Generation Bowie – the original flexible workforce?

“Every generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it” (George Orwell)

“Talking ’bout my generation” (Pete Townsend, 1964)

‘Trying to forget your generation/I say your generation don’t mean a thing to me’ (Billy Idol, 1977)

I’m reading a lot of blogs lately concerning generational demographics, particularly looking at how the attitudes of Baby Boomers, Generation X and Generation Y differ. Now here’s my view…

I don’t believe Generations are a state of mind; they are a question of influences and experiences. Whilst we may often try and use these demographics to define workplace behaviours, their real raison d’être is to define age groups by their cultural, socio-economic and parental influences.

The cultural historians will look at the outside influences during adolescence, specifically the years 13-19, to define generational traits, and see how they impact on a whole range of behaviours, including attitudes to work. Hence the generational type they belong to is usually governed by the decade in which they were teens.

The Baby Boomers were born into post-war austerity, usually to parents who themselves had grown up in the Great Depression (the original one) and they matured during the 60s, whilst Generation X are usually seen as the ‘slacker’ generation, growing up with constant access to TV and with lives shaped by Thatcherism/Reaganomics and the rise of home computing in the 80s/early 90s. Their title, Generation X, was popularised in the novel by Douglas Coupland, written in 1991, which concerned American and Canadians who became young adults during the late 80s, yet the actual expression ‘Generation X’ was first used in 1952 and then again in 1964 to describe teenagers of loose morals and little respect in the mid 60s!

Standing back for one moment, and trying hard not to vainly squeeze oneself into the next generation down, it’s clear that these 3 ‘Generations’ cover 70 years…7 decades which have seen incredible changes and advances, with each one bearing little similarity with the last. Generation X, for example, allegedly contains everyone who will be between 30 and 50 next year.  In my opinion 3 generational classifications are not enough, and are misleading as they ignore age groups who have shown their own identities.

After all, in my quotes at the start Billy Idol clearly felt he was a different generation to Pete Townsend, yet both are considered to be Baby Boomers.

So let’s accept that the Baby Boomers grew up on the 60s, and Generation X in the 80s…yet in between there is a whole decade of very different influences that are usually ignored as being a crossover between the two. Yet meet anyone who grew up in that decade and you will find someone who is flexible and adaptable.

Anyone growing up in the UK in the 70s will tell you that this was a tough decade, underpinned by constant change, fluctuating fortunes, unrest, violence and cultural extremes…4 elections, 4 Prime Ministers, 3 day weeks, bombs on the streets, mob violence, industrial unrest and a whole spectrum of music and fashion trends..Glam, Punk, Disco, Electro…flares and drainpipes, big collars and big statements.

In a decade of such change it’s hardly surprising that people who grew up then have had careers underpinned by change…interview someone who was a teen in the 70s and it’s likely that they will have had many different careers, utilising a whole range of skills and competencies, and their development has been marked by change and a restless quest for new experiences.

This generation has no badge, no obvious name, neither Baby Boomers nor Gen X; yet in the workplace they have shown themselves to be the original flexible workforce. Adaptable, open to change and new ideas, hard working, constantly looking to improve and gain new experiences, not scared to take a step into the unknown…restless and always looking for something new.

Well, I’ve decided to give them a name… a tag that recognises their unique influences.

I’m going to use a cultural icon who defined the 70s…high work rate, constant change and re-invention, always ready to try something new and never standing still.


From now on I will call them Generation Bowie…or BowieGen if you like…the original flexible workforce!

What do you think?

9 thoughts on “Generation Bowie – the original flexible workforce?

  1. I’ll go along with that although im sure you are really just trying to squeeze into my generation Merv! 😉

    I think the overall classification stuff is nonsense anyway. Its not like we are born in bloody great batches once every 20 years is it?! And, with things moving and changing so fast, its hardly appropriate to use the same time span over many generations. The classifications only serve the theorists and the researchers who are looking to write the thesis.

