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Lifehacking: A Playbook for Gen Z

The PreparedU Project has been and will continue to focus on issues affecting the millennial generation. At the same time, forces that have shaped Gen Yers are now having a profound effect, not just on the Generation Z cohort that follows, but on people of all ages, in all walks of life. This is the seventh in an eight-part series that will examine this rapidly encompassing phenomenon.

Get ready to be a hacker. You’ll need an undaunted mindset and the ability to think outside the box. Plus the desire to be creatively disruptive and redefine the meaning of free enterprise.

No small order but that’s exactly what we want you to do, say Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen in “The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business.”

We call it lifehacking, they say, a form of imaginative problem solving that connects people, mobilizes communities, and delivers exciting results that would otherwise be impossible.

In the context of Gen Z, say the authors, the propensity to work around and hack the system is a positive. Lifehacking is about questioning accepted behaviors and taking on challenges previously seen as insurmountable. It means circumventing the status quo, such as doing something in less time or at less cost.

Lifehackers set out to change the underlying system rather than just eliminating the symptoms or curing their cause, say Koulopoulos and Keldsen.

Three disruptive hacks will shape the Gen Z mindset, they say. To learn more we met with Koulopoulos, Bentley University alumnus, former Bentley faculty member, and current president of the Delphi Group.

I. The Funding Hack

The Gen Z Effect is changing how we bring new ideas to market. This lifehack is called crowdfunding. You take an idea to masses of buyers and individuals on platforms such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

It’ll be one of the greatest accelerants of new business and innovation in the coming decades, say the authors.

Nor is this a passing fad: As of March 3, 2014, more than $1 billion has flowed from a crowd of about 5.7 million people to projects on Kickstarter alone. The total value of all crowdfunding transactions is estimated at well over $2 billion, they say.

We are entering an era of rampant entrepreneurism, according to Koulopoulos and Keldsen, a perfect storm of ideas, funding, and a stream of opportunities without precedent.

Q: Is crowdfunding a reality that you think the business world is ready to embrace?

Koulopoulos: In the book we talk about how IBM put in place an internal crowdfunding effort called iFundIT, which had great success in promoting and funding new ideas.

So, yes, there is clearly an acceptance of crowdfunding by even very large businesses. I’d look at this in the same way we once looked at social media as just a tool for casual use by individuals and then grew to understand its value within an enterprise.

The other aspect of crowdfunding is that it is not a zero-sum proposition. We tend to pit it against other forms of funding, such as VC, angels, or debt financing. The reality is that as we educate more and more of the globe’s inhabitants there will be far greater opportunity to innovate. This increased capacity to create new products, services and business — which, in turn, employ more people — will require more efficient funding mechanisms.

Crowdfunding is just a way to scale our ability to fund what the market really wants.

II. The Manufacturing Hack

Gen Z wants to make a difference and has the tools to do so. Disruptive technologies such as 3-D printing enable creativity. You can take a bright idea from concept to reality. You can think outside of the box. In fact, the box is expanding. As 3-D printing becomes a more widely used technology, the actual impact of it may well be increasingly difficult to project, say the authors.

Q: You describe fresh ways of thinking being made possible because of 3-D printing. Do you see an increasing number of examples of this? People beginning to think in new ways?

Koulopoulos: There are two separate areas where 3-D printing will impact the economy.

One is the home inventor who now has the ability to give form to new ideas at a fraction of the cost that would have been required to prototype and test physical products.

The second is the opportunity to create products that were simply impossible to build due to the economy of scale required to justify them or the basic mechanical inability to create them.

For example, I recently read of a husband whose wife had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Being a tech guy he used a 3-D printer, along with CAT scans, to print a model of her skull and the location of the tumor. Doctors used this model to help guide their removal of the tumor. That is a story that could not have been told just a few years ago.

The opportunities here are beyond imagination.

III. The Intellectual Property Hack

Gen Zers have begun to question whether the systems we have in place for protecting intellectual property support a transparent and open society.

Look at Google’s long battle with publishers and authors over its scanning of more than 20 million books, the majority of which are protected under copyright. A lawsuit against Google was dismissed and they won the right to index, search and display portions of copyrighted works. In a sign of the times, U.S. Circuit Judge Denny Chin said: “In my view, Google Books provides significant public benefits. It advances the progress of the arts and sciences, while maintaining respectful consideration for the rights of authors and other creative individuals, and without aversely impacting the rights of copyright holders — all society benefits.”

When you consider the instantaneously collaborative behavior of millennials and Gen Z, say the authors, it’s not hard to imagine how the attitudes about patents and intellectual property rights will play out over time. They predict radical global reform of the patent and trademark system within the next 10 to 20 years.

Q: Changing attitudes about intellectual property and patents will alter our society so drastically. Do you believe resistance to this change will fade out as Gen Z comes of age?

Koulopoulos: That’s always a point that people bring up — the idealism of youth will give way to the cold hard truth of the real world. Yes, perhaps some of it we can chalk up to idealism, but much more of it is based on a clear set of values that emphasize experimentation, collaboration and speed over individualized invention and bureaucracy.

The authors say lifehacking is no less revolutionary than the Magna Carta was in setting forth a new form of governance in which people have a greater say in the forces that rule their lives.

Here are a few questions from Koulopoulos to find out if you’re ready for what’s to come:

  • Are you ready for Gen Z?
  • Which of the three hacks (funding, manufacturing and intellectual property) have you been involved in — or at least contemplated?
  • Do you see the value of each of these hacks, or are you sensing a resistance to one or more of them? Why?
  • As a consumer, are you funding projects via crowdfunding platforms?
  • If you are an inventor or start-up, have you looked into crowdfunding as an alternative to traditional means of raising capital?
  • Is your organization considering internal crowdfunding platforms as a way to accelerate innovation by finding the best projects and experiments to fund?
  • Have you experimented with 3-D printing technology casually or with a specific commercial application in mind?

Find out whether you’re ready for the Gen Z Effect by taking the full assessment at

The Gen Z Effect Series

Read all of the installments in this series:

We Are All Gen Z

What Comes After Gen Y?

Ride the Technology Wave or Drown
Are You Ready for the Gen Z Slingshot? 
You're Powerful and They Know It
How Online Learning Will Change the World
Lifehacking: A Playbook for Gen Z
Gen Z Will Make Life Better for All of Us