In 1955 a film burst on to the silver screen which changed the way in which young people were viewed forever. Its star, James Dean, had suffered an untimely death just one month before the film’s release; but nevertheless, his portrayal of teenage angst made such an impact that he was widely seen as someone who spoke for his generation.
More than sixty years on Rebel Without a Cause still carries a powerful impact with a score of 96% on film review site Rotten Tomatoes. It has influenced the moody, troubled, and disenfranchised perception of teenagers for generations and in the process, has indirectly affected the interaction between teenagers and the adult world.
Now, however, there is a new kid on the block and all the signs are that the assumptions which held good for more than sixty years are about to be swept aside. Watch out world, Generation Z is in town and this time they are rebels with a cause.
It has been three years since I issued my first white paper on this subject. The Generation Z Innovation Challenge  examined the effect which Generation Z was already having on the world, and in the intervening years our initial perceptions of Generation Z have only grown stronger. Following on from the millennials, Generation Z is widely believed to have originated in the years immediately preceding the turn-of-the-century. This is the always on, interconnected generation which has never known anything other than the social media, tech-driven, connected world.
Keen to make a mark
Perhaps because the world is their oyster, Generation Z have never been seen as passive recipients, seeing it as their right to put their own influence on the world. Back in 2014 a report on Generation Z from pluralthinking  said;
“Gen Z have never been passive recipients of brand messages, users of products or choosers of ideas. They expect to be involved in a brand’s creation and destiny.”
At the same time a report from Sparks & Honey  which looked at Generation Z in the USA revealed that Generation Z were hyperaware about their impact on the planet, more caring, more self-directed and more entrepreneurial than any generation before them.
Those reports were delivered at a time when Generation Z were only starting to have an impact as customers, consumers and employees. Fast forward to 2017 and we are really starting to see the Generation Z effect in everything from leisure to business to politics. It’s not surprising that the last UK election saw young people come out in vast numbers to engage with the issues. This generation not only cares but they are prepared to do something to ensure that they have an impact. They’re not prepared to be told that politicians, business leaders or their elders know best.
Commentators may deride the groupthink impact of social media, and indeed there are always going to be those who live with a closed mind, but the majority of Generation Z are far more clued up about real world issues than they are given credit for. So much so that a recent Generation Z study by Seymour Powell  found that;
“Widespread connectivity has exposed Gen Z to a broad range of global issues from an early age and is cultivating a highly empathetic generation.”
As a result, the same report found that this generation is 50% more likely to care about making an impact on their world through their work than their counterparts did.
Think you’ve buttoned down Generation Z? What we’ve seen so far is only a vague glimpse of what I believe is yet to come. The shift in the political spectrum, the trump/brexit/election effect, is just the start of something truly game-changing in which people move away from the traditional view of political rule and towards a more focused and innovation-led way of working together. Generation Z understands that in an interconnected world you don’t need political structure if you can freely collaborate in order to deliver strong outcomes. In the USA, we’ve seen cities and businesses standing up and vowing to work to the climate change accord that was rejected by their president. Not in my name is becoming a symbol that people and business are prepared to step out of the shadows and work in a different way in order to deliver desired outcomes.
When you align a generation with a high social conscience to the ability to communicate freely across the globe something remarkable happens. Make no mistake, Generation Z are rebels with a cause and through openness and collaboration they are going to drive innovation and shape the future of the world.
This article was written by Cris Beswick for The Future Shapers and previously posted on 20/07/2017.