Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Being in the Middle

Generation X is obviously the thin middle in our Hourglass metaphor, surrounded on both sides by much larger (and, according to Strauss and Howe, more dominant) generations. And recently we've also primarily been in the middle of organizations, between the senior level and the entry level.

Barry Oshry wrote a great book titled Seeing Systems that talks about the way people act when they are "tops," "middles," and "bottoms." It's very predictable and consistent. In the book he points out that middles are constantly frustrated because they are trying to please both the top and the bottom, but he argues the middle's real role is to connect the top and the bottom together directly rather than trying to be a buffer between them.

I'm honestly not sure if this line of thinking applies to the generations, but I have been wondering lately if Generation X right now has an important translation role to play--connecting boomers and millennials by helping to translate the worlds for each of them. Although Gen X outnumbers Millennials in the workforce right now, they are a bigger generation and will eventually outnumber us. Being the middle of the hourglass, Gen X is constantly a minority. And minorities are much better at learning the language of the majority population than vice versa (they have to for survival). 

I'm getting clear that Generation X is not really about being in the limelight (neither was the Silent Generation). So do we have a role as translators?


David Gammel said...

I have to think this is more a function of age and stage in life than specific generational characteristics. If so, it doesn't matter so much which generation you are in but more so when your generation is in its life cycle.

David said...

I think that this dynamic applied more to the Silent Generation (born 1924-1942) than Generation X (born 1961-1981). Silents were squeezed by the powerful GI's on one side and the overbearing Boomers on the other. Gen X is individualistic enough to not be bothered as much by what other generations think of them. But I agree that we must serve as a bridge between generations. In fact, it is our individualism that makes it hard for us to do so.

Jamie Notter said...

Two great David comments! I agree (Gammel) that life stage is a big factor. We've been in middle management for a while, so that is part of what's going on. I also agree (Sohigian) about the Silents having it worse than us in this regard. Your point about individualism is interesting. Maybe it's because I personally like translating. I don't mean to lay that on the whole generation! Thanks for commenting. I look forward to reading more on your site.

David Gammel said...

Leaders lead regardless of generation. My Dad is from the Silent Generation and he has had leadership roles in one form or another since he was in high school.

Broad brushes make me uncomfortable. While the trends are interesting, in hands-on management you must find and foster the leaders you need wherever you can find them.

I may have just contradicted my first comment. :)

jen said...

I love the hourglass metaphor. I like the idea of everything traveling through Gen X to get to one side or another! =)

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