“There Is Nothing Permanent Except Change” – Heraclitus

A plethora of scientific research points to the following notion: people become more conservative as they age.

“If you’re not a liberal at 20, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative at 40, you have no brain.” – Winston Churchill, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

A few decades back, the young appeared destined to be eternally liberal. It was the 1960’s. An advent of protestors could be found day after day, marching against the Vietnam War, fighting for civil rights. But the ardor was short lived. In fact, the majority of these fiery protestors voted for Ronald Reagan.

Today, the young are fighting for legalization of marijuana, mitigation of climate change, same-sex marriage, and companies that fashion social impact.

millennials“To attract the brightest stars, companies will increasingly need to walk the walk when it comes to social mission.” – Neil Blumenthal, Co-Founder and Co-CEO of Warby Parker.

Millennials (otherwise known as Generation Y or those born between 1979 – 1999) are not only aspiring to consume from mission-driven companies, but also to work for them. As such, companies worldwide are increasingly shifting resources in attempts to appeal to this generation. And why wouldn’t they be? Social media is inundated with warnings of the necessity for companies to market to millennials in order to stay afloat. Not to mention the fact that Gen Y is spending like there’s no tomorrow.

According to Deloitte’s 2015 Millennial Survey: What Tomorrow’s Leaders Think of Today…

7,800 millennials from 29 countries around the world (all college graduated, employed full-time, and predominantly working in large private-sector companies) reported the following:

  • 75% believe businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than helping to improve society.
  • Only 28% feel their current organization is making full use of their skills.
  • 77% indicated choice of employment was driven from a company’s sense of purpose.

And in June of last year, Forbes published an eye-catcher: The Business Of Doing Good: How Millennials Are Changing The Corporate Sector

Here’s a recap for those of you who missed it.

“Over the course of the next decade we will bear witness to one of the largest demographic shifts in the workplace in modern history. By 2025 Millennials will come to fuel approximately 75% of the U.S. workforce…”

“…simply put, they are poised to transform the social sector….”

“Millennials are driving a fundamental change in the way we think about corporate culture and what we see as the potential for impact in the social sector…”

A Crystal Ball Into The Future:

The notion that people become more conservative with age is based on an examination of scientific studies portraying that both intellectual curiosity and openness to experience decline with age. Before you think “who cares?” let me remind you that higher levels of openness are associated with innovation, entrepreneurship, and challenging the status quo.

The implications are tremendous. What happens if millennials lose their urgency and desire for mission-driven companies and products? Is the fate of sustainable business in the hands of Generation Z’s (those born in the mid 2000’s) will to carry on this determination for social impact?

If you consider the above notion (conservatism rises proportionally with age) to be Argument #1, then consider the following to be Argument #2.

As generations age, they do not become conservative, but rather their views become incorporated into the status quo until they are challenged by the next generation with new causes. If you believe this notion, then millennials will not shift towards conservatism, but instead the status quo will move towards them. Millennial attitudes will become the norm until they are defied by Generation Z.

“While a conservative in 1952 America was staunchly anti-communist, a conservative in the Soviet Union at the time was a communist. And ‘conservatives’ in Western Europe are often our liberals’ ideological soul mates. This isn’t for lack of truth in political advertising. Rather, it’s because the only consistent definition of ‘conservative’ is ‘a desire to maintain the status quo’ while ‘liberals’ only consistent definition involves a desire to change it. This means ‘conservatism’ is always changing: tomorrow’s version will reflect today’s liberalism’s success in altering the status quo.” – Selwyn Duke, writer, columnist, and public speaker.

Consider the following:

Companies in the Argument 1 camp will likely contend that millennials will become more conservative with age, and further that the drive for sustainable business is doomed unless Generation Z picks up where the millennials leave off, once the millennials become conservative. Such companies may act impulsively at the first indications of this very scenario occurring. As such, the world may experience a drastic set back in resources spent on sustainable initiatives. Opportunities to alleviate social deficiencies will surely be missed.

Optimistically, my money’s on Argument 2. If desire for sustainable business becomes the status quo, we may be so fortunate as to experience an even greater demand for sustainability and mission-driven initiatives from Generation Z. Generation Z will likely scoff at our sustainable norms and wonder how we could have been so nearsighted and complacent, much like when we wonder how our predecessors “survived” without cell phones and computers.

In the words of Selwyn Duke, conservatism is the caboose to liberalism’s locomotive.

Categories Behavioral Finance, Shareholders vs. Stakeholders

5 thoughts on ““There Is Nothing Permanent Except Change” – Heraclitus

  1. Great Post. Lots of implications for corporate strategy.


  2. Excellent post. I would add a bit to the Selwyn Duke comment about “What is a conservative”…His quote, at least what was included here, focused on the differences between conservatives from country to country. What is also very relevant is that “What is conservative” has changed dramatically in the US over time. One need look only at environmentalism. National Park System in the US? Started by Republican (albeit a reformer but a Republican nonetheless) Teddy Roosevelt. EPA? Instituted by Nixon. Clean Air Act? Clean Water Act? Signed by Nixon, strengthened by Bush 41. Now? You have climate change denial, elimination of EPA, weakening of Clean Air and Clean Water Act coming from the GOP. Since my sense is that Argument 2 is the winning argument, the GOP will either need to change on this issue dramatically–or hope climate change magically solves itself. Otherwise, Generations Y and Z and whatever follows are gonna look elsewhere (as it relates to this issue.)


    1. Greensportsblog, excellents points and thanks as always for reading! The NY Times just this week reported that a majority of Republicans are now advocating they would support a candidate who believes climate change is real and needs to be addressed. It seems as though the conservative status quo attitudes are shifting to incorporate climate change. Any political party not incorporating climate change is now representing a minority on the issue. Check it out below!


  3. Insightful post. I always thought people tend toward conservatism as they age; but perhaps you are right, norms change and the liberal young move those norms – which become the new goal posts for the younger generation. That would imply that there is a continual shifting toward a more socially good society- unless the new generation embraces some reactionary conservatism. So, in the longer term we keep progressing towards social responsibility? I like the optimism!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sal, thanks for reading. Optimistic indeed, but warranted nonetheless. Consider our world today. It is drastically less conservative than history reveals. If everyone continuously became more conservative with time, then “liberalism” would have a hard time prevailing. It lends one to thus believe that, as you put it, norms change and become new goal posts. Spot on!


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