    Bring on BowieGen. As I said to someone this afternoon – im always in for something new. It’s my mercurial side!

    And i cant think of a better icon (NOT brand by the way!) than Bowie to represent my angst ridden, change oriented upbringing!

  2. Merv, I agree that generations aren’t a state of mind. We are shaped by the times we grow up in. We’re all people with the same needs and “wiring” but our cultures — and, especially our peers — influence the way we think! Thanks for the post. I’m always baffled as to why Baby Boomers get to be this huge group while poor GenX (me) is such a lonely slice of humanity. Bring on BowieGen. Slice it up.

  3. I agree that this talk about generations is frankly too broad to lend value. There are multiple designations appropriate to each decade, and I do think we are shaped by the decade we were teenagers in.

    I also think that a Gen X from Birmingham, AL, US, is going to be culturally different from a Gen X from Birmingham, England.

    Now I’m stewing on a post of my own.
    Thanks for the inspiration, Mervyn.

  4. I’ve just taught my 17 month old son to say the ‘wa, wa, waaas’ after the words ‘Golden years’ whilst hearing it on the radio, so I must be from GenBowie!

    Seriously though, we are all the products of our upbringing which even in the same generation can vary greatly. The thing that strikes me about Gen Y (and I hate that term) is that they do seem to be more of a ‘want and deserve it all now’ generation whereas us old-timers were maybe not quite so thrusting in our youth. The one thing we do have though is the benefit of experience and the knowledge that it doesn’t come to you, you have to go out and get it, whatever it is you want.

  5. I love a post which links Orwell to Bowie via Billy Idol! Your description of the Bowie Generation rings true…However a lot is made of generational differences but the categories don’t work for me. Historically every twentysomething has had different drivers to thirtysomethings and people in their 50s. Throw in the experience of cohorts in Beijing and Bangalore on top of the ‘Birminghams’ and the Gen X, Y, Z model breaks down……..if we stick to the Birminghams everything will be Hunky Dory..

  6. Can’t decide whether I think ‘Generation n is too broad brush, or not remotely granular enough. I grew up throug the 70s too, but I read your post and thought of a pub conversation – with both other students and our teachers – at the end of my A Levels. The teachers saw our year as markedly different in outlook to those that had gone before: we were the year that hit the 6th Form not just as punk arrived, but as we geared up for the Winter of Discontent. The post-war consensus was visibly breaking down, and even the grammar school kids could see that the glittering future we’d been sold/promised (or pick another verb) wouldn’t necessarily arrive.

    Apparently we were cynical, sharp-tongued and critical beyond our years: we might be bright, but it was a brightness bought of something with a hard edge. (One lovely musical quote for you: I remember one teacher saying that some of us were “Elvis Costello a good year before he was”.)

    One reason I remember it was through bumping into one of the teachers several years later (he was also a friend of my mother), and mentionng it: he’d remembered the conversation too, and commented that the subsequent years had been different again – initially rather resigned in outlook, and then increasingly socially indifferent but sharply materially focused where we’d been very questioning.

    The nutshell response to your post is therefore something more like “Events, dear boy, events” – our society impinged on us at a critical point slightly differently to they way it impinged on others at the same point in different lives. The responses within my own ‘year’ may have been varied, but the experience was common. (In the sense that we lived through the same thing.)

    What I’m far less sure is whether that makes us ‘a generation’ or ‘a community’ or anything that a noun can be pinned to. I suspect it’s something more nebulous: like the argument that punk as a musical form has later sown subtle seeds through its DIY ethos, our sense that the previous handbook was being shredded before us has made us more willing to experiment. (Although many would argue that the underground musical/art culture of the early 80s was – like the modernist writers of the turn of the 20th Century – a bunch of budding shoots that was wiped out by the commercial success of more mainstream culture. Many fascinating alternatives were opened up but never fully explored.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s