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What Comes After Gen Y?
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 second in an eight-part series that will examine this rapidly encompassing phenomenon.
After Generation Y (the millennials) comes Generation Z, right?
Not so fast. Perhaps it’s time to shake off old ways of thinking about the world. Seemingly intuitive assumptions about the power of the young versus old, the rich versus poor, and other long-held divisions no longer make sense. Our minds must catch up with a new reality.
The dramatic changes on the horizon are described by Thomas Koulopoulos and Dan Keldsen in “The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business.” The authors offer fresh paradigms to help us recognize the altered societal dynamics beneath what is happening now and what is to come.
We are experiencing a global population storm during a time of such radical digital advancement, they show us, that we will ultimately see a disruption of the balance of power in nearly every existing institution — social, business, government. Such will be the power of Gen Z.
We met with Koulopoulos, a Bentley University alumnus, former Bentley faculty member, and current president of the Delphi Group, to hear how notions people have taken for granted for centuries will be upended, including these five:
There will always be more young people than old.
Q: You say in the book that 2080 will be the first time in recorded history that every five-year age band from newborns to 65-year-olds will account for almost exactly the same percentage of the world’s population: 6 percent. What does this mean for us as a society?
A: We’ll start to experience distinct changes in many of the defining attributes that have allowed us to draw the generational lines that separate us. Gen Z will not expect to retire from work that is financially and personally fulfilling or to stop being in the classroom at a certain age.
We have traditionally relied on the population pyramid to illustrate the way our society looks. We are accustomed to seeing a broad base that narrows toward a peak as people age. It is an image that is on its way out, say Koulopoulos and Keldsen.
In the next 80 years, they say, we will see our familiar pyramid reshape to look more like a skyscraper as older people live and work far longer. The birth rate will no longer form that sharp contrast. The way that age shapes our behaviors and attitudes, say Koulopoulos and Keldsen, will break free from rigid generational categories. This too is Gen Z.
There will always be generational friction.
Q: How will our attitudes have to change in a post-generational world?
A: When we talk about generations, we tend to do it in the negative. For instance, people say millennials are anti-social and inarticulate because all they do is text. Looking down on the next generation is this learned behavior.
Yet in the workplace there’s no way to get around the fact that we have to somehow bridge these generational differences. They are not going to go away. It’s not as if these upcoming generations will someday takeover the workplace and then it will be their problem. The fiftysomethings are not leaving the workforce. They are not timing out at 65. The majority of them will not fully retire at all.
I decided to write the book because it struck me: “Wait a minute. We have to take a much more positive and productive look at how we deal with this multigenerational challenge. If we keep thinking in terms of generations, we’re never going to get there.”
Demographics define difference better than other metrics.
Q: You also say why we must change the way we think about demographics. Please tell us more.
A: Demographics have categorized people by age, sex, race, geography and so on. That approach served a purpose when we had broad generational categories. We don’t have those anymore. Demographics have changed and become more complex.
We are moving toward digital anthropology, which uses behavioral data to understand people. We have data that tells us how you and I interact visually, how we interact collaboratively. That provides a level of insight that demographics cannot even compare to. We’ll be able to create communities that are better aligned and meaningful and are less likely to be defined by age.
Affluence monopolizes power.
Q: It is fascinating what you have to say about affluence versus influence when it comes to Gen Z. How will our current assumptions begin to change?
A: Gen Zers are powerful. The Internet has created a situation where influence is diffused throughout a population rather than concentrated. The difference for Gen Zers is that the ability to influence change is not determined solely by affluence but increasingly by influence.
Nothing can span certain generational differences.
Q: You have said it is a myth that the generation gap must exist and will always be the source of tension and friction between generations. How will the Gen Z mindset help change this?
A: If you define community by your age then the generation gap will be very wide. But if you define it by a deep understanding of people’s interest and behaviors and it will be far narrower.
We say in the book that generations will never completely go away. I mean kids are wired to rebel. They have to build an identity and define themselves. They have to rebel and, most frequently, that will be toward an accessible authority figure such as a parent separated by age by at least a dozen or so years. There will be some natural separation of generations because of that, if nothing else. That doesn’t go away.
But that parent and that child, that grandchild, that grandparent and that great-grandparent might all be working together as well. That is Gen Z.
A few questions for readers to consider for the new business climate:
- How much do you rely on the metaphor and assumptions of the popular pyramid?
- Are you prepared for the change from the pyramid to the skyscraper?
- Do you recognize and try to avoid generational traps?
- Are you focused on a results-orientated work environment?
Meg Murphy is a freelance writer.
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|
Alison Davis-Blake, the former business school dean at the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota, was inaugurated as the eighth president of Bentley University in a ceremony attended by students, faculty, staff, alumni and other members of the extended Bentley community.