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Get on your feet!

Posted on Sep 22, 2018 by in issue #09 |

By Irma de Jong
Founder and Managing Director, Cicerone Music & Art


Get on your feet!


How understanding generation management will help better organise communication within the networks of the art and music industry


I took my youngest niece to a musical. She is eleven years old and crazy about singing and dancing. It was a musical about the life of Gloria Estefan and the rise of her band, the Miami Sound Machine. Before the show started, I explained her who was this artist and what we could expect in the show. We were sitting next to each other, watching the info on my smartphone. I showed her a video of one of Estefan’s songs, and we read about the crew we were about to see on stage. I told her with some proudness that Gloria Estefan and her husband flew all the way to the Netherlands to instruct and guide the protagonists how to sing and dance so that they would equal them the best. It did not impress my niece at all. She looked at me with a surprised face, and asked: “But why they did not use Skype?”

Welcome to the digital age

For those of you who have kids or grandchildren, this question might not surprise you. Probably you use all kind of digital means to stay in contact with them, or you fight to reduce excessive use. The digital age that started in the late years of the eighties and took a bird’s eye view in the nineties has become an indispensable tool, with the full spectrum of negativity to positivity. One thing is for sure: it drastically changed our society.

Age gaps

Today we have more different generations working in companies, conservatories, universities, orchestras and arts organisations, than ever before. In fact, in the year 2020, we’ll have 5 different generations all together on the work floor. The age gaps we are to overcome are very much determined by the latest 20 years of developments in technology and digitalisation; causing significant differences in communication and interacting.

Communication within generations

Digital means have a dominant influence on our human activity. Think of social media use and how they boomed to become the most influential influencers for especially the youngest generation, the so-called millennials. But also aged people find their way quickly. Facebook for example, where they catch up rapidly, and 35% of all users come from the generation over 65 (reported by the end of 2017, in comparison: in 2005 it was 2%).

Overcoming age gaps

How are we going to deal with age gaps, when in the year 2020 we expect to have 5 different generations all together on the work floor? In the art and music industry, where people tend to be longer productive – think of aged conductors, retired people in boards or as volunteers – we might even see 6 generations.

It is essential to know, understand and act upon this information for us to connect, react and communicate with different generations. In order words: we need to get organised.

Source: ©

Understanding generation management

Generation management is a framework to explain the different type of generations we have in our society and how they act and communicate. The scheme is based on age awareness and serves to understand the different groups. Each age group has its peculiarities, behaviour and habits and uses various tools to communicate. All of this is bound to the zeitgeist in which the age group grew up. If we take an orchestra, for example, we can be sure to find at least 4 generations, from 18 up to 65 years old.

Acceptance and understanding

I remember vividly from my time at the orchestra that at some point, a first leader was appointed to the horn section. She was a young woman, only 23 years old and she had a terrible time. The others, all men between 35 and 40, had a lot of trouble accepting a young first horn player (and on top of that, a woman!). She had a tough time to maintain her position. Now we are 20 years further, and probably this is not such a big deal anymore (although this might vary depending on the geographies and culture the orchestra is based). We also see trends to employ very young players as leaders of the group, young conductors – and lately, even many female conductors.

Working with different age groups

A couple of years ago, I was working for a summer music festival in Switzerland. We had two young women in their twenties at the office, a board with people from 50 to 75 years old, and some volunteers in the management team, who were all retired and sometimes up to 80. You can imagine the differences we had when discussing for example what kind of poster we should make or how the website should look. When we had our weekly meeting, it would take hours, repeating things all over again, and making my young colleagues fall asleep.

Since I am from Generation X, and we are supposed to be good mediators, I decided to open up the discussion. Point of departure: how to improve the meetings in such a way that it would be workable for the whole group without wasting unnecessary time. At first, it was not easy to make the older generation understand that a quicker and different approach would be more useful. They tended to react like “Why should we change? It has always worked in this way.” We had to convince, show and explain why and how it could become better. It took some time, determination, and first of all, respectful communication.

Source: Cover of book GENERATIES! Werk in uitvoering, by Aart C. Bontekoning.

Understanding your communities

Overcoming age and digital gaps, by building awareness and accepting different attitudes in communication is a must and not an option. We have to know about generation Management and how it functions. If we are to communicate within our cultural and social networks, how could we do without knowing generation management?

From Baby boomer to Millennial

Let’s have a look now at the different generations and at the characteristics of each group.

  • Maturists: born before 1940. You can find these people on the boards of foundations, festivals and in audiences. They are loyal, engaged and prefer face-to-face contact. You will hardly see them on the social media, Facebook unlikely, but maybe on LinkedIn. They will still appreciate a brochure and a written program for a concert. They make a phone call and don’t text you.


  • Protest Generation (Baby boomers): born between 1940-1955. They are described as the hard-working generation, loyal, faithful and convinced that ‘hard work provides prosperity’. They don’t use so much the social media networks, although they are catching up quickly. They will be well represented among the audience and are active in boards.


  • Generation X: born between 1955-1970. They are the bridge builders, playing an essential role in connecting the different generations, helping them to understand each other. They are excellent listeners and strategists.


  • Pragmatic Generation: born between 1970-1985. Described as practical, impatient people, active in building networks and they learn while practising.


  • Generation Y (Millennial 1): born between 1985-2000. This is the generation which is marked by increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies. They are open, enthusiastic, quickly bored, they jump from one thing to another, need authenticity and want to have fun in their lives.


  • Generation Z (Millennial 2): born after 2000. Technology and interacting on social media platforms is in their nature. This generation will enter the working society in 2020. They are entirely used to act within networks (therefore also known as the Network Generation, according to Peter Hinssen) and very familiar with e-learning and self-taught learning (YouTube).



