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Your Key to Positive Impact: The 4 Generations Principle

Four generations of Ledbetters | Image credit: Bob Shrader/Flickr

Why are light switches in design hotels impossible to find? Why are our oceans drowning in plastic? How to find more satisfaction in your work? How to make your business a force of good? And how do we connect these seemingly unconnected questions? Let's see how a “4 generations principle” can contribute. 

My 81-year-old mother took out her Nokia 3310, bought in the year 2001, that she always had in her bag for emergency calls but had never managed to fully use. When she explained that she wanted to start using WhatsApp, but that she had not yet figured out how to do so on her Nokia, I explained her it was time to change phones. She had been using an iPad for years, so I had no doubt whatsoever: We bought her an iPhone. Apple has been able to make things so intuitive, so easy to use, so absolutely simple, that my tech-illiterate mother was able to use both her iPhone and iPad in no time without even having to read one single line in a manual.

Recently, I saw that many of the people I know well from my time at Unilever were posting the news that sometime soon, the detergent OMO will be sold in bottles made from the plastic that was collected on Brazilian shores by Unilever employees, in a joint activity with the Brazilian World Wildlife Fund. The employees posting the article are clearly proud of their work and of Unilever’s goal to ensure that all of its plastic packaging is fully reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Some months ago, I was working on a food brand aimed at children; as part of the process, I spoke to several internal stakeholders in separate individual interviews to get a feel of what the strategic alignment was on the future of the brand. I asked them what their own children like about the product. They all said — independently and unanimously — that they found the product too unhealthy to give to their own children. I was utterly shocked.

Three simple, short anecdotes — all containing valuable lessons that should guide us all in our daily work. If we could stick to those, the global marketing community would make a big, positive contribution to our world.

I call it the 4 Generations Principle:

  1. Make things so simple that your parents (or grandparents, or great-grandparents) intuitively understand how to use your product. It is nice to indulge in vanity over a new fantastic design, pack shape, architectural wonder or technical innovation, but if only you and your buddies understand it, it is a missed opportunity to do better.
  2. Work on things that you proudly share, that make you feel good, and make you get up in the morning. Try to make a positive contribution to sales and society with the products you work on, the innovations you are developing, the campaigns you make. If we would all work on things that make us proud, the world would move forward a lot quicker.
  3. Only launch products that you would give to your children. If you do not feel comfortable about giving something to your kids, why should others be happy with it?
  4. Try to envision the impact of your actions, products, etc on the life of your children’s children. If they negatively impact, do not do it. If you do not know yet what the impact will be, do not do it.

Keep it simple for the previous generations.

Work on things that make you proud.

Make it good enough for your own kids.

Do not let it be a burden to theirs.

Imagine we stick to all four. This would create positive impact, wouldn’t it? 


Robert has a Bachelor's degree in business administration and a Master's in law. He started his career in the Netherlands and built his expertise over 18 years at Unilever. He worked in challenging marketing and business positions in various European… [Read more about Robert Schermers]


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