“We may be young, and of the information age but know the future is ours, and beautiful.”
Those closing lines from a poem performed by Tyreece Akwasi Asamoah as part of a Nationwide advertising campaign highlights his vision as a member of Generation Z. It’s a vision which I’m seeing come more and more to fruition as members of Generation Z take their place in society.
It’s also a vision which as a parent and thought leader on innovation I find tremendously exciting and energising. We are living through the opening chapters of the fourth Industrial Revolution and the fact that we have a generation of people who are not only prepared to embrace the future but are willing, fit and able to shape it gives me hope for the future.
I would however take issue with the opening stanza of the poem which implies that the popular perception of Generation Z is one of laziness and insularity. Maybe we watch different TV programmes but from my perspective the perception is very different; in fact, so radically different from intergenerational perceptions in the past that it deserves comment.
It’s almost a cliché for one generation to portray the next as not being prepared to work as hard/wanting something for nothing/not like it was in my day. But there is a growing awareness that not only are Generation Z radically different from everything that has gone before, if organisations want to interact with them either as consumers or employees then they have to change their business model and culture in order to fit the generation Z imperative. They’ll have to build Organisation Z!
Take for example a study by ad agency Barkley and Future Cast at the beginning of 2017. Calling Generation Z the pivotal generation, the study as quoted in Adweek comments that not only do Generation Z believe in working for their success “they think equality is “non-negotiable,” they believe brands need to be real, and they have their own “system of rule and etiquette” for social media.” 
It’s an attitude which I highlighted in my recent article ‘Generation Z – Rebels with an innovation-led cause.’ In it I commented that “When you align a generation with a high social conscience to the ability to communicate freely across the globe something remarkable happens.” And whilst Generation Z are willing, prepared and able to change the world on their own; if we, the generations who have gone before them, can help to pave the way then not only will everyone win, the world will also be a winner.
How can we help? Quite simply by becoming an Organisation Z i.e. a Next Generation Organisation for Next Generation people. So, what is an Organisation Z or ‘Next Generation organisation’? In my book Building a Culture of Innovation  I define them as businesses which “understand that the future will not be delivered through existing ways of working. They know that the game has moved on from ‘what’ to ‘how’ and that they need to master strategic innovation in order to deliver new business models and differentiated experiences.” To do this requires a focus on three core elements in order to drive competitive advantage through innovation: intelligence, collaboration and adaptability.
Why intelligence? One the forerunners of the fourth Industrial Revolution is the availability of data: lots and lots of big data. So much so that the world is awash with information. In fact, according to Google’s Eric Schmidt we now create as much information in two days as we did from the dawn of civilisation up to 2003.  But when there are so many facts and figures, numbers and statistics around it can be hard to see the bigger picture. It’s a bit like looking at one of those artworks which have been constructed using nothing but small dots. Up close your eyes are so bemused that it’s hard to see the pattern; it’s only when we step back and use our brains to compute what we’re actually seeing that we are able to visualise the whole.
So, intelligence isn’t simply having lots of big data. Rather it is a search to understand what really drives our customers and the way in which we can make a real difference for them by delivering products and services which solve a genuine need. Equally importantly, the search for intelligence is a search for meaning, delivering products, services and experiences which have a genuine place in the world rather than ones which impose on it.
This search for true intelligence ties in closely with the Generation Z attitude towards the world. Reports from Plural Thinking  and Sparks & Honey in 2014  with the Barkley report mentioned above and a report from Vision Critical in 2017  highlight some of the characteristics of this new generation which are already making themselves felt across the world. These include:
- a rise in local product loyalty; moving away from brand names and towards products which have more meaning; particularly in areas such as sustainability
- valuing the social impact of a brand and look for brands to support causes which they care about
- looking for jobs which deliver purpose
- being hyperaware about their impact on the planet
- delivering authenticity and uniqueness
This search for intelligence and meaning drives organisations to look beyond the data, to deliver something which is authentic and real and which genuinely resonates with the consumers. To do otherwise will result in alienation and a lack of engagement, in the process depriving organisations of valuable consumers and employees.
The same correlation can be made when it comes to collaboration. In an innovation sense collaboration takes team working to a whole new level. Truly collaborative organisations not only look towards providing their people with a holistic view of the business, they also promote the idea of fluid and collaborative working in order to deliver real solutions. They’re also not afraid to draw on ideas from outside the organisation, working with suppliers, customers, academics and others in the search for products and services which will resonate with and make a difference for consumers.
Generation Z are perfectly set up for this new collaborative way of working. Drawing on the reports mentioned above:
- they are highly diverse, viewing equality not as an idea but as a reality
- they are more entrepreneurial
- they don’t see boundaries in the same way, being prepared to look for answers wherever they may come from
- they are fully at home with social media and multiple forms of streaming, squeezing 11.5 hours of entertainment into 7.5 hours of viewing. If you want to connect with them, you do so online.
- their worldview augmented by a search for local meaning brings a more holistic viewpoint to products and services
- they are prepared to work for success rather than waiting for it to happen
And because this always-on generation is more open and inclusive they aren’t prepared to wait for answers to come to them. This brings us onto the third ingredient of Next Generation Organisations; adaptability. Here again we are back to the fourth Industrial Revolution and the way in which it has opened up the world to a new equality in delivering products and services. The marketplace can no longer rely on working at its own speed and on its own terms. Today’s disruptors can come from anywhere and indeed tomorrow’s disruptors may not even be in existence today. That means that businesses which aren’t prepared to rapidly change their design and delivery model will be quickly left behind.
Here again, Generation Z attributes play a large part in not only defining the consumer market, but also the world of work:
- an entrepreneurial viewpoint with 53% looking for personal success and 72% wanting to start their own businesses sets Generation Z at the forefront of disruption
- they are so at home with technology that for them smart phones are normal and new developments are a way of life
- their drive towards sustainability and planet impact has led them towards looking for new products which minimise impact. For example, they are more likely to be consumers of fresh food and will reject products containing harmful additives and this has already had an impact on the food market
- they are conservative spenders who believe in saving and interacting with their finances online
In short, Generation Z is not only the generation of the future, it will shape the future in a way in which no generation has before. The fourth Industrial Revolution isn’t simply a matter of technological improvement; it takes technology and uses it to deliver the people factor, setting sustainability and equality at the heart of business. As a result, Next Generation Organisations aren’t simply the ones which look to gain a competitive advantage through building a culture of innovation. Now being a Next Generation Organisation is imperative if business is to meet the expectations and requirements of Next Generation people.
That the future is theirs is undoubted; that their vision can also deliver a brighter future for everyone else is perhaps less appreciated. But Generation Z are the future and it is a future which in the words of Tyreece Akwasi Asamoah is beautiful.
This article was written by Cris Beswick for The Future Shapers and previously posted on 07/09/2017.