It’s great fun to track trends to try to figure out what the future holds. The Generation after Gen Y is a mystery. Sort of. There are some things we know. And what we know, we know doesn’t change much. For example, people thought Gen Y’s sunny optimism would die down under the ardors of raising kids, but it didn’t. And people thought Gen X’s cynical, outsider approach would change when they became soccer moms, and it didn’t.

So it’s a safe bet that once you peg a trait in a generation, it likely won’t change much over time. But it could play out in interesting ways over time. Here are some ways that the traits of Generation Z might play out in the workforce of the future.

1. Generation Z will not be team players.
We know from Strauss and Howe that as generations cycle, the team generations (such as gen y) are usually followed by individualist generations. So it is not surprising to see trends that the same thing will happen over the next decade.
Gen Y are great team players. In fact, they are so team oriented that they often feel that nothing is getting accomplished at work unless there has been a team meeting about it.

But they are not likely to teach the value to their kids. In typical parent fashion, parents stress what they are lacking so that their kids don’t lack it. This is why, for example, first generation immigrants often do not teach their native tongue to their American kids.

One way to read this trend is with baby naming. Gen Y is naming their kids eccentrically. Throughout history, most people have had common names, and common names help people to fit in and be part of a group. Uncommon names make people feel different and encourage them to think of themselves more as individuals.

(For those of you who doubt the power of naming, check this out: If your name begins with a K you will strike out more often in baseball. If your name begins with a letter toward the end of the alphabet you could be economically penalized.)

2. Generation Z will be more self-directed.
One of the failings of the helicopter parent generation is that kids had parents telling them what to do all the time. And Gen Y is known for being good kids: rule-followers, close to their parents, very good students.

Which means they are terrible at figuring out what they want to do at any given time. No one taught them. Gen X, on the other hand, was left to their own devices at an early age and is very self-directed. (So self-directed that they are basically unmanageable, but that’s another story.) For Gen Y, the quarterlife crisis is not figuring out what you like or dislike by the time you’re 30.

This will probably not happen to the next generation, because parenting is less focused (via Dr. Eades), which means self-discovery is more prominent in childhood. In an article in the New York Times magazine, Lisa Belkin explores the trend that parents are no longer spending tons of time and money dragging their kids to classes and specialists and guides to the world of overachievers. Parents are hanging out at home instead. And so are the kids. And everyone is learning about self-discovery. Because what else do you do with a chunk of unstructured time?

3. Generation Z will process information at lightning speed.
So much of the workplace today is about processing information. And the information sector will grow at twice the rate as all other jobs . We see that the more native one is to Internet technology, the better one is at processing information. We can spend time lamenting the fact that people don’t write essay-long memos by hand, and people don’t sit at their desks uninterrupted for eight hours a day. But what is the point of the lament? It won’t change. Successful leaders of the next generation will move past the lament, to watching how people adapt to the change and leveraging that happens in the workplace.

Besides, the next generation will be so good at processing information that they will open doors we can only knock on today.

Sam Anderson writes in New York magazine that, “The brain is designed to change based on experience, a feature called neuroplasticity. London taxi drivers, for instance, have enlarged hippocampi, a neural reward for paying attention to the tangle of the city’s streets. As we become more skilled at the 21st-century task [of moving through bits of information quickly] the wiring of the brain will inevitably change to deal more efficiently with more information. Neuroscientist Gary Small speculates that the human brain might be changing faster today than it has since the prehistoric discovery of tools.”

It’s not surprising, then, that when Matthew Robson, a fifteen-year-old Morgan Stanley intern, analyzed his generation, the report he generated is basically a summary of how his generation collects and processes information. This ability will be the defining feature of his generation.

4. Generation Z will be smarter.
Generation Y is the most educated generation in US history. By far. It’s not just that they have access to more information and teaching. But also, they did way more homework than any of their predecessors (which, by the way, is thought to be maybe damaging, and another reason that Gen Y is no good at self-direction.)

But the next generation could be even smarter, thanks to neuro-enhancers. Today kids experiment with ADHD medications to use in off-label ways, mostly to be more focused on getting more homework done, so they can have time to party at school.