  • Attitude towards technology and career: for example, generation Y is the digital entrepreneur, and work with organisations, not for; Generation X is loyal to the profession; Millenials are career multitaskers and move between companies, pop-ups or self-build careers.


  • Aspirations in life: Maturists wanted to possess their own home, baby boomers needed job security, Generation X prefers a work-life balance, while the millennial, authenticity.


  • Signature products are determined by the spirit of age they lived in: Maturists go for the car, Baby boomers for the television, Generation X for the personal computer and the millennial for the smartphone.


  • Communication preferences: Maturists prefer face-to-face interaction; Baby-Boomers as well, plus they like using their phone. Generation X prefers e-mail, phone or text messages, while Generation Y and Z are online and mobile.


Opportunities to discover

I belong to Generation X, considered as the digital immigrants. In other words, born before the widespread use of digital technology. I was 27 when I first started to work on a PC and had my first cell phone at age 26. My niece got her first iPad at age 7, her smartphone at 10. Since she was born, she is used to being continuously photographed and filmed. She has her apps to create videos and plays games with friends on messenger and Skype. My mother got her first electronic device at age 80: an iPad. Being homebound, it became her gate to the world. Unlike her children, her grandchildren were patient enough to teach her how to use it (each generation gets along very well with the ones of two generations later).

Challenges to handle

These learned skills on various instruments and during different phases of life determine how we communicate and what we prefer. For example, I am used to receiving official messages by email from people that want to present themselves (in case an artist would approach me). In general, I keep Whatsapp, FB and phone messenger for more personal contacts, or at least for people that I got to know already a little better. I don’t like it when people find me on LinkedIn, the business platform, that they approach me right after on FB, and send me a personal message. Every artist that approaches me in this way has already built up a backlog, compared to someone who sends me an email.

The sustainability of networks

We can learn a great deal from the Millennials. They know like no other how to operate within networks. For them, it’s a natural behaviour. They are also used to sharing information on the net. They are growing up with social media and the new language that goes with it.

Because we have access to everything, instantly, and continuously, boundaries have become vaguer or disappeared. Not always in a positive sense, but that would be another discussion.

Understanding your Network

Overcoming age and digital gaps, being aware that different attitudes in communication are accepted, is a must and not an option. Take it as a starting point to determine which networks you want to walk. Make sure you study them, not only what kind of audience you find there, but also how they work and the tools of communication they use. Then choose what the network can give/share, to you as an individual or organisation. If you are involved in audience development, it is essential to study the different age groups so that you can make optimum use of the means of communication. Last but not least, make sure that the right generation communicates with the various age groups and knows what to use.

Let’s sum it up!

  • Digitalisation drastically changed our society
  • In the year 2020, we’ll have 5 to 6 generations all together on the work floor
  • Social media use boomed within almost all generations
  • Overcoming age gaps – we need to get organised!
  • Generation management is a framework to explain the different types of generations
  • Each age group has its peculiarities, behaviour and habits and uses various tools to communicate.
  • Understand your community
  • Check the chart with the different generations
  • Millennials are clever in digital networking; Baby-boomers, Generation Y and X in personal networking
  • Make sure you choose your networks carefully
  • Audience development: study the different age groups

Put it into practice

  • Combine the speed of a millennial with the thoroughness of a Baby Boomer, or the diplomacy of Generation X with the curiosity of Generation Y.


  • Do not limit social media training only to those who work with it, instead consider it as a basis for the whole workforce.


  • Give each member of your team the opportunity to choose their favourite network, to learn how to use it, to become a specialist and then teach it to others: of value for the individual and the entire organisation!


  • Organise a workshop to shine a light on generation-conflicts in a humorous way so that possible problems become negotiable and visible.
  • Give everyone a voice and show respect.
  • Listen first, then talk


Questions for further discussion

  • Is your organisation well represented with each age group? Do you focus on one or two groups only? If yes, what is the motivation?
  • How do you define the networks within and around your community and what tools you use for communication? Are these effective?
  • Do you encounter irritation within your team between the different age groups? If so, how do you deal with it?
  • Are you open to different types of work attitudes on the work-floor? In other words: does your organisation allow variety in work-schedules?
  • What is your attitude in general to digitalisation? Do you consider it to be a threat rather than an opportunity?
  • Do you believe digitalisation puts in threat personal contact?


(2017). EMAIL for TEENAGERS? – Peter Hinssen. Retrieved from

De John, I. (2018). Why “The Network always wins”. Retrieved from

De Jong, I. (2018). Understanding Generation Management in the Performing Arts. Retrieved from

Five Insights for Implementing a Successful Performance and Rewards System. (2017). Retrieved from

NEXT Berlin – Peter Hinssen – The Network Always Wins. (2014). Retrieved from

Irma de Jong is the Managing director and founder of Cicerone Music & Art (founded in 1998). She works in the classical music field for more than 25 years, starting as PR and marketing assistant at the Limburg Symphony Orchestra Maastricht in 1992. Irma has collaborated with many renowned artists and orchestras. As a project manager, she organised various cultural projects, such as violin competitions, art exhibitions, music events and festivals. These multiple experiences with different working teams created her curiosity for generation management. It is her passion to work together with different age groups and to look for fruitful working methods. Irma regularly gives key-note lectures on this and other topics. She is also the executive director of iClassical Academy, an e-learning classical music platform. Irma holds a Business diploma from the Hanze College Zwolle. She studied and received her certificates in linguistics and musicology at the Dutch Open University of Heerlen and obtained her Public Relations and Marketing diploma at the Dutch Institution for Marketing (NIMA).


Header image: Rembrandt and young generation: The Telegraph.