Do you believe in a generation gap? This used to be a BIG topic of conversation many years ago as the baby boomers pushed into young adulthood. If you’re into classic rock, you may know The Who song aptly titled “My Generation:”
“People try to put us d-down (talkin’ ’bout my generation)…
Just because we get around (talkin’ ’bout my generation)…
Things they do look awful c-c-cold (talkin’ ’bout my generation)…
I hope I die before I get old (talkin’ ’bout my generation).”
As younger people enter the workforce, it’s not uncommon to have two generations working side by side. But as people live longer and stay vital in the workforce, by the year 2020 it won’t be unusual to see as many as five generations working together.
If you think about the kind of animosity the “generation gap thinking” from the past brings up, you can already see that this is not sustainable. But as the old Bob Dylan song says (might as well stay with those Baby Boomers), “Times, They Are a Changin’.”
Technology has created a wonderful mashup of late that is going to shift our thinking about how we interact inter-generationally. If you take a moment to look around and beyond the extremes at the fringes, you’ll see:
- Grandmothers are on iPads Skyping children who have not yet learned to walk and talk.
- A child in Kenya whose family makes less than $5 per day is attending online classes at MIT.
- An unemployed Baby Boomer is funding her start up on Kickstarter.
- A middle schooler is building a revolutionary medical device on a 3D printer.
When you consider that the fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 55 and older, it’s not hard to see that technology, its ubiquity inside of everything we touch and its ability to connect us and drive our daily lives has created a new generation – Generation Z.
Can The Gen Z Effect Break Through Generation Gap Thinking?
There is a new book about to be released called The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business by Dan Keldsen (@dankeldsen) and Thomas Koulopoulos (@tkspeaks). This book has a wide and soaring goal – to build a “post generational world one person at a time”.
What is the Gen Z Effect?
On their website, they say it very simply. It’s when the simplicity and affordability of technology unites generations – rather than dividing them.
As a marketer who is used to segmenting, dicing, slicing and separating to get to what differentiates one group over another, I’m thrilled at the research and examples the authors have pulled together and shared inside this ground-breaking book that looks at six forces behind what they are calling the “Gen Z Effect:”
- Breaking Generations: Facing the imminent and immensely disruptive population redistribution that equalizes the number of humans globally in each of the thirteen five-year age groups from birth to sixty four. (i.e. ages 0–4, 5–9, 10–14…60–64.)
- Hyperconnecting: Moving toward exponentially hyper connectivity among people, computers, machines, and objects.
- Slingshotting: Exploiting disruptive advances in user experience and affordability that turn what was the cutting edge of technology into the norm, allowing large segments of the population to catch up, seemingly overnight, with technology pioneers.
- Shifting from Affluence to Influence: Leveraging the ever increasing ability to influence world events through communities that cut across age and other demographic boundaries, without the benefit of access to large pools of capital.
- Adopting the World As My Classroom: Pushing toward global availability and affordability of education through all levels of schooling and for any age.
- Lifehacking: Breaking through barriers, taking shortcuts, and otherwise outsmarting the system so that we can focus on outcomes rather than processes, making meaning and purpose the center of our personal and professional experience.
Each of these six forces is a chapter in the book. Inside each chapter, the authors go in-depth with case studies, examples and the research they’ve collected that so clearly shows what’s waiting for us.
While each chapter is profound in its own way, I’m going to focus on the foundational chapter of The Gen z Effect – Breaking Generations.
The Pyramid is Now a Skyscraper – Why This is a Big Deal
“The year 2080 will be remarkable. Not for its technologies, which will no doubt be light-years ahead of where we are today, but because it will mark the first time in recorded history that every five-year age band, from newborns to sixty-five-year-olds, will account for almost exactly the same percentage of the world’s population: 6 percent.”
This is significant because at no other time in our history has the population distribution looked this. It’s always looked like a pyramid. And it’s this pyramid model that’s driven much of our thinking and our policies, practices and procedures.
The authors are clear that the pyramid is now looking more like a skyscraper, and not just in terms of demographics and generations. It’s looking that way around wealth and influence. In another chapter “Shifting from Affluence to Influence” they show the shift from wealth driving influence to earning influence.
What this book so profoundly shows is that technology has broken down the barriers in age and even in wealth. By connecting large masses of people worldwide, the 99% can exert huge influence – yes, even over wealth.
Data increasingly shows that in all areas of life, generations are mixing as they’ve never mixed before. The authors give the example of graduate school (in the past) with students typically being in their 20’s and now with a full range of ages taking graduate courses:
“In fact, we challenge the very nature of “retirement” and feel strongly that this, too, is a term and a concept that has outlived its usefulness. Since 1950 a definitive trend line has emerged, pointing to a narrowing gap between life expectancy and work-life expectancy. Both are increasing, but work-life expectancy is increasing at a slightly faster rate that life expectancy. While that does not mean we will at some point be working after we’re dead—at least that’s not a claim we’re making in this book—it does illustrate how underlying trends are challenging some of the most basic generational beliefs, such as retirement.”
The big lesson behind this chapter is to set our preconceived notions about generations, who they are and how they are, aside. Those days are over. While each generation does have its own “style” or characteristics, these will become less and less important as our lives are more intertwined with technology.
About the Authors
Thomas Koulopoulos is the founder of the Delphi Group, which for 25 years has been providing thought leadership to global organizations on the intersection of business and technology. Named one of the industry’s most influential information management consultants by InformationWeek magazine, he is a recognized author on the subject, frequently appearing in national and international print and broadcast media, including BusinessWeek, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Economist, CNBC, CNN, and NPR. Tom is the author of nine previous books, including Cloud Surfing.
Dan Keldsen is a Senior Business Strategist at NFP Health. Dan co-led groundbreaking research on attitudinal differences and alignment between boomers and millennials in one of the earliest Enterprise 2.0 research projects (2007-2008). He was noted as one of the Most Influential Enterprise 2.0 Writers of 2009 by SeekOmega. He is a frequent speaker and has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, The Economist, InformationWeek, CMSWire and FierceContentManagement, among other publications.
The Gen Z Effect is a must read for any business owner, manager or marketer who is working in organizations with multiple generations or who is looking to influence them.
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