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We Are All 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 first in an eight-part series that will examine this rapidly encompassing phenomenon.
One day the fabric of technology will be woven into every aspect of our lives. We’ll have computers in our food, clothes, cars, and in the implants that are part of us. All the people who choose to embrace this new reality will join the first generation defined by that choice: Generation Z.
This is the persuasive argument made in “The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business” by Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen. They tell us Generation Z, which is defined as the generation that starts in 1995, is not just a birthright but rather a set of shared behaviors that can be consciously adopted.
“You’ll have to make a choice as to how engaged and connected you want to be,” says Koulopoulos, an alumnus and former faculty member of Bentley University and president of the Delphi Group. He is a leading authority on the implications of information technology on global organizations with a client list that includes the Mayo Clinic, FBI, New York Stock Exchange, Apple, Microsoft, and Hewlett-Packard.
Koulopoulos says that, at its inception, Gen Z starts with a new set of behaviors, which are foreign, even awkward, to those of us who arrived on the earth last century. The young, however, are imprinted with technology and need make no adaption.
“In the same way that you expect a bee to sting, a dog to play, a bird to fly when approached, a child born into Gen Z expects objects to have behaviors, even personalities,” he says in the book. “In short, technology is only technology for those of us who haven’t grown up with it.”
The Promise of Gen Z
The Gen Z Effect, says Koulopoulos, compresses and eliminates many of the generational boundaries that have separated us for so long. It will change the nature of business not only by making technology innovation move faster but by allowing billions of human beings to be entwined in one great, interconnected, global value chain.
Generational chasms are the greatest impediments to the collaboration needed to solve global problems: the escalating threat of terrorism, climate change, income disparity, global unemployment, and more. These divides are so ingrained in our way of thinking we don’t question them, say Koulopoulos and Keldsen, who jointly have worked with hundreds of organizations, from small businesses to global corporations to nonprofits and government.
They say the Gen Z Effect will have us working across generations, sharing technologies, promoting an awareness of the world and a collective engagement in economic and social institutions. In this new world, they say, a child in Kenya is attending an open online course at MIT. An unemployed boomer is crowdfunding her latest innovation on Kickstarter. And a grandmother is on her iPad skyping with a toddler.
For our series about Gen Z, Koulopoulos sat down with us to answer some questions.
Q: The bold statement in the book is that we are entering a post-generational era. What does that mean?
A: We are suggesting it does not make sense anymore to think of the world generationally because we are all using the same digital platforms to communicate and collaborate. We can take pride in demographic units defined by behavior rather than age.
Q: Do you find some people are unwilling to accept that premise?
A: There are two camps, which surprised me when we began doing the research and writing. The uber-resistant camp is saying, “No way. This is not happening. It is against human nature.” The second, I’ll call it the corporate behaviorist, or, even better, the digital anthropologist camp, is saying, “You are absolutely right. We have stopped thinking generationally.”
Q: How does technology cut across all ages?
A: Gaming is a great example. You select a team based on competency. Whether you are age 7 or age 70 and really good, I want you on my team. We are seeing a glimpse of what will become standard operating procedure in the workplace.
Q: What will all of this mean for the classroom?
A: The notion of cohorts in the classroom needs to change as well, especially at the university level. If we are going to be working and living longer, then we will be learning longer. We will have to keep coming back to some form of education repeatedly in order to keep our own skills and competencies sharp. The classroom of the future will be a classroom of cohorts by interest rather than age.
Q: What would you say to older generations put off by new forms of technology?
A: At the end of the day, you can decide, for example, whether to sleep with your smartphone or not. No one is telling you that you have to. However, to truly engage with the world, to be connected to those who you work with, those who you play with, those who you love, this will become an instrument of that connectivity. And you’ll have to make a choice as to how engaged and how connected you want to be.
Six forces are shaping the future of post-generational organizations, according to the authors. Our series will explore those forces using text excerpts and interviews with Koulopoulos. For now, a few pointers about Gen Z:
- Gen Z will use technology as the great equalizer.
- Gen Z will bring universal access to education.
- Gen Z will share experiences and knowledge across generations.
“Technology is important to me, it’s part of the way I live my life, I want to be connected,” says Koulopoulos.
Here are a few questions from him to you: Do you share a Gen Z outlook? How often do you make decisions and judgments about people based on your perceptions of the generation they belong to? Are you paying attention to Gen Z behaviors? Do you try to experience them before dismissing them?
Koulopoulos, along with co-author Dan Keldsen, doesn’t claim our culture has figured out the best way to move forward — only that we must try. Simply put, as society navigates the promise and pitfalls of new technology, it’s up to us to keep up.
The Gen Z Effect Series
Read all of the installments in this series:
|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|
The Black United Body fashion show, organized and put on by students, provides an outlet for students' fashion creativity and highlights on-campus diversity at Bentley.