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Two Worlds to Understand When Leading Generation Z

Insead Emerging Markets Research recently released a report on the multiple generations who are now consumers worldwide: Baby Boomers, and Generations X, Y and Z, using the most popular tags the last four generations have been assigned. In the report, Executive Director Vinika Rao writes:

Poised to enter the workplace soon, Generation Z was born into a tumultuous world, demonstrated to them in all its VUCA glory through a wide variety of screens.” Have you heard this term: VUCA? It represents descriptive words for the world our youngest students have grown up in:

  • Volatility
  • Uncertainty
  • Complexity
  • Ambiguity

They fear for the future of the planet, value their education, worry about their future careers and want to make the world a better place. They are completely digitally native in the sense of being quite helpless in a non-digital world.

A VUCA World

VUCA describes the filter in which our middle school and high school students make decisions about their life. For that matter, young college students use this filter too:

  • Their world is volatile—not steady.
  • Their world is uncertain—not secure or guaranteed.
  • Their world is complex—not simple.
  • Their world is ambiguous—not clear or even congruent at times.

Consider if your world was like that as a young teen. How would you have done?

Perhaps it was uncertain and complex. But for most of us from older generations, life was simpler and more secure than it is today. When students look around at our country, they do not see “united” states, they see divided ones. They see older generations pitted against younger ones. They’ve grown up with the constant ping of social media messages, but many have not learned to civilize this technology. We don’t yet know how to live well in the smart world that is emerging. A perfect case in point is a recent event that took place in Argentina. At the first ever “driverless car race” in Buenos Aires, only one car finished the race—and it did so at far lower speeds than human-controlled racers. It’s a picture. We have the technology to do certain things, but we’ve not yet mastered it.

The world is exhilarating yet frighteningly uncertain.

Technology introduces all sorts of ways to expand our world, yet we’re not sure if what it introduces is helpful or harmful morally. Migrating to this moral “edge” can become graphic. In some places in Europe, you can find a café where a robot can serve you a coffee and sexual favors. It’s crazy. Some argue this is a good thing and not immoral at all, because it does not represent cheating on your spouse. Others, of course, argue the opposite. Once again, it’s a VUCA world our kids are growing up in. Are we ready to equip our students to make good decisions in this “smart” world? Are we even ready to host that conversation?

Technology seems to be pushing us, rather than the other way around. In some ways we’ve allowed it to become our master not our servant.

A TGIF World

According to futurist, Dr. Leonard Sweet, TGIF no longer stands for “Thank God It’s Friday” but rather for:

  • Texting
  • Google
  • Instagram
  • Facebook

Social media is here to stay—but have we recognized both the helpful and harmful symptoms it has introduced into our culture? Researcher Dr. Jean Twenge (who will be speaking at our National Leadership Forum in June) says the rise of social media parallels precisely the rise in angst and depression among our nation’s students.

We will soon (in the next five years) be using Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality in much of our business training courses, and perhaps, even in our formal education. Almost half of Americans say they’re not even sure what V.R. or A.R. is. Today’s Virtual Reality usually involves wearing goggles and experiencing something with your eyes that augments what you’re actually experiencing physically. In essence, it is a combination of a “virtual” world and a “real” world.

Leading Students in a TGIF and VUCA Culture

So, I am now pondering how I can better lead students in this day of change and uncertainty. So far, my directives are simple yet clear:

  1. Because their life is often VOLATILE, I must labor to offer steady and consistent leadership to them. Many do not have such role models who are solid.
  1. Because their life is often UNCERTAIN, I must enable them to be resilient and resourceful. These skills are the only sure-fire way to combat such a society.
  1. Because their life is often COMPLEX, I must equip them to practice mindfulness. To mono-task (focus on one simple goal) rather than multi-task, all the time.
  1. Because their life is often AMBIGUOUS, I must help them become clear on what they want in life and congruent in who they are. Clarity is a gift we must offer.

Here’s to meeting the needs of your students in a VUCA and TGIF world.

(Pre-order your copy of my newest book, Marching Off the Map, which unveils new ideas to connect with this new generation of students)


New Book: Marching Off the Map:
Inspire Students to Navigate a Brand New World

Our new book is now available for preorder! Leading today’s students often feels like being in a new country with old maps that don’t work. Understanding and connecting with the generation in this land is often times frustrating and draining. We need new strategies on how to march off our old maps and create new ones.

This new resource collates decades of research and experiences into one practical guide that helps adults:

  • Inspire students to own their education and their future
  • Lead students from an attitude of apathy to one of passion through metacognition
  • Enable students to push back from the constant digital distractions and practice mindfulness
  • Raise kids who make healthy progress, both emotionally and intellectually, through their teenage years
  • Give students the tools to handle the complexities of an ever-changing world
  • Understand and practically apply the latest research on Generation Z

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