Recently, I joined up with Professor David A. Kirby to create an intergenerational change agency – the Harmonious Entrepreneurship Society. In our view, the harmony, sustainability and stability of society is seeded in such working groups.
An intergenerational collaboration, we have already found ‘our space’ to be energising, and rich with knowledge and experience exchange. We are not alone in this view. The research shows us the workforce is changing, and more generations are working side-by-side, especially as older people are now staying in the workforce longer (BMA, 2016).
I have expressed my value of two-way intergenerational learning previously. Intergenerational learning was initially conceptualised as an informal process taking place in families, tribes or other such groupings (Corrigan et al., 2013). Yet today, this is a key concept that may well seed the type and approach to thinking necessary to achieve the global society’s sustainable development goals. The intergenerational exchange that will channel significant learning opportunities and further support a transformation in attitudes between generations. Intergenerational learning can be defined as “a process through which individuals of all ages acquire skills and knowledge, and also attitudes and values, from daily experience, from all available resources, including that from all influences in their own’ lifeworlds’ (EAGLE, 2012).
Making use of the popularised generational categories, David technically straddles the Silent Generation and the Baby Boomers. When asked to self-identify he will cheekily express, he is of the ‘abacus generation’. I feel more aligned with the ‘Xenial’. This portmanteau category makes more sense for the micro-generation of people on the cusp of the Generation and Millennial demographic cohorts.
Xenials – “Those of us born in the fuzzy borderland between Gen X and Millennial are old enough to have logged in to our first email addresses in college. We use social media but can remember living life without it. The internet was not a part of our childhoods, but computers existed and there was something special about the opportunity to use one.” (Oelbaum & Stankorb, 2014)
Without slippage into unhelpful labelling, there can still be ‘some’ recognition of the utility of generational categorisation, if even to remind us of social context and the experiences that shape our lives (Woodman, 2017). Some analysts claim they are one of the fundamental social categories in society. If to be used, it remains important to avoid treating any cohort of people like one person with one set of values. Everyone, despite the ‘generation’ they belong to, has unique traits, with the means to grow and contribute in their own way (Talerngsri, 2019).
Experience never gets old (unknown, n.d.)
It is thus quite deliberately we promote that we aspire to steer a ship packed with an “integrated, inter-generational, inter-cultural and inter-disciplinary crew, recruited for their values and entrepreneurial mindset and competences. A crew that will help “steer” the vessel with the determination, vigour and resilience of the Golden Age change agents addressing the complicated, the uncomfortable and the unjust and embracing social, cultural, environmental and economic value creation” (The Harmonious Entrepreneurship Society, 2020).
I like to think David and I draw the best from each other, and consciously avoid or disagree with the clichés like it’s only the younger ones with the fresh ideas and approaches. In our experience, there something enriching and magical about our intergenerational fusion , working on our conjoined goals. Whilst we are open to understanding the traits that each generation has in common, we spot opportunities we suspect with fewer boundary issues. We are not blind to essential and or obvious differences (e.g. age and experience). Still, we are uplifted by each other’s insights, ideas and experiences, highly effective when working on our ‘wicked problems’. We are genuine in our promotion of a community that has a shared and common identity, one overarching social group, people who are passionate that a harmonious approach to entrepreneurship can address the sustainability challenges facing our planet.
Generational harmony is a positive concept, and one we believe will help seed many genuinely sustainable solutions for our planet. What’s more ‘intergenerational entrepreneurship’ which is about leveraging diversity with an intergenerational team to create value from the advantages that come with diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives.
Jim Sugarman is co-founder of 4GenNow which matches older and younger entrepreneurs, and helps them find funding. He says “building an intergenerational team of entrepreneurs gives you full advantage of the intelligence each generation has, and also builds a strong sense of community. Being in touch with each generation is important in order to learn from one another and work collaboratively with each other” .
Find David and I, aboard, at https://harmonious-entrepreneurship.org/
Thanks to Vanessa Randel at thinkingvisually.com @thinkingv for our lovely bespoke visuals.
BMA (2016). ‘Ageing and the workplace’, BMA. Available: https://www.bma.org.uk/media/1066/bma_ageing-and’-the-workplace_oct_2019.pdf
Corrigan, T., McNamara, G. & O’Hara, J. (2013) ‘Intergenerational learning: A valuable learning experience for higher education students’, Egitim Arastirmalari, Eurasian Journal of Educational Research, 52, pp. 117-136.
EAGLE (European Approaches to Inter-Generational Lifelong Learning in Europe) (2012) ‘Intergenerational Learning in Europe Policies, Programmes & Practical Guidance’ [online]. Available: http://www.menon.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/final-report.pdf
Harmonious Entrepreneurship Society (2020). ‘The Professor and the Pirate’, 15th November 2020. HES. Available: https://harmonious-entrepreneurship.org/2020/11/15/the-professor-and-the-pirate/
Healey-Benson, F (2019) ‘Fast track to a circular economy through intergenerational exchange’, Emergent Thinkers, 25th November 2020. Available: https://emergentthinkers.com/2019/11/25/fast-track-to-a-circular-economy-through-intergenerational-exchange/
Oelbaum, J. & Stankorb, S. (2014). ‘Reasonable People Disagree about the Post-Gen X, Pre-Millennial Generation’, Good, 25th September 2014. Available: https://www.good.is/articles/generation-xennials
Sugarman, J. (2018).’Intergenerational Entrepreneurship’, LinkedIn, 11th June 2018. Available: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/intergenerational-entrepreneurship-new-model-create-fund-jim-sugarman/
Talerngsri, A. (2019). ‘Generational harmony in the workplace’. Bangkok Post, 26th March 2019. Available: https://www.bangkokpost.com/business/1651272/generational-harmony-in-the-workplace
Woodman, D. (2017). ‘Quoted in Are you a xennial? Take the quiz’, The Guardian, 27th June 2017. Available: