Millenials – Generation We – a Movement for Change

kinnon —  November 8, 2008 — 16 Comments

Generation WE: The Movement Begins… from Generation We on Vimeo.

(Apologies up front for the length of this post. It began as a short comment on the video above – viewing of which was prompted by a Tweet from PresenationZen's Garr Reynolds – @presentationzen. It grew to over 1300 words.)

If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you know I often write about Roy Williams, the Wizard of Ads. Roy is one of the more prescient business/thought leaders on the planet. Roy wrote this five years ago,

At the peak of the Baby Boom there were 74 million teenagers in America and radio carried a generation on its shoulders. Today there are 72 million teenagers that are about to take over the world. Do you understand what fuels their passions? Can you see the technological bonds that bind them?

Baby Boomer heroes were always bigger than life, perfect icons, brash and beautiful: Muhammad Ali… Elvis… James Bond. But the emerging generation holds a different view of what makes a hero.

Boomers rejected Conformity and their attitude swept the land, changing even the mores of their fuddy-duddy parents. But today's teens are rejecting Pretense. Born into a world of hype, their internal BS-meters are highly sensitive and blisteringly accurate. Words like "amazing," "astounding," and "spectacular" are translated as "blah," "blah," and "blah." Consequently, tried and true selling methods that worked as recently as a year ago are working far less well today. Trust me, I know.

The world is again changing stripe and color. We're at another tipping point. Can you feel it?

Most people couldn't feel it. Some still can't.

The video above acknowledges today what Roy was talking about five years ago. Though I might challenge Gen-We co-writer, Eric Greenberg's assertion (in the video) that Generation We are progressive. To a boomer, progressive suggests a pure liberal agenda. I don't believe that accurately describes millenials.

Might I suggest that Generation We are more correctly Progessive Conservatives – concerned about social justice, social welfare, family stability, community life and more. (Red Tories in the Canadian political vernacular.) They have many of the attributes of what Tom Brokaw called the "Greatest Generation" – the parents of the Boomers.

Williams again (posted on my 49th Birthday),

Baby Boomers were idealists who worshipped heroes, perfect icons of beauty and success. Today these icons are seen as phony, posed and laughable. Our cool as ice, suave lady's man James Bond has become the comic poser Austin Powers or the tragically flawed and vulnerable Jason Bourne of The Bourne Identity. That's the essence of the new worldview; the rejection of delusion, a quiet demand for gritty truth. We're seeing it reflected in our movies, our television shows and our music.
[NOTE: Daniel Craig's James Bond is truly James Bourne – more Matt Damon than Pierce Brosnan, Sean Connery et al.]

Baby Boomers believed in big dreams, reaching for the stars, personal freedom, "be all that you can be." Today's generation believes in small actions, getting your head out of the clouds, social obligation, "do your part."

A Baby Boomer anchored his or her identity in their career. The emerging generation sees his or her job only as a job.

Baby Boomers were diplomatic and sought the approval of others. The emerging generation feels it's more honest to be blunt, and they really don't care if you approve or not.

Boomers were driven, self-reliant and impressed by authority. Emergents are laid back, believe in working as a team, and have less confidence in "the boss." [For his own sake, the President Elect needs to keep this in mind.]

Idealistic Boomers had an abundance mentality, believed in a better world, and were opulent in their spending. Emergents see scarcity, believe in doing what it takes to survive, and are more fiscally conservative. [Make a point of reading this, as well.] All emphasis added.

Responding to Roy, I wrote this in my long essay/short book, A Networked Conspiracy (now available as a free pdf download here – or click on the link in the right column to get the CD/Booklet version from Amazon or Wizard Publishing),

…to begin to understand Emergents*, we need to understand their attitudes and values.

They have:
– A hunger to be part of authentic community.
– A commitment to lasting relationships.
– A desire for their stories to be heard.
– A disdain for hype and empty rhetoric – Don’t tell us what you believe, show us – be real.
– A mission in life beyond money, sex & power.

[*The word "Emergents" is used here to mean millenials.]

Boomer Progessives want to believe these Millenials have idential values to them. They don't!

