed to resulting from a period when we were born. There’s a difference. Significantly, we can see how people’s attributes and outlooks might be very different for different people accumulating different experiences.

Rudolph et al. are so concerned about the generational cohort thinking that pervades in organisations that they call for a “cease and desist” on its application in leadership theory, research, and practice.

The issue of generational stereotyping is real and out there – and damaging. It’s something we at Brave Starts continue to fight and help our members to overcome.

So, when you hear that “People try to put us d-down (Talkin’ ‘bout my generation)” – we can politely ask, “Why don’t you all [just] f…fade away”.


Clements, A.J. (2023). A critical review of research on generational cohorts. PsyArXiv. Doi: 10.31234/osf.io/vkqb9

Rudolph, C.W., Rauvola, R.S. and Zacher, H. (2018). Leadership and generations at work: A critical review. The Leadership Quarterly, 29(1), p.p. 44-57.

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