William Strauss, 52, coauthor, with Neil Howe, of "The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy" (Broadway Books, 1998), and co-founder of the Capitol Steps, a theater company based in Alexandria, Virginia.
"Turnings — cycles in history marked by a generational changing of the guard — force dramatic changes in social moods. As we move toward the end of the most recent 'third turning' — a time of optimistic individualism but civic pessimism — society is on course for a 'fourth turning.' Around 2005, boomers will feel their collective mortality, gen-Xers will assume responsibility, and the 'millennials' will want to make their mark."
"Fourth turnings in history are eras of crisis, upheaval, and opportunity. After one of many possible catalysts — such as a serious act of cyber terrorism or the use of a weapon of mass destruction — our society could enter a new era of crisis. A couple of decades later, we could emerge with new attitudes toward community, government, and business."
Futurology Decoder Key
"A new respect for institutional and social connections and a desire for simplification will mark the fourth turning. Face-to-face contact — with bosses, employees, customers — will become newly important. Consumers will prefer reliability over choice. In both the business and social realms, generations will move beyond their old roles. Aging boomers will become spiritual leaders, invoking a duty of stewardship. Gen-Xers will become pragmatic managers. Millennials will forge new ways of working and achieving goals and will prod the culture to move in more upbeat, wholesome, and even 'square' directions."
Contact William Strauss by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
A version of this article appeared in the Jan/Feb 2000 issue of Fast Company magazine.