Every generation has experienced a unique set of circumstances and key historical events that have helped shape their shared values and their way of looking at the world. Today, with Generation Z’ers flooding into the workplace, it is increasingly important for leaders and managers to understand generational trends in order to leverage Generation Z’s potential. Anne Boysen, futurist and generational expert, has studied and analyzed our youngest generation since the beginning, and joins me on this episode of The TalentGrow Show to share generational insights that will help you work with and lead Generation Z. Tune in to discover Anne’s framework for analyzing generational trends, which trends leaders and managers of Gen Z’ers should be paying attention to today, and what it means when we say that Gen Z’ers are ‘solutionists’ and ‘technology natives’. Plus, find out what large organizations can do to stay relevant amidst the rise of micro-organizations and freelancing! Listen and share with others in your network.
ABOUT ANNE BOYSEN:
Anne Boysen is the founder of After the Millennials, the first consultant service and blog designated specifically to understanding our youngest generation and the future they will shape and be shaped by. Using a bespoke approach adapted from strategic foresight, content analysis and data analytics, Anne dives deep into trend spotting, social statistics and data mining to advice businesses and non-profits on how to act on early signs of change. She shares her insights as an advisor and via consulting projects and keynotes around the world. She holds a masters in Futures Studies from University in Houston and has additional graduate-level education in Business Analytics and Data Mining from Colorado State University and Penn State University.
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN:
Setting the framework for thinking about generational differences (4:49)
Anne shares her framework for analyzing generational trends, pulling from Strauss and Howe’s generational theory (6:50)
Anne discusses the impact on Millennials of growing up during a recession (8:49)
What being ‘technology natives’ means for our younger generations (10:10)
Trends Anne has studied in Generation Z, and the impacts of those trends on the mindset of Gen Z’ers and what they look for in the workplace (11:40)
Halelly and Anne discuss the idea that Gen Z’ers are ‘solutionists’ (14:36)
Anne digs further into the tendency of Generation Z to discard all labels (15:43)
Understanding the rise of micro-organizations from the perspective of generational trends (18:06)
What can large organizations do to stay relevant? (19:38)
What can leaders and managers take away from Anne’s generational research to help them leverage the strengths of Generation Z? (20:45)
What’s new and exciting on Anne’s horizon? (23:07)
One specific action you can take to ratchet up your own leadership effectiveness based on Anne’s research (24:56)
Episode 129 Anne Boysen
TEASER CLIP: Anne: As a matter of fact, when Generation Zers are being interviewed and asked what is it that they look for in an employer, one of the first things they will answer is that they are technologically innovative, that they are willing to disrupt themselves from the inside and out.
[MUSIC] Announcer: Welcome to the TalentGrow Show, where you can get actionable results-oriented insight and advice on how to take your leadership, communication and people skills to the next level and become the kind of leader people want to follow. And now, your host and leadership development strategist, Halelly Azulay.
Halelly: Welcome back TalentGrowers. This is Halelly Azulay here on the TalentGrow Show. I’m your leadership development strategist and this is an episode that deals with the future and with the youngest generation that is entering the workforce, Gen Z. We talk about generations a lot – in episode 53, it was all about generational differences and recently we talked about it when we talked to Alexandra Levit, and this week we have a guest who is also a futurist and an expert in Gen Z, Anne Boysen. She’s going to talk to us about what are some of the trends that she’s seeing from her research for this generation, what are some of the key characteristics that differentiate them, what does being a digital native really mean, and how they’re preparing for their future and how to prepare for you as their leader or as someone in the organization that is going to be taking in more and more of them in the near future. I hope that you’ll enjoy this episode and let me know what you thought about it afterward. Here we go.
