Generational Influences: Why We All Act Our Age

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Laws Of Human Nature" by Robert Greene. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

Like this article? Sign up for a free trial here .

What are generational influences and how do they shape us? How does your generation affect the way you see the world?

Generational influences are when people are collectively influenced by the time period in which they were born. These influences tend to bond people across the whole generation, forming a large social group.

Read more about generational influences and how they work.

Generational Influences

In the previous law, we looked at how people are influenced by the groups they belong to. Now, we’ll look at one of the groups that everyone belongs to—their generation. Generations are huge groups consisting of everyone who was born within the same 22-year period. Sometimes, the people born on the fringes may identify more with an earlier or later generation than their own.

Even though everyone who lives at a particular time experiences the same conditions, we all see the world through a generational perspective, which is a collective mindset we develop based on our age. (For example, when we’re teenagers, we find that our parents’ way of seeing the world doesn’t match our experience.) Our values are shaped by the generation we live in and how our generation reacts to the previous one. These are generational infuences.

Not everyone in a generation is the same, of course—there are more aggressive people who become leaders, people who prefer to follow, and rebels who try not to fit into their own generation. Generational influences are complex. (However, even though the rebels might outwardly try to be different from other members of their generation, their actions are usually motivated by the same spirit. For example, the young conservatives in the 1960s might have been preaching values that opposed the rest of the generations’, but they did so using the same idealism and passion as the rest of their generation.) 

In this law, we’ll first study generational awareness. Then, we’ll use what we’ve learned to make people like us.

Make People Like You: Connect With Generations

Once you understand your generation and your zeitgeist, you can use this knowledge to make yourself and your ideas popular. For example, if there’s something about the world or a different generation that you don’t like, it’s highly likely that a large proportion of your generation feels this too, so you’ll have support if you try to make a change.

Here are some ways to take advantage of your generational knowledge to make yourself likable:

Strategy #1: Associate yourself with a historical figure in a similar zeitgeist. Since the generational cycle repeats regularly, there will be historical movements and leaders that are similar to you and what you’re trying to do today with generational influences. These figures have a mythic air that you can use to lend yourself some gravitas (but be a more relevant, progressive version).

  • For example, John F. Kennedy called his programs “New Frontier” to create a link between what he was doing and the pioneer spirit of the past.

Strategy #2: Use childhood callbacks (if you still remember your childhood). Everyone in your generation had similar childhood experiences and childhood was an emotional time, so if you can recreate this spirit when presenting your ideas, they’ll resonate.

  • (Shortform example: If you’re advertising a product to Millennials, consider using a song that was popular in the ‘90s in your ads.)

Strategy #3: Invent a new way for people to interact with each other. People always want to connect with each other and if you can create a venue or new way of using technology, or break down communication barriers, people will like your idea.

  • For example, in the 1920s, speakeasies were a place to socialize during Prohibition for members of a certain generation.

Strategy #4: Don’t criticize your generation. If there’s a particular part of your generation’s spirit you don’t agree with, try to subvert or redirect it rather than attacking it head-on.

  • For example, if you want to share ideas from other generations, you might include them in a book, but write the book in the style of the current times.

Strategy #5: Adapt. As you get older and as younger generations start to enter the workforce, take leadership positions, and make changes, you need to adapt your own spirit to maintain the breadth of your audience. You might adopt some of the younger generation’s values and change your generational influences.

  • For example, Alfred Hitchcock started his career in the 1920s in the silent film era. At this time, film valued visual language. Over the next 60 years, as films began to include sounds, color, and genre elements, Hitchcock kept using his visual language but also learned new techniques.

Strategy #6: Don’t let the past influence you. When you were a child, your parents and other adults of their generation instilled their values in you, so you may feel conflicted about making a change. Pull away from the past and go your own way. Others will follow.

Strategy #7: See into the future. Collective spirit and the generational cycle make people act in predictable ways. If you can see sense changes in attitudes and articulate them early, people will connect with you and want to follow you.

Extended Example: French Revolution and Generational Influences

When King Louis XV died, many French citizens hoped that his successor, his 20-year-old grandson Louis XVI, would revitalize the country. The lower classes were restless, wanted power, and thought that many elements of the monarchy had run their course. However, Louis XVI was unaware of Law #9 and tried to stop the generational cycle, which ultimately led to his execution.

Though Louis XVI was young, he clung to the ways of past generations. He was terrified to take power and took comfort in the outdated concept of divine rule, which stated that he was crowned because God had chosen him. He continued to run the country as his grandfather had, even though the citizens were clamoring for change, notably tax reform. 

Unlike Louis XVI, middle-class lawyer Georges-Jacques Danton was aware of Law #9 and saw signs that the citizens were getting fed up with the king and upper classes. He predicted that there was going to be unrest and gave speeches about the future of France. He became popular and so much of the public supported his ideas that the king was forced to call an Estates General assembly to discuss the tax reforms with the citizens, nobility, and clergy. 

Louis XVI held the assembly at Versailles, expecting that the palace’s grandeur, imagery, and symbolism would remind the commoners of their place and the monarchy’s power. However, the commoners were unimpressed by the palace—to them, it was old and out of style. They were even less impressed by Louis XVI’s refusal to concede on the tax reforms. To Louis XVI’s shock, the citizens created a group called the National Assembly and called for a constitutional monarchy. 

Louis XVI ordered the organization to disband. They disobeyed. No one had ever disobeyed a royal decree before and Louis XVI couldn’t understand why the people weren’t behaving as the previous generation would have. He tried to use force to get people to re-believe in traditional values. 

The revolutionaries, including Danton, revolted. Louis XVI and his family were taken prisoner, the National Assembly voted to make France a republic, and Danton was named minister of justice. Louis XVI was executed.

Generational Influences: Why We All Act Our Age

———End of Preview———

Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Robert Greene's "The Laws Of Human Nature" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full The Laws Of Human Nature summary :

  • Why it's in your nature to self-sabotage
  • How you behave differently when you're in a group
  • Why you're wired to want the wrong things in life

Carrie Cabral

Carrie has been reading and writing for as long as she can remember, and has always been open to reading anything put in front of her. She wrote her first short story at the age of six, about a lost dog who meets animal friends on his journey home. Surprisingly, it was never picked up by any major publishers, but did spark her passion for books. Carrie worked in book publishing for several years before getting an MFA in Creative Writing. She especially loves literary fiction, historical fiction, and social, cultural, and historical nonfiction that gets into the weeds of daily life.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.