Learning From History, Part I

 Basic Business Cents

The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Stowe[1], published in 1997, predicted that in about ten years we would be facing a grave moment of opportunity and danger, including the following:

  • Economic distress, with public debt in default, entitlement trust funds in bankruptcy, mounting poverty and unemployment, trade wars, collapsing financial markets, and hyperinflation (or deflation)
    • Social distress, with violence fueled by class, race, nativism, or religion and abetted by armed gangs, underground militias, and mercenaries hired by walled communities
    • Cultural distress, with the media plunging into a dizzying decay, and a decency backlash in favor of state censorship
    • Technological distress, with cryptoanarchy, high-tech oligarchy, and biogenetic chaos
    • Ecological distress, with atmospheric damage, energy or water shortages, and new diseases
    • Political distress, with institutional collapse, open tax revolts, one-party hegemony, major constitutional change, secessionism, authoritarianism, and altered national borders
    • Military distress, with war against terrorists or foreign regimes equipped with weapons of mass destruction

Wow, talk about an accurate crystal ball! The authors made these predictions by studying history and determined that history repeats itself every fourth generation. They described these generations as:

  1. High, an upbeat era of strengthening organizations and weakening individualism when old values decay. Current example is the Baby Boomer or Prophetgeneration, those born between 1946 and 1964.
    1. Awakening, a passionate era when the civic order comes under attack from a new values regime. This is the era of the Gen X or Nomad generation, born between 1965 and 1980.
    2. Unraveling, a downcast era of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions with the decay of civic order and emergence of new values. This would be the era of the Millennial, Generation Next, or Hero generation, born between 1981 and roughly 2000.
    3. Crisis, a decisive of era of upheaval when the new values regime propels the replacement of the old civic order with a new one. This is the era of the Artist or Silent generation, born after 2000.

We can relate to earlier cycles of the Hero generation of WWI followed by the High of the early 20s, the Awakening of the depression, the Unraveling of international accord, and the WWII spawning another Hero generation. The Heros of that generation were born somewhere between 1900 and 1928, followed by a Silent generation born between 1929 and 1945.

From these reoccurring cycles, the authors of The Fourth Turning based their predictions detailed earlier. An understanding of these cycles can provide guidance of action on a global, national, and local level.

Behavior of people within our organizations changes with the changing cycles, and with it management style must change.   This is interesting because as managers, we can determine from their age, what cultural behavior to expect from our employees and gain insight on how to motivate and lead them.

In Part II of this article, we will discuss three major leadership styles; authoritarian, participative, and delegative as identified by Kurt Lewin to use with the different groups.


[1] The Fourth Turning, An American Prophecy, William Strauss and Neil Howe, 1977, Broadway Books, New York