Early in Unlocking Generational CODES, Anna Liotta tells a story of her ninety-plus mother washing and saving a piece of tinfoil so it can be reused again. It’s a simple story, but one I could instantly relate to as I thought of my own grandmother who would reuse paper plates and whom I used to remind, “Grandma, the Great Depression is over.” Most of us recognize the thrift of that generation as a generational mark — its members experienced or feared want and were going to ensure they were not in that situation again.
But Anna Liotta takes the generational differences so much further than just what many view as certain generations’ idiosyncrasies. As the eighteenth of nineteen children, herself a Gen Xer with Baby Boomer siblings and Traditionalist parents, and now Millenialist and Nexter nephews and nieces, Liotta knows what it is like to be surrounded by multiple generations and have to communicate effectively with all of them. And she has conveyed her own experiences and used them as the touchstone for a multitude of research on the generations and how they function. I had no idea until I read this book how the perspectives of different generations contrasted so much — how Baby Boomers butted heads with Traditionalist bosses when they entered the workplace, why Millenialists seem to expect constant praise and guidance in their work, or even that I truly was the product of my own generation — Generation X.
As I read Unlocking Generational CODES, I reflected back on my own experiences as a teacher, an employee, and a manager, and suddenly, light bulbs went off in my head explaining why my students, bosses, and employees had behaved the way they had — they were not always difficult, crazy, or lazy — they were acting according to the CODES by which they had been raised. As a result, I came to understand the mantra of this book, “It’s not personal — it’s generational.”
Liotta uses the term CODES as an acronym for Communication, Orientation, Discipline, Environment, and Success. After laying the groundwork for the book by giving us definitions and snapshots of each generation, she explores how each generation functions within these categories. The generational snapshots were especially helpful and illustrative since they provided charts listing key events, people, places, anchor points, social moods, and several other “Natural Realities” of each generation’s experiences. For example, the Baby Boomer generation was born from 1946-1963 and some of the people and events that influenced its members’ viewpoints include JFK, the Beatles, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, and Woodstock. Liotta places each generation within the context of the environment that influenced it, and then she illustrates how that background shaped that generation’s individuals. She makes room for “Cusp babies” those born on the fringes of generational cut-off years who may share attributes of both generations, and she points out the influence of the generation parents or siblings belong to upon the individual as well.
I felt enlightened by Unlocking Generational CODES. While I had heard the term Gen Xer to describe members of my generation, I had not really been aware of the attributes defining its members. I was amazed by how much I am a product of my generation, not only in my tastes, but in my work ethic, and my expectations of others. Liotta perfectly describes how my generation was raised with working parents, often were children of divorce, how we entered a workforce that had little room for us, and why so many of us have come to distrust corporations and seek self-employment, as well as why we have such difficulty working with the Millenial generation that has followed us because we tend to be self-starters who do not need the constant approval and reinforcement that Millenials were raised to expect from their Baby Boomer parents.
Liotta’s primary purpose is to provide all this information so people can communicate better in the workplace; for the first time in American history, four generations are working side-by-side and that can lead to generational conflicts that people mistakenly take personally. Simple examples include how Baby Boomers want to meet in person over lunch and get to know prospective clients, while Gen Xers might want to do business through a quick phone call or email and get straight down to business. Millenialists prefer to multi-task and have their social networking tools available as they work, while Baby Boomers can find technology frustrating and Gen Xers may find social networking an interruption to their work and not appropriate for the workplace.