TalentGrowers, this week we have Anne Boysen, the founder of After the Millennials, the first consultant service and blog designated specifically to understanding our youngest generation and the future they will shape and be shaped by. Using a bespoke approach, adapted from strategic foresight, content analysis and data analytics, Anne dives deep into trend spotting, social statistics and data mining to advise businesses and nonprofits on how to act on early signs of change. She shares her insights as an advisor and via consulting projects and keynotes around the world. She holds a Masters in future studies from the University of Houston and has additional graduate-level education in business analytics and data mining from Colorado State University and Penn State University. Anne, welcome to the TalentGrow Show.
Anne: Thank you for having me.
Halelly: It’s my pleasure, and I’m so glad you stopped by because this is a fascinating topic that pops up so much. Before we start to dive into it, I always ask my guests to describe their professional journey. Where did you start and how did you end up where you are today, briefly?
Anne: I did not set out to become a generational expert or a generational researcher. It’s the product of many different backgrounds that I have. In the early 2000s, I came out with a Masters degree in future studies, of all things – it’s like a lot of times you tell people you’re a futurist and they go, “Yeah, I’m a futurist too,” and everybody can be a futurist, but is actually a program called future studies. I came up with this degree, so people will ask me things like, “What do you foresee? What do you think is the next trend? What is the next technology? What is going to happen in the future?” Obviously I can’t predict anymore than anybody else can. I can sort of help set the agenda on how we can think critically about the future, but one thing that became very clear to me was that we had these confluences of many different trends that would make our next generation live a very different life experience than we had, back for Millennials and the generations before Millennials. This is what prompted me to look a little more deeply into generational trends, specifically with an eye to this generation. Because almost everything in the environment was going to be disrupted, and fair enough – we had 9/11, we started to see some effects of changing climates, we had a huge, huge recession during those childhood years of Generation Z, and we had exponential growth in different types of technology so all of a sudden, you didn’t have to physically turn on a TV station in your living room. You could actually hold it in your hand and have access to the whole world. There were a lot of things that happened that really changed the foundational experiences of this generation. That’s how I got interested in this.
Halelly: That’s pretty cool. You don’t talk to a lot of people who are professional futurists, so that’s always fascinating. You do a lot of research, right? The information that you bring to the audiences and the companies that you consult come from data that you found in the trends and the data that you are studying. I definitely would love to hear, what are some of the data that you’re studying? Where does it come from? And what are the trends that you’re seeing that differentiates this generation which some people I know call Generation Z, some people call them Next Gen, but this generation after the Millennials. Maybe even give us their years, their birth years or something, just so we can have a reference point. What’s different about them?
Anne: Generational differences are not really set in stone. It’s not a physical science. When some people come and say, “I’m Generation Z. I was born in 1994,” they’re not technically wrong, it’s just that some people disagree, necessarily, exactly where those cutoffs are. Most companies, I think, think the Generation Z being the generation born after 1995, around that area. Some people will say 1997, some people say 2000. Then we have a very young generation called Generation Alpha, and they’re born after 2010. It’s not set in stone, and obviously it’s not like you have a newborn baby on the first of January of 1995 and all the sudden they’re completely different.
Halelly: Magically different! One day apart. True, it’s pretty arbitrary.
Anne: It absolutely is. But that makes it even more important to be very careful about how we get data, and how we analyze that data. Precisely because we can’t really refer to the laws of physics and we can refer to a lot of preconceived understandings about how things should work. Humans are different. We are idiosyncratic, we have all sorts of variables that influence how we think and what we do. Obviously there’s going to be a lot of different variables that make people different. It’s not just generational. It’s just one of the many variables that make us different. The way that I go about getting my research is I do have a theoretical framework. I believe that the most famous theoreticians or thinkers in this field were William Strauss and Neil Howe. They were historians and had catalogued generational change, almost going 500 years back and looking at these cycles of how different generational archetypes, they had almost like a cyclical nature. You would have over the course of a lifetime, the onset of four different generations born into windows of 20 years. Then you would start seeing many of the traits that the oldest generation had possessed, you would start seeing some of those traits be reproduced in the youngest generation.