But today’s off-label users are mostly smart, rich, at-a-great-college kids who will have wild success in life anyway. And the downside to neuro-enhancers—squashed creativity—hits these kids too hard to keep up the habit.

Another approach would be to give less privileged kids access to neuro-enhancers. Scientists and sociologists surmise that this would actually be a socioeconomic leveling mechanism that we have not been able to achieve with education.

Margaret Talbot wrote in the New Yorker that a “pretty clear trend across the studies say neuro-enhancers will be less helpful for people who score above average” and cognitive enhancing pills could actually become levelers, if they are dispensed cheaply. And Talbot quotes The British Medical Association as declaring: “Universal access to enhancing interventions would bring up the base-line of cognitive ability, which is generally seen to be a good thing.”

How does this affect the workplace? A wider range of people can do cognitively challenging jobs. And, if you think Gen Y is obnoxious about being better at processing information than the older people, think how Gen Y will feel when the next generation tells them their IQ is much higher. And they’re right. Gen Y will be getting on the Adderall bandwagon to stay competitive the way Baby Boomers today get on Facebook.

141 replies
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  1. The One With the Answer
    The One With the Answer says:

    Also, know that the number of Cynics in our generation is rising fast. This is not just a generalization. There have been studies done on this.

    • William V
      William V says:

      Your statement is ironic, in that it is a generalization in and of itself.

      I believe some people have more instinctive generalization abilities than others, and that not all generalizations should be utterly rejected. But we should always test generalizations to see if they hold up with facts ultimately. Some people are more cerebral, and others more instinctive in their thinking in this regard.

  2. William V
    William V says:

    Lola, I think you are absolutely correct – about the times to immediately come for Z-ers. I admittedly jumped ahead a little. I’ve learned a lot over the last 2 years or so, and seen that everything goes in cycles. I forsee a great conservative political era coming very soon, whether it be Romney, Palin, Paul, Pawlenty, Huckaby, Trump, etc. as Pres., I think we are going to see some major and radical conservative types of decisions made that haven’t been seen since the Reagan era. One that appears daily to look like more and more of a reality is the abolishing of the IRS (who incidentally just offered me a job). A year or 2 ago, people would think you’re nuts for entertaining such ideas, but now many conservatives are actively embracing something called fairtax (getting rid of the IRS and replacing our yearly taxes that we have to pay with a flat 23% sales tax across the board for everyone). There are a lot of conservatives in this country still who seem to be crying out, and I think sooner or later they’ll get their way, and already are to some extent. I don’t expect President Obama to go another term.

  3. samantha m
    samantha m says:

    Being 13 years old therefore observing my own generation I find facinating this article. Since I interact with my generation everyday I would like to state some of my view points about my generation:
    first of all i disagree with some of the statements the author made such as:
    i disagree about the brain simulate cause by pills due to the fact there was more negatibve side affects than positive such as hmmm cancer and cell brain damage causing long term stupidty
    also the fact that we take things out of the internet means that they tend to gulable to belive most things they read at first galnce and belive it because the internet told me so
    I also find my generation very social and group oriented considering the fact that we are so often on facebook a social comunicating class
    This does not mean I think my generation is stupid far from so I simply disagree with what the author is stating above and showing the negative side of things if what she stated above was true.

    • Jacel Elizabeth
      Jacel Elizabeth says:

      I have to laugh, in positive way. Cause your are proving that generation “well be smarter” due to all the resources and information available and being able to process them via “doing your homework”.

  4. Goku
    Goku says:

    I was born in 1994, so I’m Z. One thing you didn’t notice is that we’re very cynical generation. Even more than generation X. A lot of people still think that teenagers are idealists. But it’s definitely not about teenagers born in 90’s. We’re already cynics and realists and we’re still in high school!

  5. Barry Robinson
    Barry Robinson says:

    I find it hard to believe that some little shit who doesn’t know a world before the internet, finds twilight to be a good book, and finds Justin Bieber to be a great artist will be more intelligent than a sophisticated swell fellow like me.

