Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Next Generation?

Demographers, social scientists and new media watchers are fond of dividing people into generations based on what recent (i.e. post-World War II) period of history they were born in. Whilst there are no consistent definitions of when these generations begin and end they roughly fall into these periods:
  • Baby-boomers: 1940 – 1960. Those born during the post–World War II demographic boom in births. This generation more than any other rejected the moral and religous beliefs of their parents and created their own sets of values. This is the generation that invented sex, drugs and rock'n'roll and is still largely the one that is ruling the roost so to speak (President Obama, born in 1961, catching the tail end of this particular demographic).
  • Generation X (post boomers): 1960 - 1980. This term was apparently coined by the great Magnum photographer Robert Capa in the early 1950s. He used it as the title for a photo-essay about young men and women growing up immediately after the Second World War. Sometimes referred to as the "unknow" or "lost" genaration this group has signified people without identity who face an uncertain, ill-defined (and perhaps hostile) future. This is the generation that grew up during the fall of the Berlin war, the end of the Cold War and various economic crises (such as the 1979 olil crisis) and were most likely to be the children of divorced parents.
  • Generation Y (the Millenial generation): 1980 – 2000. This is the culturally liberal generation that witnessed the start and wide-spread adoption of the internet and are the children of baby-boomers. This is the generation that owns, and is most comfortable with using, most computers, mobile phones and MP3 players.
So what is the next generation born during the last 10 years and possibly the next 10 to be called? The obvious name would be "Generation Z" although this would mean we will have run out of letters already so will have problems naming the post-2020 generation. Rather than following the obvious trend therefore how about naming this upcoming generation who will be entering the higher education system and workforce during the next 10 years "Generation V", the versatilist generation? These are the people, more than any others, who will need to adopt a whole new set of skills if they are to survive and prosper during their lifetimes. These are the ones who will be suffering the after-shocks of the baby-boom, X and Y generations and who will need to fix the wicked problems those generations have left in their wake. This is the generation that will probably have more jobs, in their lifetime, than the other three generations put together and who will, as Daniel Pink has suggested have to survive in a world dominated by the three A's:
  • Automation - Jobs can be done faster and more efficiently by computers.
  • Abundance - We have more stuff than we know what to do with and it is increasingly being produced at cheaper and cheaper rates.
  • Asia (or Africa) - More and more work is outsourced to these low cost economies. 
The skills that this generation will need to adopt will be many and varied and include:
  • Objectively viewing experiences and roles, learning from these (failures as well as successes) and using this knowledge to gain new roles.
  • Looking outside the confines of current roles, regions, employers or business units. The more informed a professional is about a company, its industry segment and the forces that affect it, the greater chance will the person have to predict and survive economic downturns.
  • Laying out opportunities and assignments methodically. Focusing on the areas and challenges that fall outside the comfort zone; those areas generally will be the areas of greatest growth.
  • Exploring possibilities outside the world of large, corporate business. Charities, startup companies, government agencies, even your own web-startup offer new and interesting ways to build experiences, learn new skills and maybe even modify behaviours.
  • Enrolling in advanced education courses to expand perspective, preferably outside your current discipline and area of expertise.
  • Targeting companies, projects, assignments, education and training courses that will increase professional value and make you more marketable.
Sadly Gartner seem to have coined the use of "Generation V" already, where V is for virtual. Pity, as they also coined the term "virtualist", missed opportunity I reckon.

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