Gen-We played a huge role in giving President Elect Barack Obama his mandate – but if he becomes simply a Chicago Pol in power – they will abandon him. (I hope the decision of Rahm Emanuel as Chieif of Staff has more to do with Emanuel's steel-willed pragmatism than it does with his and President Elect Obama's strong ties to Chicago's Daley Machine.)

The Gen-We video rightly states that these millenials are not interested in partisan politics. They did not vote for Obama because he was a Democrat. They bought his message of Hope and Change. (Note the stat that 41% of college students consider themselves independents – and as a further example, over 30% of the Colorado electorate are registered independents.)

Greenburg and Weber (acknowledging the impact of Generations writers, Strauss and Howe – who also had a significant impact on Roy Willams understanding of generational change) highlight the difference between the confrontational world of Boomers and the civic-mindedness of Gen-We,

Every survey and attitudinal study— including our own—confirms that today’s young people respect and are eager to learn from well-intentioned people of their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. This is a dramatic change from the experi- ence of many people from past generations, who grew up believing that intense intergenerational conflict is natural and unavoidable. In their massive study Millennials Rising, generational scholars Neil Howe and William Strauss report, “Most teens say they identify with their parents’ values, and over nine in ten say they ‘trust’ and ‘feel close to’ their parents. The proportion who report conflict with their parents is declining.”

Although Baby Boomers may have invented the motto, “Don’t trust anyone over 30”—and even lived by it, at least until they themselves turned 30—their children, Generation We, are ready to trust and work with them. Page 141, Generation We pdf document.

In the hyper communication speed of the third millenium after Christ, Gen-We have a realistic expectation that the incoming president will live up to his post-partisan positioning/posturing. Follow their discussions on Facebook, on Twitter and in blogdom. They are watching, talking, texting and blogging and President Elect Obama will have a very short time frame in which to show he can and will live up to his statement,

As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, “We are not enemies, but friends…though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn – I may not have won your vote, but I hear your voices, I need your help, and I will be your President too.

With God's help and our prayers, I believe he can. The strong hope of Gen-We, is that he actually will.

UPDATE: In further scanning Generation We, whilst still seeing much good in it, I feel it's important to recognize that there is a level of anti-Christian sentiment in the book. Christians (specifically evangelicals) are seen as part of the problem. (Greenburg surveyed evangelical Christians in Denver, CO and Birmingham, AB. Those particular locations would tend to skew results, methinks.) See the comments and quotes on pages 110, 114, 142 and 167. And though he is quoted extensively, from Greenburg's perspective, Dr. Martin Luther King's strong Christian faith appears to have had no bearing on his actions. The book is significantly more pro Alternate Spirituality – reflecting Greenburg's own spiritual journey – Page 186 pdf document.

As he writes on page 196, Greenburg was influenced by Dr. Paul Ray who helped him "craft the thesis of the book." Ray, co-author of Cultural Creatives (described by one wag as the New Age version of Richard Florida's Cultural Class), is the Director of the Institute for Emerging Wisdom Culture at Wisdom University – a school founded by Matthew Fox, a defrocked Dominican Priest and panenthesist – Fox is best known for his Creation Spirituality.

Addendum: Please note that Eric Greenberg and Karl Weber's book, Generation We is available as a free download

Also note that this post has been written before I've actually read Generation We. The end notes and the search function in Skim, the pdf reader I use, helped me discover the impact of Strauss and Howe on Greenburg and Weber. And that search provided the quote five grafs above.



A television editor, writer & director since 1978. A Christian since 1982. More than a little frustrated with the Church in the West since late in the last millennium.

16 responses to Millenials – Generation We – a Movement for Change

  1. Bill, I think this is one of your best posts ever. The tipping points always seem to come when we become aware of the shifts in power. That video speaks volumes of the current shifts. It gave me chills in a good way.

  2. Bill,
    I’m new to your site but expect to become a regular reader. Terrific stuff! My boyfriend and I have found ourselves in ongoing discussions with our kids about the differences between our boomer values and lifestyles and their emerging millenial ones. It was helpful to see things laid out so clearly. By the way, if you want a good laugh, go to our website and watch some boomers who are willing, able and require themselves to laugh at jousting with the 21st Century.