When you really think about it, maybe perhaps history does not repeat itself, but it certainly rhymes. If you look at things like the last recession, it was about 80 years before then when we had the Great Depression. These experiences when you’re a child, and when you experience something like that, it’s going to have an affect on you. It’s going to have an affect on how you perceive the world, what you want to do with your life, how you want to make a change in this world. What we’re seeing with this generation that is coming of age now, the theory goes that they’re going to have a lot in common with that generation that was born into the 1930s, the ones that were experiencing second World War.
Halelly: The traditionalists? Is that what the generation is called?
Anne: Yeah, sometimes called the Silent Generation, sometimes called the Traditionalists. And it’s very interesting because again, we can’t take a theory at face value unless we also have the data and the vertical evidence to substantiate it. It’s very interesting to kind of see that a lot of the traits that we did indeed see with that generation in the 30s, we kind of see a little bit of the same mindset coming back. For example, growing up in a recessionary economy has made this youngest generation very risk adverse. If you look at my generation, when we were kids, you put money in our hands and we would go out and burn it. Buy big clothes, the fashionable crocodile on a t-shirt or you wanted to display that you could afford the nicest things. This generation is not so much about brands, for example. Brands are struggling a little bit more with this generation because they’re not really brand loyal. They will look for the best deal and they will actually take pride in the fact that they can save money. Look at thrift stores! Look at how all the sudden, the hip thing is to go to thrift stores and be able to tell your friends how much money you were able to save. That is an interesting thing.
We see a lot of trends that go along with these experiences of growing up in an ever-increasing volatile world, where you have to be mature beyond your years, you have to care about money, you have to be careful not to spend money because what could tomorrow bring? This American dream where you believe that in your future there’s going to be automatically two cars in the driveway and a house with a picket fence, they don’t believe in that anymore. They understand that may or may not happen. They have very different aspirations, different ideas about what the future might look like.
Halelly: The other thing I’ve been hearing about this generation is we always say they’re digital natives, and I know that’s something you have researched the affects of that. Let’s talk about that and define it.
Anne: Being a native to something, I think especially when you hear the words digital native, very often you make an assumption that they must be all about technology. They must be after the last shiny gadget. That is truth to a certain extent, but when you really think about what nativity to a culture means, it doesn’t mean that you are exuberant, necessarily, about that culture. It means you know the culture inside out. This is native to it. You have this sort of innate understanding, almost instinctual understanding, about how it works. You’re able to appreciate the ability of what is in that technology or culture or language which is native to you, but you’re also appreciative to the downfalls. If for example we think of Generation Zers today are fully aware that they have a little bit of a screen problem. Typically you see the kids just staring down at their screens. They actually do spend something like nine hours a day on those screens and 86 percent of them will actually admit that these might be a little problematic. But at the same time, they also understand that technology might be a threat, but it’s also a solution to a lot of the issues.
There is one trend that we’re seeing, that young people are a lot more worried. I mentioned this, being worried about finances and being able to afford the necessities in life. We see there are now a lot of kids starting to talk about forgoing college because they looked at their Millennial siblings and they noticed that they took up this huge student loan and then the recession happened and they’ve never been able to recoup from that. A lot of them are looking at a lot of different solutions, and they’re very solutionist. They’re very concerned about finding solutions and maybe sometimes untraditional solutions. What we might see is that technology is a double-edged sword. The digital technology – social media – can take a little bit too much toll on them. At the same time, growing up with exponential technologies, knowing that we can get all of our energy from the sun, we’re finally at a point where storage capacity, we’re seeing the capabilities of being able to store photonic energy to a point where we might not need to use fossil fuels anymore, they care deeply about things like this. The possibility of growing meat in a lab, versus having to slaughter millions of animals with the affects that has on the climate and water consumption and resource consumption, these are trends that concern this generation deeply. I think we’re going to see more of it, as we move further into the future and we see that technology represents so many solutions. You seem them embrace it more than reject it, I think.
