At 2 billion strong, Gen Z is rewriting the rules for how we live, work, and play.
2015 will be an extraordinary year; it’s the first year that Gen Z, individuals born in 1995 and beyond will begin entering the workforce.
At two billion strong globally Z is the single largest cohort to ever sweep through civilization. Hyperconnected, wielding extreme social influence, and ignoring virtually every obstacle in their way Z is going to rock your world, and forever alter the way you do business.
Gen Z is going to slam a whole new set of behaviors onto the table; behaviors, built on technologies, such as social media, wearables, implants, augmented reality; behaviors that seem strange and alien to older generations, which ironically built the technologies that have shaped Gen Z’s behavior.
These behaviors are driving six forces that are shaping the future of business; pay attention and you will seize the opportunity of the century.
This is the defining force driving Gen Z. Soon every person, machine, and object will be connected–creating a near frictionless engine of innovation. Consider that by 2100 we will have 100 times as many computing devices as there are grains of sand on all the world’s beaches. Unimaginable? Not that long ago so were the ten billion computing devices (7 billion of which are mobile) that we today take for granted.
What this Means to you: If you can’t use the abundance of data and sensors to intimately understand a customer’s behavior and personalize every interaction something is very wrong with your business.
By 2100 there will be a global 1:1 ratio of toddlers to 65 year olds. In 1950 that ratio was 10:1. Today it’s 3:1. The result of this shift in population distribution will disrupt virtually every business and social institution, locally and globally. Learning to deal with and leveraging this disruption will be the most critical factor for the success of all businesses (yes, yours as well.) in the 21st Century.
What this Means to you: If you can’t get beyond generational labels you end up with generational chasms that will devour your business.
3-The Shift from Affluence to Influence
Your advertising budget is no longer the most critical element in influencing the decisions of Gen Z. Z-ers are powerful influencers and they respond to meaningful conversations and personalized messaging. They have a built-in media channel to billions in the form of the Internet. And they know how to mess things up if they don’t get what they want–just ask former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak
What this Means to you: Listen to Z and respond meaningfully or get ready to be sacrificed on the altar of social media.
The fifth force, and perhaps the most invisible, is slingshotting, which is what happens when the vast majority of a potential audience suddenly takes up technology that was only available to a select few. For example, people who had sworn off of PCs are now diving into the deep end of the technology pool by going directly to a tablet and mobile technologies. Within the decade any human being, without regard to geographic or political location and economic status, will be able to connect to the Internet. The result will be the single greatest period of value creation and innovation humanity has yet to experience.
What this Means to you: Ignore this force and your business is ignoring the single greatest opportunity to connect with and co-create with Gen Z.
5-The World as My Classroom
Massively Open Online Classrooms promise to disrupt higher education and create a globally educated workforce. With the next decade we are likely to see more graduates of online education than in the entire history of traditional classroom education. Gen Z expects that if it’s worth learning it’s online, it’s free, and it’s a lifelong process.
What this Means to you: If you don’t have at least a YouTube video explaining your product or service then you really can’t expect anyone to take you seriously , right?
The final force is one of the most powerful shifts in how Gen Z values and views the world. There is a deep sense of purpose that drives Gen Z to game the system in whatever way is best suited to make it serve their view of what is fair, sustainable, and socially conscious.Z despises the protection of intellectual property, believes that innovation should be boundless and instantaneous, and access to capital should be democratized and available to all good ideas. In short they believe in the ultimate efficiency of a free market unfettered by the constraints of the past.
What this Means to you: If you’re unable to connect with the deeper purpose of your marketplace, ultimately you’re just a hindrance to progress–and Z will find a way around you.
We are All Z
These six forces are not subtle generational shifts. Instead they challenge some of the most basic beliefs about how we build and operate our businesses. Collectively they fuel a revolution on a scale unlike anything the world has yet experienced. It’s disruptive, powerful, and often frightening, but here is the good news; we are all Z if we choose to be. Generations are no longer about age but about behaviors. Better yet, the leaders of this revolution are already giving us the playbook with all of the rules we need to survive and thrive–you just need to pay attention, and, of course, it wouldn’t hurt to read the book.
Tom Koulopoulos is the author of ten books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc 500 company, which focuses on innovation and the future of business.