Meet the Centennials, Gen Z, aka the Neo-Generalists and T- People?

Gen Z: Who they are, what they care about, what they offer.

Millennials -- once the “darlings” of pop culture, activism, and marketing efforts -- are getting older. No longer the navel gazers of yesterday, we’re growing up in fact, more than a million millennials are becoming moms each year.  

Welcome the centennials. Those are the youngins born in the 2000s, or who are currently 18 or younger. They are the new wave workforce. And time will tell what attitudes, voices, vices, and expectations they bring to both the labour market and the larger cultural conversation.

While we can only make qualified guesses about some of the issues they care about, they are the very first digital native generation living in a VUCA world - Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous, according to Kandar Futures. This is the generation born to swipe. Interestingly, we’re are also living in a time where politics is pop culture and brands are also quickly capitalizing on it. Sex isn’t selling anymore, activism is, which points to a new way of reaching centennials.

What do Centennials Care About?

At 17-19 years old, they prime and primped for entering university and starting to touch all those existential questions that studying brings. What do I want to do with my life? What am I interested in? What kinds of jobs can I get when I graduate? And uni is important for them, 70% believe that “it’s really hard to get ahead in life without a college degree”.

Take a look at Kandar’s infographic for a short summary of who they are and what they care about.

According to Kandar Futures, they believe centennials believe in openness “you do you”, resilience (through hard work and grit), and realism (grounded expectations). What that means concretely for workplaces, remains to be seen.

Demographically, this is one diverse group - the most diverse in American history. They’ve grown up in pluralist, multicultural societies that value diversity and the freedom of expression. They are however more risk averse, seemingly less appreciative of conformity, and less “in it for the fun” than their millennial counterparts according to Kandar. Maybe the stakes feel higher now.

If researchers have done their job, we’ll see the first inklings of some longitudinal studies that can substantiate claims of what the internet has done to our brains in these centennials.

What are they like as future employees?

Millennials are optimistic about this younger cohort. Deloitte reports that 61% of millennials believe GenZ will have a positive impact in the workplace, according to their 2017 Millennial survey.

Interestingly, millennials in senior positions (deciding strategy and direction) rate information technology and social media skills as being of relatively low importance—especially when compared to attributes such as communication, flexibility, leadership, and the ability to think creatively and to generate new ideas. Encouragingly, this last trait is one of the things that GenZ is thought to have in relatively strong supply.

Gen Z, The Neo-Generalists and T-People

In purely speculative terms, perhaps centennial workers could be the neo-generalists, as Kenneth Mikkelsen and Richard Martin describe in their new book.

Neo-generalists are those who are both specialists and generalists or “T” people, as IDEO CEO, Tim Brown calls them. Neo-generalists and T-shaped people (who can go broad and deep) master several disciplines and has an eclectic and inquisitive outlook. They are less willing to stay within the bounds of highly specialised fields that lead to ‘silo mentalities’ and stagnant thinking, and more keen to adopt a multidisciplinarian approach to work. Neo-generalists search for inspiration in both their neighbouring disciplines and in fields unrelated to their professional expertise.

Perhaps by then the larger working ecosystem will have also changed. If working from home has become more commonplace, which was previously inconceivable by older generations who “went to work”, perhaps skill swaps or even more fragmented jobs will take their place.

If it is true that we are living in a VUCA world (all generations say this about the time period they lived in) then it is clear that the old thinking can’t solve new problems. Mikkelsen and Martin claim that our cultural, societal and professional worlds are enthralled by extreme and inhibitory specialisation and that it’s high time to make a change. Perhaps because artificial intelligence will be able to go deeper than human capacity by that point. They argue that now more than ever, we need the outlook of the ‘neo-generalist’ if we want to thrive in an uncertain future.

Here’s hoping for the Centennials. It’s exciting times ahead.

*Banner photo by NRK / SKAM.

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