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Sponsored Content The Power of Cross Generational Problem Solving

You may be forgiven for thinking that the apocryphal Chinese curse “may you live in interesting times” was coined precisely for our times. Never has it seemed so apt as it does today.

The world is facing unprecedented challenges to the natural environment, political institutions, social structures and ways of working and living.

As much of the world emerges from the relative economic hiatus and enforced social isolation of the pandemic we are collectively confronted with the sheer enormity of the task at hand.

Truth, reason and science are under attack, living standards are eroding with permanent pandemic-induced job loss and inflation, and the natural world and economic domains of life are under threat from runaway global warming

The latter, in particular, is an existential threat to our very survival that if not immediately addressed promises a rather bleak future for us and the planet. 

Much progress has been made of course. The 2015 Paris Agreement was an historical landmark event that conjoined almost every country on the planet to agree to stringent carbon emission targets so as to keep global warming to 1.5 degrees.

On the back of the Agreement many countries have reduced their carbon emissions. They have been switching to clean energy generation and low carbon grids, facilitating the introduction of Electric Vehicles (EVS) through policy and tax initiatives, and have regulated industrial emission quotas.

There has been a seismic shift in the response from government, business, industry and individuals. As recently as the lead up to the Glasgow COP26 Climate Change Conference, for instance, more than 70% of the world’s economy had recommitted to reducing carbon emissions even further in order that we keep global warming in sight of 1.5 degrees, or at least below 2 degrees.

But as laudable as this progress is, it’s not enough to avert disaster. More needs to be done.

New thinking and undelayed concerted action needs to take place. 

Drawing on Traditions

Climate change, along with a host of other contemporary problems the world faces, requires a paradigmatic shift in how we meet and conquer the challenges they present. 

At the heart of this shift lies cooperation and collaboration. These are not new by any means, having existed in business and other spheres of public and private life for as long as we can remember. COP26 is, itself, an exemplar of international cooperation.  

What is new is how we might employ these concepts across demographic generations. By drawing on the full potential of human knowledge and creative problem solving, by sharing wisdom and experience, insight and inspiration across demographic generations, by banging old and young heads together in common cause, opens up a hitherto barely trodden path to resolving some of the most pressing challenges of our very ‘interesting times’. 

The transfer of knowledge and wisdom from older to younger generations is not a new concept. Traditional societies relied on it to ensure the continuation of their culture — stories, myths, skills and the treasure-trove of experience passed down from older to younger generations. 

In these cases there was a shared understanding that the transfer was one way, that younger generations are there to listen, to watch, to absorb and to learn from their elders in order to ensure the survival of the community.

We see the pattern replicated in more contemporary communities from Japan to Greece where multigenerational households are the norm, and where, in contrast to most Occidental societies, aging is not equated with economic and social value loss

In Japan for instance an ethos of inclusivity and placing a high value on community by individuals and companies, has resulted in a purpose-driven economy that, rather than being solely about profit, works to the sustainable benefit of society as a whole

Rethinking Intergenerational Wisdom

Both traditional and those mostly Asian and Mediterranean contemporary cultures’ attitude to the elderly and intergenerational approach to knowledge transfer are admirable and arguably effective for the time and the challenges they faced. 

This time it is different. 

Both older and younger generations have a part to play in solving the challenges of today. Both generations bring their own ways of thinking and capacity to process and analyze information to the table. 

As demonstrated through numerous studies on workplace diversity and multigenerational work spaces and cohort-dependent management styles, problem solving is maximised — the resultant solutions are more efficacious than if we relied on one over the other

Cognitive diversity is as much a key to solving environmental and other global crises as it is to innovatively solving business problems

Younger minds are quicker and more focused, while the older brain tends to be more methodical and holistic. 

If ever there was a time to draw on the full potential of all generations it is now. Younger cohorts such as Generation Z have a way of seeing and interacting with the world which predisposes them to be more than able partners in a two-way intergenerational sharing of wisdom and approach to tackling problems. 

They are, in the first instance, more concerned with, and invested in, the environmental and climate challenges facing the world. They are, by nature, more open and collaborative than previous cohorts. 

They have a strong sense of community as evident through their participation in social media both as innovators and entrepreneurs as well as their individual level of engagement in social media-led conversations.

They are more compassionate and empathetic — more likely to see giving to others as part and parcel of a well-rounded life. 

And unlike previous generations, Generation Z are not prepared to sacrifice their commitment to creating a better world for a bigger pay-check. 

Harmonizing for Sustainability

What gives this litany of positive attributes even greater import is that as Generation Z are more fully employed and integrated into the commercial world, they will effect internal changes to companies, per force, rendering them more sustainable, compassionate and empathetic.

Businesses will mold and evolve to the values espoused by Generation Z, creating a new generation of companies more likely to live harmoniously with the world and the communities in which they reside, and not merely for the sake of short term profit. 

Finally, Generation Z is the cohort most comfortable with technology and data.

This point is critical because it is through data and technology that we will receive a much-need leg-up in tackling the challenges of the world such as environmental and economic sustainability, and inclusivity.

It is through technology deployed and data collected across industrial and lifestyle domains from the monitoring of pollution and the climate impact on the earth, to the gathering of health data through for example wearables that we will be able to make the decisions required to ensure a more sustainable way of living, working and playing.

Data and technology undergird new ideas, untapped wisdom and leaps of collective imagination achievable through collaboration, engagement and partnerships forged across the generations.