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Decoding the Generation Gap

Mita Dixit

Author: Mita Dixit

Date: Sun, 2016-09-04 18:23

"What is the generation gap?" I asked.

Suddenly, there was an awkward silence. After a few seconds, some whispering started. I was taking a class on ‘Family Issues’ for our FMB students.  The topic of discussion was the challenges of the younger generation, particularly vis-a-vis the family, while getting inducted in the family business.

I asked, “What makes you uncomfortable in interacting with the seniors in the family”?  A few seconds later, one voice from behind the class uttered, “the generation gap”.

I paused and asked the question, "What is the generation gap”?  The 'Gen-Next' of FMBs, all those aspiring to lead businesses, big and small, launched by their grandfather’s/father’s/uncle’s business, appeared to be thinking hard for an answer.   

After a few murmurs, a student raised his mobile phone and said, “Ma’am, generation gap is simple to define. We all use smartphones priced over Rs. 20,000 and our parents use phones less than Rs. 20,000. They want everything at a low price and we want good things even if priced high”.

Voila! Is the tech savviness the reason for generation gap, or the perception of money and its utility value? I was amused. After a decade of interacting with innumerable families in business and young successors, I have observed a common factor that determines the failure or success of family-run enterprises.  It is the family’s collective perception of “money” and the value attached to it.

We may define the value of money from the utility we can derive by spending it. We may also link it with our aspirational quotient. For each of us, the concept of “value for money” could differ.

Successful families that work together in the business cohesively and harmoniously, practise a common code of “value for money”. The purposes for which money is spent or invested or distributed are clearly defined, collectively agreed to, and prioritised for the common good of the family. The trouble starts when two generation members (usually) differ in their perception of the utility value of money and also fail to align their individual perceptions with the family’s perception.

For example, the younger scion may treat money as a means of personal comfort and pleasure and the head of the family may treat it as a scarce and precious resource to build the family’s wealth. Two generations, two varied purposes…individual’s pleasure and family’s security, if not aligned, are bound to create trouble.

The generation gap is a nebulous concept. It has existed in every generation since time immemorial and we will be trying to fathom it till kingdom come. Maybe it’s not just about two generations’ money perceptions but it’s also about the family values and social values that we transfer or fail to transfer to our next generation.




<p>Well written piece. I wonder if the difference in &nbsp;"value for money" can be correlated with something like "amount of time spent by business owner in parenting"?</p>

Madam, It’s quite interesting the way you have described Generation Gap. A new dimension to generation gap has been portrayed to which I totally agree. I would like to add that the value of time is another major difference that is observed between successive generations. A son may consider that spending extra money may save him some time, while the father may think that some extra time may save him some money. Overall a very nice reading experience.

Full marks to your student for defining Generation Gap with very common example which we can relate very well. Although it’s a nebulous concept, but by virtue of economy the definition stands apt. I am looking at it from different perspective and would like to define it differently. The Generation Gap is a difference between mindset of two livings created by time and betterment of education. To keep it relevant I shall refer to the same illustration w.r.t utility value of money. The father treats money as a resource to build family’s wealth, whereas son treats the same as means of comfort. Perhaps this may be because both of them are having different objective of life and definition of pleasure. And I believe with time and betterment of education our objectives and definitions have changed.

It is a fact that there is a big cultural gap between generations in today’s family business. There is not one reason for this state of affairs. Many factors such as technology, demographic changes, and societal transformations have led to this widening cultural chasm between current business leaders and their probable successors. It has always been difficult for the older generations to come to terms with the values and attitudes of new generations. Family business leaders worry about their children’s ability to manage complex family and business dynamics. Some old leaders are of the opinion that their children are not very entrepreneurial. On the other hand the potential successors/children of these old leaders believe that their elders are not able to embrace technology. Bridging these differences at the earliest in the most amicable manner will go a long way in alleviating the issues related to the succession process. In order to overcome these generational gaps, I believe that current and future business leaders should consider the following: a)Establish formal arrangements for negotiation and conflict resolution. Regular meetings with a professional arbitrator can facilitate to get emotionally charged matters out into the open. b)For older generation meaning of the word success is hard work and physical presence in office. On the contrary the new generation who have grown up with technology and luxury believes in smart work, wants greater freedom and virtualization of office hours (eg: to do their work anytime anywhere and not only in office).Eventually the only way to resolve the conflict in these working styles is by developing mutual admiration for different ways of getting work done.

