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 increasingly 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.
Think about the kind of animosity the “generation gap thinking” from the past brings up. With the changing way we interact, you can already see that this thinking 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 that is going to shift our thinking about how we interact inter-generationally.
Take a moment to look around. 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.
- The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 55 and older.
Technology is ubiquitous in everything we touch, at all generations. Technology and its ability to connect us and drive our daily lives has created a new generation. This new generation is called Generation Z.
Breaking Through Generation Gap Thinking
The book The Gen Z Effect: The Six Forces Shaping the Future of Business  by Dan Keldsen (@dankeldsen ) and Thomas Koulopoulos (@tkspeaks ) addresses this new generation.
This book has a wide and soaring goal. The goal is 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. I love the examples the authors have pulled together and shared.
This ground-breaking book looks at six forces behind what they are calling the “Gen Z Effect”:
- Breaking Generations: The imminent and immensely disruptive population redistribution. This will equalize the number of humans globally in each of the thirteen five-year age groups from birth to age sixty four. (i.e. ages 0–4, 5–9, 10–14, all the way to 60–64.)
- Hyperconnecting: Exponential hyper connectivity among people, computers, machines, and objects.
- Slingshotting: Disruptive advances in user experience and affordability that turn what was the cutting edge of technology into the norm. This will allow large segments of the population to catch up, seemingly overnight, with technology pioneers.
- Shifting from Affluence to Influence: The ever increasing ability to influence world events through communities that cut across age and other demographic boundaries. This is without the benefit of access to large pools of capital.
- Adopting the World As My Classroom: The 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. This enables us to focus on outcomes rather than processes,. In turn, it makes 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. They give examples and the research they’ve collected that so clearly shows what’s waiting for us.
Each chapter is profound in its own way. But in the rest of this review, I’m going to focus mainly on the foundational chapter of The Gen z Effect , on ‘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.”
At no other time in our history has the population distribution looked this.
In the past the popular distribution was a pyramid. And it’s this pyramid model that drives 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 it’s 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. Now students of a full range of ages are 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 aside our preconceived notions about generations. Set aside preconceived ideas about who they are and how they act. Those days are over.
True, each generation has its own “style” or characteristics. But these will become less and less important as our lives are more intertwined with technology.
About the Authors of The Gen Z Effect
Thomas Koulopoulos is the founder of the Delphi Group. For 25 years it has been providing thought leadership to global organizations on the intersection of business and technology. He was 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 book 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.