My mother, who was born in 1921, grew up in the Great Depression and entered the workforce in 1943 after nurse’s training, taught me to pursue three things in life, the three S’s of the Industrial Age:
1) Safety – live in the suburbs, don’t live downtown with the icky people.
2) Security – have a big wad of cash in the bank.
3) Stability – every day should look the same, no surprises. Get a job with a giant corporation; they are the best prepared to give you a life with no surprises.
The Ozzie and Harriet Dream
Just about every mother of that generation was teaching their kids the same things. So it’s no surprise that at the height of the Industrial Age after World War II, the suburbs exploded with cookie cutter Cap Cods, white picket fences, men who all left for work in unison with their white shirts, ties, suits and briefcases at 7:30am and got home at 6pm, working for Giant Corporation, Inc., and living as predictable a life as possible. That cohort is called The Silent Generation.
Their manic pursuit of safety, security and stability made them the best extensions of machines in the history of the Industrial Age. It also dehumanized them to the point of silencing their voices, their creativity, and their legacy (remember, no Presidents and no Supreme Court justices came from this generation; the only generation without a number of them.) But where are these three S’s on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? They are at or nearer the bottom.
The Bottom Looks Pretty Good When It’s Above You
Why did my mother teach me to chase these things that were at or near the bottom of what we as humans need in life? Because having gone through the Great Depression and World War II, she was looking up at the bottom. She didn’t have any of the three, and a life with all three would have been Nirvana for her.
Straight the Fourth S
But Millennials who only grew up in the shadow of the Industrial Age do not understand the language of Safety, Security and Stability. They are one of the first generations in history, at least in the west, to be born with all three of those things provided for them at birth. They aren’t looking up at the bottom, and are instead reaching for the fourth S of the Participation Age, Significance. Making money is no longer enough. Being an extension of a machine to do so is not attractive, and the idea that every day should look the same and that life should be predictable and without surprises is not challenging to them. They want more.
It’s Simple, and Maybe Hard
And as the cultural influence of the Industrial Age and the Factory System fades behind us, we are all waking up to the need to re-humanize the workplace, reintegrate it back into our lives, and build lives to Make Meaning, not just money. To do so we must eliminate the arcane business practices that we dragged out of the Industrial Age into the Participation Age that turned men into machines and silenced our drive for significance. Addressing the business diseases of the Industrial Age is not complex; it’s simple. But for those who have built businesses and lives around the inherited constructs of a bygone era, it will be both simple and hard.
The Will To Chase Significance
If we recognize that we have inherited some of the business diseases of the Industrial Age, all we need is the will to change. But it needs to be a strong and determined will, because our past is a strong magnet and will pull us back in if we lack vigilance.
We should be grateful that the Industrial Age provided us with the first three S’s, Safety, Security, and Stability, on which to build the fourth S, Significance. But we must also recognize that the practices that brought us those three will not bring us the fourth. We have a choice to make. Stay with what we know and slowly atrophy as the world moves on without us, or join the Participation Age and start sharing together in building companies that Make Meaning, not just money.
Which do you choose?