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The Fourth Turning with Neil Howe

What past generations can teach us about our future

There’s no denying that we are part of a significant inflection point in human history. We are truly living in interesting times. In this episode, you will see a 2022 conversation in front of a small audience with historian and demographer, Neil Howe, as he and Tony discuss the patterns of human history, a long-view perspective on the current charge of events, and, most importantly, hope for our future.  

If you’re already familiar with Tony’s work (e.g., attended an event, listened to this podcast) you’ve likely heard him say that ANTICIPATION IS POWER and PATTERN RECOGNITION is a huge key to intelligent decision making. Neil Howe’s theory is all about the patterns of the past and what they suggest we can anticipate in the future.  

Howe and his co-author William Strauss wrote two extremely impactful books – Generations (published in 1991) and The Fourth Turning (published in 1997).  

Strauss and Howe theory considers the 4-stage cycle that repeats every 80-100 years (approximately the length of a human life, also referred to as a saeculum).  

Their books suggest four “turnings” of history:  

  1. A High 
  2. An Awakening
  3. An Unravelling 
  4. (Culminating in) A Crisis 

If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or uncertain about all that’s happening in the world, consider that a cycle of crisis predictably includes massive economic, cultural, political, religious, military, and broad institutional disruption. What can be helpful to remember in these times is that no storm lasts forever, and this too shall pass. Listen to this episode for Neil’s insights and predictions on how much longer this Fourth Turning will last.  

NOTE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT READ THE BOOKS: Additionally, one can consider four generational archetypes (a fancy word for patterns) of people born in the same era and coming of age shaped by the same historical events. The four archetypes Strauss and Howe use to describe generational cohorts are: Prophets, Nomads, Heroes, and Artists. So, for example, Millennials fall into the Hero archetype, while Gen Xers are Nomads, and Baby Boomers are Prophets. The generation born in or after 2005 are Artists. As each archetypal generation reaches the end of its 80-year lifespan, the cycle repeats.  

Listen or watch below to the full conversation.

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[0:05] Tony was working with President Bill Clinton when he was first told about the book Generations
[2:46] The stages of our lives: childhood, young adult, mid-life, elder
[6:31] The seasons of history and how they overlap with generations
[8:15] Tony welcomes Neil Howe, co-author of Generations, and The Fourth Turning
[10:25] Generations are distinct and always have been
[10:45] How old you are during a big event shapes your experience of it
[12:50] Knife-age division vs. zones of transition (EX. X-ennials)
[13:45] History shapes generations, but (later on) generations shape history
[16:09] The cyclical nature of crises and how they spur “a total remake”
[18:29] Institutions we rely on today were created post-WWII
[20:01] Why do we wait until there is a crisis to solve problems?
[22:10] 1780s economic depression: We created the Constitution in our darkest hour
[24:18] What comes next: The High, collective, feeling more than the sum of our parts
[26:38] The Awakening releases the individual
[27:57] Gen X was left alone and raised themselves = pragmatism & cynicism
[30:08] Silent Generation had to adjust themselves to meet others’ expectations
[31:08] We are in a time of growing tribalism in America
[32:56] Perceptions of children in culture over time
[34:19] Suddenly “children are special” for Millennial parents
[35:01] We are all like trees, our rings show what we’ve been through
[35:30] The Coddling of the American Mind and missing children on milk cartons
[37:10] “Millennials are our next heroes”
[39:20] Globally, societies are shifting to create a cultural/social majoritarian center
[41:04] Protected kids end up with a spirit of optimism, cooperation, national unity
[42:28] Neil asks Tony how he serves Millennials, “collective transformation”
[44:04] Language and level of public discourse currently degraded, just like the 1850s
[45:40] Honoring the melting pot
[46:01] The 3 principles for dealing with the changing world order (Ray Dalio)
[46:49] Archetype of The Prophet, the moralistic “gray champions”
[49:43] The Nomad archetype, the practical hands-on leaders
[51:33] The Hero generation, optimistic institution-defenders
[52:27] The Artist archetype, full of sensitivity and fairness (Silent, Gen Z)
[54:20] In myth, the prophet and hero reshape the inner and outer worlds, respectively
[56:17] Tony asks, where are we now? When will the next cycle begin
[57:00] Phases of life are dilating so cycles are long, this 4th turning will be 2008-2030s
[1:00:34] The quandary facing the Fed and Congress, the impossibly high deficit
[1:01:22] Adjustments to investment asset classes that are wise during a 4th turning
[1:04:08] What matters now: Your chosen family, your real network, and reputation
[1:05:36] Get to know the local leaders, politics can reshape your world overnight
[1:07:00] How will we know this crisis period is coming to an end?
[1:09:51] Internal polarization and conflict, possibility of global (external) conflict
[1:12:20] What you can predict and what you cannot
[1:14:19] No clear leader of either party, so the floor is open – a leader will be made
[1:15:58] Roosevelt, Lincoln, Washington were the right people at the right time
[1:18:09] Examples of famous figures that were Prophets and Nomads
[1:18:48] What happens in spring, the Awakening? Calm and unification
[1:21:09] The Homeland Generation, born after 2005 to late 2020s
[1:23:54] Who you are is almost the opposite of how you were raised, consciously
[1:24:41] Why we often relate more to our grandparents vs. our parents
[1:25:44] Tony remembers the last Awakening and the subsequent Unravelling
[1:27:10] Thinking about his baby daughter and how she will experience these cycles
[1:28:22] The upside of a Fourth Turning: We solve problems
[1:29:09] A world in which winter does not happen is not a world we want to live in
[1:30:53] Henry James: we look back and no regrets, but we don’t desire future pain
[1:32:35] Forests need fires, rivers need floods, nature needs winter
[1:33:32] Concluding remarks and gratitude for Neil’s insights and distinctions

Team Tony

Team Tony cultivates, curates and shares Tony Robbins’ stories and core principles, to help others achieve an extraordinary life.

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