As a matter of fact, when Generation Zers are being interviewed and asked what is it that they look for in an employer, one of the first things they will answer is that they are technologically innovative, that they are willing to disrupt themselves from the inside and out.
Halelly: Very interesting. What else are they looking for, in terms of their careers or from their employer, from their leaders?
Anne: I mentioned a little bit about their risk awareness, and their hesitation of taking student loans. Now, I don’t think we should expect that the Generation Zers are going to forgo college, because that in itself is a risk. So you have a risk going into college because you get this huge student loan – it may be 40 percent of the job tasks they have been trained for might be taking over by computers, and we don’t even know that. That is a risk in itself. But it’s also a risk not to do it. I think you will see young, ambitious people looking for alternative ways for career preparations. You’ll see them do more online training, more schools at home, which they can get in for free or for a tenth of the cost of going to university. I don’t think they look up to this Ivy League, perfect title, the traditional route. It’s going to be more oriented around the end product of what they want to do and solve more than ending up with a nice degree.
Halelly: This aligns well with what you were just describing, how they are solutionists, and that they’re not that interested in labels or brands. I think I have been following this trend about potentially not going to university and I have very strong opinions about this, based on what I’m seeing. I no longer thing that university degrees are at all returning on the investment that they require for most people. If you want to be a neurosurgeon, please go to college and study how to do it, but if you’re going to be in the marketing department, you’re probably just as well off to get an internship, an apprenticeship and then learn things on the job and become job-ready and most employers are saying that people are coming into jobs from college who don’t have any of the skills that they need and they have to teach them everything from scratch anyway. What I was going to say about the labels is it used to be that university would signal, sort of put a label on you, that says you’re qualified. Your goods are good. Now these people don’t really care about that and that makes sense. It aligns with them maybe being more willing to forgo it.
Anne: Exactly. I think we’re going to see more of that and I agree with you. There are definitely educations that are tied to being able to have a license, etc. You wouldn’t have a surgeon work on you that doesn’t have the credentials.
Halelly: The internet!
Anne: Exactly. But at the same time, we’re also moving into a paradigm where surgery, or being a surgeon is not only being a surgeon. It might also be manipulating robotics. So you have technology entering fields that used to be very siloed away from technological development. I think this is another sort of blended approach that we see with this generation. Again, with the fact that they’re discarding labels, even labels when it comes to something so basic as gender. You think of gender fluidity, culture fluidity. They don’t consider themselves being boxed into any sort of pre-designated title for anything.
With that mindset, I also think that we’ll see young people find a goal, what they want to work with, and there are tons of problems. Again, we’re looking at a generation that is deeply worried about the future. There are tons of problems. We talk about jobs disappearing to robots and computers – that might be the jobs of today, but when you look at these problems that need to be solved in this world, I think we’ll see the shift of jobs going in both aspirations, job titles and orientations in general, toward problems. Maybe not designated as the object of one specific profession, but perhaps let’s say you have a young person who wants to solve a water crisis in a third world country. They might have to study a little bit of engineering, they might have to study a little anthropology, come up with some business ideas of how to promote, maybe working on a new equipment, app, platform, whatever. It’s going to take many different types of skills and they’re going to have to build this very agile team to put it together and get it to market quickly, and that is going to require a very different approach to learning than the typical, traditional education system, which was – by the way – created back in the agricultural era.
Halelly: That’s so interesting. And we know, also, that workplace trends are shifting toward creating micro-organizations, where big organizations can no longer continue to work as these large behemoths with silos and everybody working in these different departments, but rather creating these multifunctional micro-teams that get together for projects and then break apart and get together again. This all comes together.
Anne: Yes, and I think that is a work style that is going to be far more conducive to a generation that has been labeled with an eight-second attention span. Being able to think several decades ahead and think, “I’m going to be suck in this career path and I’m not going to look over my shoulder and see what’s going on on the other side,” I think that would be very unnatural to this generation.
