When we talk about the sustainability of businesses in the future, 3 elements should be taken into consideration: the expected traits of the leaders (namely the values and mindsets of Gen X and Gen Y), the skills needed in the future and the expected traits of those served by those leaders.
A fair share is known and forecasted about the first 2 elements, but little is seriously discussed about the latter. There is a practical reason for this neglect: Generation C (born as of 1996 and also known as Gen Z) is just starting to enter the workplace and, given the teenage brain is in development until the age of 25, current events will still have an impact on the shaping of this generation. Nevertheless, as we reshape our societies to respond to a global crisis, it becomes important to reflect on this generation: what makes them unique and what are the social clues that allow us to better prepare to welcome them to a new (and better) world. We have seen how this lack of foresight has led to an impending war for Gen Y talent and unless we have these discussions early on, we’ll soon be facing the same challenge with Gen C.
Like Gen X, Gen C is born and raised during an impending paradigm shift in Western societies. As the paradigm of individualism collapses into a series of major crisis and the paradigm of performance collapses into a burn-out endemic and an information overload, a new paradigm of collaboration clearly gains momentum. Also like Gen X, and every generation born in a period of paradigm shift, Gen C will accentuate some traits of the previous generation (Gen Y) while assimilating unique ones. This means that it will not be as much as a coherent cohort as the generations that grew up during the height of a social paradigm (Boomers and Gen Y).
Gen Y traits recovered by Gen C:
Gen Y’s creativity is mostly visible in their resourcefulness when generating ideas or solving problems.
Gen C’s creativity is of a different, rawer kind.
They grew up bathed in an explosion of reality TV, ranging from the Top Chef to X Factor. Since an early age, they’ve been confronted to what talent looks, sounds and feels like. They’ve seen it being judged by experts and they judged it themselves. Unlike previous generations discouraged from their talents by the distribution industry (music, art, cinema), lack of information outside closed circles and prohibitive costs of professional equipment, Gen C can at any time rip a professional software, shoot a video and use YouTube as their test market.
More importantly, their Gen Y (or Gen X) parents encouraged and supported them when specific talents were revealed, while dismissing traditional and overpopulated paths (“doctor”, “lawyer” and “engineer”). At once, “artist”, “designer” and “architect” have left the margins of society to become not only an acceptable but a desired vocation to parents and children alike. As a matter of fact, the influence of Steve Jobs has sensitized Gen C to the importance of the search for design and functionality, two creative-enhancing practices.
The result: we see a proliferation of diverse and specific talents, developed and fine-tuned through trial and error and submitted to thousands of common judges around the world. The 10.000 hours to achieve mastery is now reached at record ages. From YouTube sensation Justin Bieber to the Banjo Boys (passing through Jack Andraka and THNKR channel), child prodigies gain instant recognition. Non-prodigies get practice and immediate feedback, both essential elements for nurturing creativity.
If Gen Y are digital natives, Gen C are mobile natives.
With a cell phone (and often a tablet) as young as 5 years-old, they grew up in a world of commoditized communication. SMSs, short calls, IMs, Facebook and Skype, they have a diversity of resources from which to communicate to whoever, anytime, anywhere. In education, in much of the Western world, school curriculum was adapted to include an increasing number of group work, followed by presentations in front of the class.
The paradox is that while their ability to speak has tremendously increased through these events, their ability to socially structure time towards intimacy has suffered. Around 10 trillion SMS messages were sent globally in 2012. How many of them were profound conversations?
Moreover, despite being the kings of asynchronous communication, Gen C risks of severely suffering from socially-induced autism (as suggests official data reporting significant increase in diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder over the last 10 year), handicapped in holding real-time conversations and reading tone or non-verbal cues.
While Gen Y adheres to customization as a way to assert its individuality and to challenge standardized and obsolete practices in organizations, the storage revolution of cloud computing immersed Gen C in the next step in customization: a customization not only to one’s personality, but also to one’s whims and desires. Gen C does not download a set of songs that represents it, it accesses any time a song, a game or an app that responds to a very specific need of the moment.
This trait alone will have profound ramifications in many areas of Gen C’s life. First, by experiencing their identity as something dynamic rather than rigid, Gen C will feel even more comfortable accepting ambiguous situations (a trait already present in Gen Y) and living in the present. As they experience the paradoxical nature of their daily preferences, they might become less keen on asserting their identity (in contrast to Gen Y) or on accepting labels that define them for a long period (be it in cultural, personal or professional roles).
Gen C will be more interested in cross-departmental short assignments that give them customizable task diversity rather than role-based work. This is the practical repercussion of an App Culture, that is, a focus group solving one specific problem at a time, just like an app. On top of that, the rise in freelance and flex work will incite Gen C to adopt a more diversified approach to their careers, while catering for their personal needs of über-customization.
Of course, this new scenario will require organizations to rapidly and effectively reorganize in order to welcome this new generation’s way of work: less departments and more task forces and job rotations. This will be an opportunity for organizations to gain agility, but it is certain that it will create a new set of challenges for leaders.
In our next post, we’ll be going through Gen C’s traits that are specific to their generation.
Until then, which other Gen Y traits do you still see present in our youngest generation?