  3. Great post. In some ways, I think Generation We can’t be “characterized” at all, which is part of it’s strength. The new generation has come to see political labelling and partisanism as relics of an old politic. Young people and independents are creating a new political language for a new era.

  4. There is a lot of generation talk…And comments about boomers etc…However even though we are said to be selfish, demanding, spendthrifts…Not too many eight year old murderers.

  5. Having lived in a Boomer’s world so long, I can hardly believe we’re making this shift. I suppose it has always been an inevitable part of the turnover of generations… but it still doesn’t seem real. I’m actually surprised Obama (the first non-white, non-boomer, non-modernist president) was even elected. I hope we steward our responsibility well, and leave a better context for our kids and grandkids to inherit.

    Btw, “progressive conservative” is bang on. The only thing I found missing from the list of descriptives for Emergents/Millennials is a strong valuing of diversity that goes beyond tolerating the ‘other’ and seeks to embrace and build relationships with those others, desiring to understand them on their own terms (rather than on our preconceptions of otherness).

  6. I just also want to say that I hope we show a little more humility than the overall vibe I got from the video. I enjoyed the video, but I just hope we understand the difficult tasks ahead of us with humility and grace, and don’t approach it with a “Move out of the way, Millenials are here to save the day” attitude.

  7. (Sorry for 3 comments in a row – I really should edit my comments before posting! But I meant “first” only for non-white. Obviously.) 😛

  8. In keeping with the shift
    Up and communicating in no time flat.

    And behind the scenes visually:

    link to

    The Man Who Saved Britain is a great book on why the WWII generation of weary rebuilding Brits needed James Bond.

  9. Interesting post and blog. Relevantly, many prominent experts and publications have pointed out that Obama is part of Generation Jones, born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and GenXers.
    You may find this page interesting: it has, among other things, excerpts from publications like Newsweek and the New York Times, and videos with over 25 top pundits, all talking specifically about Obama’s identity as a GenJoneser:
    link to

  10. Bill, I appreciate your thoughtful analysis and the extent to which you draw on numerous sources such as Strauss & Howe.

    However, social opinion research conducted this year by respected authority Dr. Paul Ray contradicts your conclusion that a majority of Millennials are Progressive Conservatives. Ray identified the influential population segment called “cultural creatives,” and his most recent research demonstrates — and this past election confirms — that a majority of the nation is swinging toward liberal progressive values (roughly 53% in Ray’s research), and this “blue-green” synthesis is consistent across generations. Until you can produce research to the contrary, I’ll look at statistically valid research upon which to draw conclusions about the emerging preponderant mindset of this generation.

    While no two generations have identical values, the degree of shared values between Boomers and Millennials is remarkable. Some of those values — such as gender equality in the workplace — have become so engrained in our institutions that it’s easy to forget the extent of sexism when Boomers were the same age as Millennials are today.

    What you don’t address in your commentary is the extent to which the video promotes antipathy toward Boomers, and, quite the contrary, Millennials’ typical reaction to their parents’ generation is one of respect for the sweeping (and progressive) social changes that have occurred in the last 40 years. If you’re interested in another opinion about the Generation We video, you’re invited to visit my Boomers blog: link to

  11. Sarah,
    Regarding the almost arrogance in the video that you point to (that Brent reacts to as well I think), point taken. The video is obviously scripted – and the script is most likely from Eric Greenburg – reflecting his positions in the book. (Perhaps it needed: “The opinions in the video are not necessarily those of the on-screen talent.”)

  12. Came your way through Erika Haub’s blog.

    You come through loud and clear as a boomer, so I appreciate your cross cultural efforts here.

    I do think millenials are different and unique. I was raised by a ‘greatest generation’ dad (fought in WW2) who had kids late in life and I’ve raised two millenials.

