by Jason Stewart (@HaveYouHeard_SA) What we value is what we prioritise. Our values dictate our worldview, our life choices, what we do and what we say. We don’t get to choose these values (the topic of this column); they are embedded into us through the context of the life we are born into and the zeitgeist of the times.

Change over time

These values change over time from one generation to the next, with each preceding generation complaining about the next. Remember the exasperation expressed by adults a decade ago as millennials started exerting their values on the world…?

One of the best indicators to show the major differences in generational value shifts is how people view work.

  • The Silent Generation, born 1900–1945, didn’t believe that work was meant to be fun. It was simply a means to an end, something you did for 40 hours a week to support your family. This was a generation that really respected, trusted and followed the orders of authority and the establishment.
  • The Baby Boomers, now aged 54–72, were either born into the global economic resurgence post the World War II and/or reaped the benefits of the start of globalisation and easy access into the middle class. They lived to work 60 hours a week, as work defines their identity and self-worth, which was then celebrated in popular culture. Divorce rates started to skyrocket.
  • Generation X, now aged 38–53, embraced the motto of working smart, not hard, and searched for more balance to the negative impact of the extremes of the Baby Boomers. Meaningful pursuits were important, and shifting from one job to another wasn’t a problem in a preferred casual, work environment. Single-parent households became more prevalent.
  • Millennials, now aged between 18–37, believe they should follow their passion, and that both work and life should be enjoyed. Work doesn’t identify them but is an expression of who they are. They have been more coddled than any other generation and have high entitlement and greater expectations of the world. They despise contracts they can’t cancel at a moment’s notice. This is a big driver for why they would rather rent than own, travel than settle down, share rather than buy. The family unit is becoming more mixed and non-traditional.

Given their strong traits, millennials are shaping the now and smashing the status quo — so much so that very little that is ‘traditional’ is expected to survive. We are witnessing an explosion of new norms in the huge shifts in parenting, sexual preference and practice, gender identification, relationships, life stages, identity etc… And, the world’s religions and spiritual offerings provide a smorgasbord of choices to pull from, rather than one ideology to commit to.

Need convincing? Just consider this: In the space of one month this year, South Africa witnessed several incidents that wouldn’t have been tolerated 20 years ago. Moshe Ndiki (the comedian, actor and vlogger who left a lot of people, mostly Xhosa men, fuming on Twitter when he posted throwback pictures of his Initiation) hosted the ANC’s final election rally; a gay farmer was a contestant on the Afrikaans TV show “Boer Soek ’n Vrou”; and outspoken feminist Zodwa Wabantu publicly proposed marriage to her younger boyfriend.

Five key lessons

Here are the five key broad lessons for brands to live by, to be relevant to this generation:

  1. Represent and value the anti-traditional and anti-establishment values that drive progress, innovation and newness
  2. Be open-minded and inclusive, curious and exploratory of the different
  3. Be brave, bold and focused on ‘fixing’ the world
  4. Don’t be constricted in any way; rather, allow for flexibility and the freedom to choose and change your mind
  5. Value others’ opinions, how they feel and allow for the badging of values.


Jason StewartJason Stewart is co-founder of HaveYouHeard (@HaveYouHeard_SA), a full-service agency. Zeitgeist of Now, his new column on MarkLives, is inspired by the agency’s proprietary tool developed to understand the invisible but powerful forces that influence people, products, culture and societies. If we appreciate these, he argues, we become more-effective marketers.

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