Halelly: Interesting. One thing I know in just studying about generations in the past, and I have read Strauss and Howes’ work, and found it fascinating. When they were describing the Silent Generation, or the Traditionalists, if I remember correctly, they were very loyal. I guess they tended to stick with, or maybe it was just the Industrial era employee/employer relationship, but they would kind of stick with one organization for a long time. Here, as you’re describing their risk aversion to molarity, but this workplace scenario does not really match that whole sticking with one organization for a long time.
Anne: But I do think that could be where we see a little bit of conflict of interest and contention in general, because on the one hand, they are risk adverse. Most Gen Zers are going to be looking for a job that is going to help them receive a paycheck. I don’t see them sort of embrace this gig economy, where everybody is a freelancer and we’re all just a happy family and you never know what you’re going to do tomorrow, you don’t know where your paycheck is going to come from tomorrow. I do think they’re going to want to see some sort of consistency. I don’t think the big legacy institutions are going to just wither away any time soon. I think they have a huge potential of generating a lot of interesting activities inside the organization, for example by hiring these intrapreneurs, because being an entrepreneur carries a lot of risk with it, and when you’ve grown up risk adverse, that might not be necessarily the first route you’re seeking out. Being intrapreneuer, where you can be inside an organization and perhaps create some of these micro-organizations, be project oriented and bring some of that innovation inside the organization, I think that Generation Z will be very well-suited to fill those type of positions.
Halelly: Give us something that leaders can take away from this conversation, leaders and managers, that can help them leverage the strengths of this generation and the situation.
Anne: I do think that they need to empathize fully, and holistically, with this generation. I don’t think it’s enough … we’re beyond the Ping-Pong tables. It’s nice if you have a cafeteria plan, it’s nice if you have a Ping-Pong table, but you’re going to have to really empathize. This is not sort of like – I don’t mean to rag on any generation – but the happy-go-lucky Millennials that grew up with Barney and everything was sunshine. I’m not saying that Millennials are still happy-go-lucky, but there’s a little bit more of a weariness with the next generation that is coming of age now. They’ve been front-loaded with huge social issues very early in life, and so they want to make changes. They are not going to opt for status quo. They are going to want to see both as consumers, as employees and in the future as leaders, they want to see organizations being willing to make a change, and to help them change the world for a better place. Again, so much talk these days about how we have all these VUCA threats – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous – there is a very strong sense of wanting to create some sort of certainty, some more security, in that environment. The organizations that are going to have some luck with this generation are the ones that can fully empathize with their vision of the future, not just the next quarter, profit earnings for the next quarter, but actually take a huge and make some visionary investments in the future of Generation Z.
Halelly: So interesting, because it’s this contradiction or this dichotomy between change – they seek change, but they want certainty – and those things don’t mesh together.
Anne: It seems like a contradiction.
Halelly: We’ll need to manage the polarity thinking. We had an episode back with Laura Mendelow, we talked about polarity thinking. Rather than thinking about either/or, thinking about yes and. What’s new and exciting on your horizon? What’s got you energized these days, Anne?
Anne: I’m starting to really expand some of my toolbox, my data analytic toolbox. I’m taking on more ways of analyzing more data. You know how a lot of the data that we do in our field, when we’re looking at generational change, 90 percent of it comes to us in English languages. I won’t say too much, but I’m able to data mine a lot more content that can give us some glimpses about future trends based on far more languages. That’s one of the interesting projects that I’m working on at the moment.
Halelly: We know that not everybody is like American youth – people in different cultures and different countries are experiencing the world very differently. Their environment is different.
Anne: Absolutely, and I think that’s very important to keep an eye on. The fact of the matter too is that this generation is also more globalized, which kind of redefines who your friendships are with. In the past it might have been easier to form strong and deep friendships with the people who live close to you, physically, in physical proximity. With social media, you don’t really need to do that anymore. A kid in London can be best friends with another kid in Sao Paolo if they have the same interests.