As rightly pointed out in the blog, generation gap is a nebulous concept and existed since time immemorial. But one important question which comes to my mind when I think about generation gap is, has the gap widened over the generations? If you ask me the answer is a big yes. When you compare the gap between our grandparents to our parents and our parents and us, we can see a significant difference between the two. I believe that one reason for this widening gap is the advent of technology. Our grandparents were born in a generation where there was only electricity, our parents were born in a generation where there was Television, we were born in a generation where there was personal computer and internet, our children will be born in a generation where there is free internet and space travel. The technology has seen a quantum growth over the past few generation and different generations have been exposed to varied amount of information. This availability of information is what I believe makes one generation different from another. Family values, social values, living habits etc. is something which we learn from what is passed on as information to us. As and when we delve deep into this information we find some things which need to change and make it a part of our culture and thus making it a part of our generation.

Nebulous is the perfect word to describe the generation gap. As Ma’am rightly mentioned it may not just be about “value for money” that the generations may differ on, it is much more than that. It is often seen that our parents and grandparents have been very conservative when it comes to spending on luxuries. Their philosophies were more aligned towards spending only on what is necessary and basic to a decent living standard. Any earnings over and above were meant to be saved for the coming generations. However, we as Gen Next, share a different perspective altogether. We like to live in the present than think about the future at the cost of what we can enjoy now. For us, the hard earned money should be utilised to experience all leisure’s which we can afford. But that does not take us away from the importance of savings as well. We do believe in saving the required amount. A significant reason for such different perspective can also be owed to purchasing power of money over the years. For example, the joy that our parents would have experienced by purchasing their first scooter, we experience the same by buying may be an SUV. Things that are easily available to us now, were probably not available to them. Furthermore, generation gap is often considered to have caused gap in family values and morales as well. It is perceived of gen next that they do not believe in the value system anymore. That is incorrect. Similar to our difference in opinion about value for money, we share a different view about the morals and values as well. We still believe in our culture and value system that our parents have inculcated in us. We may not express them in the similar manner as our parents but we do have them in us. For example, because of the busy lifestyle that we live in we may not meet relatives and cousins frequently but we do make use of other means such as social media to stay connected.

I am reminded of year 1996 when I received pocket money for the first time on my birthday from my parents. Though the amount was only Rs.10, I was thrilled to receive the money which I spent on cookies, toffees and one Samosa. Yes, this is what Rs.10 was worth then! I went back home and asked for more money from my parents, but to my disappointment my request was rejected! My parents explained to me why it was important to save money and spend judiciously. Although, then I could not understand what they meant, I realize today after 20 years why they said it. Most of the Indian middle class families of the 90’s had to struggle to earn money since opportunities were few. An excellent job would pay you as much as what a lunch at a popular restaurant would cost today. This is what is known as time value of money which is certainly one factor which has caused the generation gap. Things which today’s generation perceives as cheap, the older generation thinks to the contrary. However, I wonder if time value of money is the only factor that has caused this gap? Although technology has made us smarter and quicker, I believe it has widened the generation gap even further. Technology has made us more visible but has also made us less accessible. Befriending more than 2000 friends on Facebook makes no sense when you can’t count 2 people in your life who will be there for you when you need help the most. Compared to the older generation, where you can easily find relationships which have lasted for long, the generation of today is dispersed. We have lost emotional connect and the generation gap has widened. I am reminded of my recent group VISA interview at the American consulate in Mumbai, where phones were banned. It was painful to queue up on a sunny day but the entire batch had fun speaking to each other because smart phones were not available. When I see toddlers with smart phones in their hands and their young parents deeply immersed in their virtual world of technology, I wonder if this generation gap will widen further.

Hello Ma’am, It’s quite interesting to read the way you have given a fresh perspective to the nebulous concept such as ‘Generation Gap’. ‘Value for Money’ and ‘Value for Time’ are the two key factors that distinguish the two successive generations, especially family businesses. This reminds me of a witty note that states ‘In olden times a father used to walk twenty minutes to save twenty rupees but now a son spends twenty rupees to save his twenty minutes’. This quote fairly depicts the different perspectives that the two generations have for the utility value of Money and Time. As rightly pointed out, these different perspectives can be due to massive technological advances and demographic changes over the past few decades. This may prompt the younger generation to treat money as a means of personal comfort while it may be precious resource for a family’s security for the older generation. I believe, specifically for family businesses, this difference of attitudes can be attributed to the fact that the younger generation has inherited the business from the father’s and forefather’s and do not appropriately understand the effort, the turmoil and the hardships that there older generation has witnessed to set up the business. This is also a concern with the older generation that lacks confidence in their successors because they feel that the younger generation is not capable to sustain their business. Facts state that 70% of the businesses lose their wealth by the second generation and only 15% businesses survive by the third generation. Thus, there is an ultimately need to bridge the widening generation gap in order to sustain family businesses. I feel a simple and effective solution to bridge generation gap can be through effective communication and judiciously understanding and valuing each other’s perspectives.

