The future ain’t what it used to be.
Gen X and Gen Y have changed the workplace, but just wait until alphabetically challenged Generation C, the Digital Natives, take over the workforce. By 2020, Gen C will make up 40 percent of the population in the U.S., Europe, Brazil, Russia, India, and China—and by then they will constitute the largest group of consumers worldwide.
Born after 1990, they’re connected, computerized, community-oriented and always clicking.
A Booz & Company report describes them this way: “They are realists, they are materialists. They are culturally liberal, if not politically progressive. They are upwardly mobile, yet they live with their parents longer than others ever did. Many of their social interactions take place on the Internet, where they feel free to express their opinions and attitudes. They’ve grown up under the influence of Harry Potter, Barack Obama, and iEverything—iPods, iTunes, iPhones. Technology is so intimately woven into their lives that the concept of early adopter is essentially meaningless.”
If that doesn’t suggest where we’re headed, consider a recent survey by Intel of kids ages eight to 12. One-third said they’d rather go without a summer vacation from school than give up their mobile devices. Not a surprising result, perhaps, considering that 50 percent of them have two or more iPods, laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smartphones and 20 percent have three or more.
So what does Generation C look like and what can you infer that will help you prosper in the new reality they bring?
Think "next practices" not "best practices"
If you run a business, you’re probably already hiring and selling to Generation C. If you think business as usual will get the job done, think again. "Next practices" not "best practices" will define success because it’s going to take innovation to succeed in the face of an explosion of new problems and opportunities.
Business innovation is all about imagining what the future will look like, identifying the opportunities the future presents, and building capabilities that will allow you to capitalize on them. Make no mistake, a decision to maintain the status quo is a decision to fall behind. If change is accelerating, just maintaining a steady pace of change will soon put you behind.
On the grid 24/7
Nine to five is a thing of the past. The Booz & Co. study referred to above, estimated that 50 percent of workers would be mobile by 2014. A year after the study was done, it’s already happened in the U.S. Personal and business activities now are stirred together, and believe it or not, "off grid" time will become valuable. Already people are griping about mobile devices in bathrooms; Can’t we at least do that alone? people seem to be saying.
What’s more, increased consumption of digital information will also mean more exposure to unverified and often incorrect information. An over-abundance of irrelevant information—not a lack of relevant information—is driving out our focus on reality, promoting wacky ideas, and dangerous behavior.
Always-on communication is assumed, but opportunities still exist to make availability more ubiquitous. Any place "civilized" is assumed to have electricity, and an Internet connection is close behind. Make sure you’re part of the connectivity. Not having a website or social networking presence really isn’t an option anymore.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach
Gen C prefer shallow membership in many communities over identification with one culture. In the 60’s, young people experimented with how they felt, often via drugs and free love. Today young people experiment with who they are via reflected messages in brands, online cultures, events, and celebrities.
So you don’t "target" Gen C with your "message;" you treat them as members of an active, changing community who can embrace (or reject) your ideas. You have to respond to their multiple passions and be willing to improvise to match changing social rhythms.
Look at online gaming for inspiration
The success of electronic games, now outselling movies and music, is evidence of the escapism and roleplaying young people crave today. They don’t want to be passive viewers. They want to participate and co-create, building on what others have done.
Give them real and virtual realities that foster their creative identities with a consistent message across platforms. Sell them tools, widgets, plugins and apps that reflect your ideas.
Share, don’t sell
One-way messages will be lost in the noise. Spark conversations, offer ideas that cultures and communities can nurture and spread. But be flexible, stick to core values, and allow—even encourage—different manifestations to keep the perpetually stimulation-seeking Gen C-ers interested.