Halelly: I see this in my son. He’s Gen Z and he has great friends in different countries.
Anne: The ability to understand what other people are experiencing in their environment is also shifting, so I think it’s going to be very important for us to understand how this generation is experiencing their world and the future, regardless of where they live. This being able to kind of pull together data from many different languages, putting it together and see how it all flows together is very interesting.
Halelly: I hope that you’ll publish it or come back and share some of that with us! What’s one specific action that listeners can take today, tomorrow, this week, that can help them ratchet up their own effectiveness as a leader or a professional, based on your research?
Anne: I would urge them to think long-term future. Try to think, try to envision, what does the future look like? Not based on necessarily only the trends you see today, but when you look at many different trends and put them together, what are the different types of scenarios that you can see? Even though we can’t predict the future, it’s very important to have been there, mentally, within our minds, our brains, because then you can sort of come back to the present and have much more vivid understanding about what you have to do today. Instead of me giving sort of an advise, this is how the future is going to look like so you should do X, Y, Z, I think it’s much better if organizations and people go into their own future. Go and make that mind leap into the mind future and dare thinking about those different scenarios. Because that’s how you can figure out what you need to do today so you can create the best condition for yourself in the future.
Halelly: I think that it makes sense what you’re saying, and I also can see how – and listeners know I always put my devil’s advocate hat on – some listeners might say, “I have nothing to base this vision on. From what will I pull to create this future in my head.” Where would they go? What would you advise?
Anne: One technique you can use, take two major uncertainties, two trends that you’re really wondering about, it preoccupies your mind a lot and you think about it a lot, and then you put those two trends together. You think if this one trend moves in this one direction, and it’s combined with this other trend, we might have this sort of scenario. For example, you’re basically making –
Halelly: A matrix, right?
Anne: Yes. You can create these different types of scenarios and you look at the confluence of trends coming together. I think that’s how it helps. For example, take some of these uncertainties around Generation Z. On the one hand, they want the freedom to innovate, they want to move into an ever-more individualizing world, and at the same time they need that uncertainty and we can maybe think of other uncertainties. For example, climate change. We don’t know what’s going to happen. They look at these two trends intersecting each other, and what do we get? Perhaps we’re getting more Generation Zers wanting to work in safe environments, to find some of that safety they don’t feel they have in a world that is being upended ecologically.
Halelly: I think scenario planning, right? Is that what you call that?
Anne: Yes. That’s what we call scenario planning.
Halelly: Good, I’ll link to that in the show notes. Anne, thank you so much. How can people stay in touch, learn more from and about you?
Anne: I have a website called AfterTheMillennials.com. That’s my portal, where I blog about new trends, where I write about where I travel, where I have my presentations, what projects I’m working on, so you can also sign up for a newsletter. I do not spam people.
Halelly: Thank you so much for spending some time with the TalentGrowers today, Anne. I really appreciate your insights. Very interesting topic and I’m sure that people will continue to follow up and stay in touch with you to learn more about that. Super thank you.
Anne: Thank you for having me.
Halelly: My pleasure. TalentGrowers, it’s always so fascinating to think about the future and what it will bring, and to talk to someone who does this full time, studying trends and predicting the future – or forecasting the future. I’m sure she wouldn’t want to be seen as predicting! I really like that suggestion there at the end, to think about two different potential future scenarios, and how they intersect. Again, like I said, we’re linking to that in the show notes, so go ahead and take a look over on the show notes page, which is on the website, TalentGrow.com/podcast/episode129. I really appreciate that you’ve listened and I hope that you got value. If you did, please share it with one other person. That’s the way that the podcast listenership can grow, putting it out there, so we might as well get the most number of people enjoying and benefiting from the work that I’m doing to help you be the kind of leader people actually want to follow. I’m Halelly Azulay, your leadership development strategist here at TalentGrow. And this has been another episode of the TalentGrow Show. Thanks for listening, and until the next time, make today great.
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