    Not sure they fit the ‘grandchildren mimic the grandparents’ theory, though. That ‘folk wisdom’ seems to under gird some of the research you quote. Lots of people’s research findings are driven by the need we all have for familiar narratives. We all desperately need stories that we can understand and that connect us with the past. I think that’s particularly true of the advertising industry and Christian leaders that try to find wisdom there. But I not sure that need always produces as much helpful understanding of what’s happening around us right now as it might.

    I really appreciated Bene D’s take. I’m a generation jones guy that doesn’t particularly identify with boomers or with Gen X’rs. Born too late (1957) to be a card carrying boomer and too soon to be in the heavily Reagan era influenced Gen X group.

    I think that ‘marginal’ generational identity gave me unusual opportunities to work across generations in both campus ministry and urban poor ministry. I think that’s what Obama is doing now–he’s not boomer or Gen X or millenial.

    As if he needed more ‘marginal’ cross cultural credentials, he’s also working with a gen jones outlook. Gen X types were parented by boomers, but millenials, by and large, are a product of gen jones. No surprise they would feel at home with Obama.

    For whatever reason, millenials do seem to like and respect their parents, just like gen jones types did by and large. Boomers were an aberration in that respect, though I love what they did for the country. Sometimes you need a little rebellion :^).

  13. Bill, I mean this not as a criticism but as a “think about it” …

    Seems to me a lot of the analysis that goes on regarding any given generation, particularly when it comes to the emerging one, is more about image-casting than real observation. Emerging generations are still forming, so if you catch them before they really know who they are, and can convince them who they “are” and pre-script their identity for them and do it attractively, then you can sell them what suits that identity. Its like the guy who sidles up to the woman at the bar and tells her “I know what you’re like… you have an inner beauty and a love for the finer things in life” …

    All this to say, I don’t trust much the people who think they know an entire generation while they are in the up-and-coming stages. Who knows what the substance of this generation will be, until it is tested over the long-haul?

  14. Good post Bill I think your term “progressive conservatives” is right. They also seem care more about the sanctity of life than previous generations as well.

    I am a little disconcerted by some (certainly not all) reasoning behind their vote for Obama. It seemed to be very shallow – “he’s young, he’s wants to unite,” etc. No really looking into the issues or his record.

    I pray that they would collectively be more discerning.

  15. Some comments:
    1. I’ve been carrying around with me the three Roy Williams “letters” to refer to wondering what to do with them. They are the most visionary thing I read in a long, long time. Now, I know I must address this in a more substantive way.
    2. I felt the Generation We video came off as a boomer manipulated tract. I was going to post it on my blog, but then didn’t, for that reason. It was too arrogant and strident. Typical of something a boomer would produce.
    3. Age-wise, I’m stuck in the middle of the boomer cohort, but I don’t incorporate the values. Fifteen years ago I became an independent, leaving the Democratic Party, because I felt they had become so partisan that the party’s interests were more important than the country’s. It has made it difficult to vote for any Democrat since. I didn’t vote for Obama because, his campaign rhetoric was inconsistent with his record, and to put a partisan liberal in the White House with partisan liberal Democrats headed the House and Senate seemed to me to be not irresponsible, but reckless and dangerous. Nothing has changed my thinking on this. When asked last winter about my support for Obama, I told my partisan liberal Democrat friend that his policies were opposite of what I thought needed to happen. His interest in raising taxes and spending a more federal dollars played into the corruption that is at the heart of the partisanship in Washington. I told him that the only way to change that is to starve Washington of money. Little did I know that a Katrina-level financial crisis would happen, and the government would start spending money it doesn’t have. The answers aren’t in Washington. They are in our own communities. Washington can’t bail out the whole capitalist system. It has to think very differently than it has since the founding of the country.
    3. I also believe that one of the things that distinguishes the Millenials from the Boomers is that they genuinely value relationship and community over institutions. I came to this very belief as a college student in the early 1970’s. What I have come to understand is that organization, not the same as institution, is needed for community and relationships to thrive. They must be in balance.
    Good piece of work, Bill. Thank you for your wisdom.

  16. have you checked out any of the me to we work?
    based in toronto, they just launched a chapter in vancouver, BC.



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