As I remember, the topic ‘Generation Gap’ has been largely spoken since the end of 20th century. Globalization, easy access to education, technology, life styles and availability of funds have been major defining factors causing huge gap among two generation. Time given to old generation to understand and adapt to this newer world was very very limited. Such drastic changes in a short span has never been noticed in our previous generations. And though the changes happened, were gradual and easy to imbibe. This gap is very much visible today and reflects highly in behavior, communication, likes and dislikes, priorities and many other aspects. I think there should be a good balance of both generations which will produce great results. Think of Patience, Wisdom and Experience and Old generation has got all these skills. Looking at the other side of it, Speed, Technology, Exposure to diverse perspectives and various education avenues has given a great mileage to new generation over old generation. These characteristics are important in today’s environment. Businesses have risen and fall due to differences in generation gap. Some old business have seen a down trend while some have multiplied from one generation to other. Business demands best of both the generations. The major characteristic which should be common and nonnegotiable are the values which one has. There cannot be any justification for compromise of values. When we look at Tata group, from generation to generation they have maintained the values, and successfully developed their businesses. With this as the guiding principle, I think the modern world will accommodate both generations provided each one take a step towards the other. As quoted in one of the business magazine articles on ‘bridging-the-generation-gap’ “In order to build a cohesive team in your business it is helpful to consider the generation that your employees fit into. Research shows that Boomers and Matures feel younger than their actual age. The younger generations do not share this feeling and often perceive or treat the Boomers and Matures older than they feel, often causing a great deal of animosity when it comes to working together”

A nicely explained article on generation gap. Completely agreeing to what you have explained here, I would like to touch upon a different perspective of generation gap. A major factor contributing to the generation gap is the current era of modernization and development whether it’s social or economical. The dictionary meaning of Generation Gap is only a difference in attitudes between people of different generations but in real sense it’s much more than that. Taking my own example: While I choose to go out with my family & friends to celebrate any occasion, my father senses more happiness in celebrating it at home, while I prefer to opt for easy EMI’s to buy any electronics, my parents prefer not to buy one till they have enough to do the down payment. The main reason behind all this is that I started earning in an era where we don’t bother much about our future savings and earn, spend and live our lives, while our parents earn, save and spend the remaining on the necessities. The thinking of today’s generation has completely changed where we always want to earn more so that we can spend more to satisfy our desires. While this process is good for any economy as it boosts the domestic demand but this also creates a generation gap in the society. The Generation Gap is the difference in opinion and ideas between people born during different time periods. This gap often leads to misunderstanding and lack of trust between the two groups. The elders are more critical of the younger generation with a big stock of complaints against the youth and the young mostly tend to ignore the grumbling and mumbling older generation. It could also be seen as the constant struggle of the parents to prevent their kids from doing things that their own experiences and wisdom tell them is not right. The kids on the other hand try constantly to prove to the parents that they are equipped to take control of their lives. This tussle goes on but if both sides give due respect and value to others thinking and never hesitate to see the things from different perspective, the gap will bridge.

As rightly mentioned, one of the factors of generation gap is money perception, family and social values. In a typical Indian society, we often see the older generation giving a lot of preference to culture, values and superstitions. For instance, my aunt used to tell me not to cut nails at night. On questioning why she would reply that “It is not shubh for house”. It was hard to believe as logically it would not make sense to me, initially during old days it would make sense to ask people not to cut their nails at night as electricity was not invented then and people would have injured themselves while trying to cut nails in the dark. Today’s generation look for logical answers. I feel, apart from money perception, family and social values, education is also one of the factors of generation gap. Earlier education did not play as important role as it plays in today. Today even a maid sends her kids to school. Education helped the new generation to find logical answers to the superstitious beliefs that were imposed on them by the older generation. This creates differences between the thinking and disagreement between both the generations. Today with a lot of people going abroad to study further they are exposed to a different environment and experience totally different culture. When they come back home they don’t wish to do things the way their parents must have done back in their times. Most of our parents must have retired from the same company where they started their career, while we don’t stick to a company for more than 5 years. We are the generation who are hungry for growth and to fetch our hunger we keep changing and don’t be at place where we get stuck, we move on to a different company who will allow us to grow further. This idea does not go down well with the generation that our parents belong to. With education, knowledge and exposure, we see a huge generation gap between the new and older generation.

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