    Oh and I don’t do drugs to stay competitive in school unless you count the unfiltered exhaust from my cars from the 1950s when driving them and I don’t “party” unless you count the 6+ people I can fit in my massive cars.

    Generation Y member who has the mind set of an early Baby Boomer
    Born 1991.

  6. Michael Williams
    Michael Williams says:

    As an Instructional Designer taking into account the psychological makeup of a given target population is a foundational consideration in doing my job. As such I found the article interesting and informative about what is coming. I do agree with what you expressed in this article and its companion article "Generation Z will revolutionize education."
    However, I think many of these changes are coming at us a little faster than a look just at any one generation whether that is Generation Z, Y, or even folks like me, "Baby Boomers" may lead on to believe. All of us who consider themselves as "Educators" should consider "Generational Bleed Back" whenever they look at these issues and when the world of education will have to change what we do to account for it. It is my belief that the previous generations are picking up the traits from the newer ones.

    If you want to get an example of this just walk into just about any board room and tell the "Baby Boomers" to hand over their smart phones, that they don't need them to do their jobs. But, you better be standing by the door so you can make a really quick exit! Also, at one time it was reported that the fastest growing group of NEW internet users are seniors.

    By the way, the term "Generational Bleed Back" was coined by me to account for the things I see happening today. No, I do not have any quantitative data to back it up. I just have observations gleaned from doing my job. This would make for an interesting doctoral dissertation for someone.

  7. Zo
    Zo says:

    Well i’m a Gen Z and we are being taught by gen X and Y and we are independent but we need a group effort in order to try something new. We care about how we look and act.

    We also don’t want to do something unless we have to we are follower. We follow trends and sometimes its not a good thing but still.

    We learn heaps but that is something we don’t want to do we don’t want to be smart.

    OK so some of you might think this is not right but we trying to stay up with technology and like any generation we have to hate some music and hate music.

    Most of Gen Z are born into small family’s, the ones who are born into bigger family’s hate the ones born into smaller family’s.

    The younger lot of Gen Y who are still in high school influence the older lot of Gen Z.

    We are very prone to peer presser to look and be are best but just  think they way we are today is because of the Generations before us making and leaving things for us to do so if you make a mistake and create something like the internet or Facebook don’t blame us blame yourself you can’t hate us we only are using things presented to us if their is anyone to blame
    It is not us it is you

    By a Older person of Gen Z

  8. Joeboner
    Joeboner says:

    I am generation Z (1995) I personally think we should wait before really hardcore analyzing generation Z till we can really see its over, but I think  discussion is the whole reason we understand these ideas of generations, anyway I’ve noticed that generation Z’s certain way of communication is much more immediate and in a way mind racing. Like right now i just type instantly what i feel by thinking up an entire paragraph in my head ( dont know if everyone else does that too) another thing is that we have a certain prestige lifestyle and some of us counteract that with humbleness. I think we have an insane amount of potential but we dont have the working spirit. Basically we’re extremely lazy but we do have strong minds and we seem to really want to change things ive noticed. So we’ll see what happens

  9. Grpleader
    Grpleader says:

    Although gen Z will be “smarter’ in one way, the ability to process information rapidly and assimilate it, it will not be “smarter” in that the info it processes is not always correct and they have no idea how to spell or what words mean, so that communication will become more of an “approximation”.  Just look at the post from Gen z kids in these comments–no punctuation, lots of misspelled words, words used incorrectly and in the wrong context.  Information flows freely and often but much of it is wrong. 

    For instance in a post below someone uses “are” instead of “our”.  I read another post today on another site where some used “ratchet”, instead of “wretched” .  They may be fast and connected, but much of their never ending communication is wrongly spelled and by accident–the kids seem to have no idea they are using the wrong words and seem to be trying to be profound and intelligent yet can’t spell and don’t know what words they need to use and can only approximate meaning. 

    • Look again
      Look again says:

      My son is generation Z, stop putting this generation down. Encourage them,they will make a change and make a true difference. improving the status quo for all not just for themselves. Voice activation will be the norm they will not need to use keyboarding skills. They will complement others and encourage growth of the generations.

  10. Sisyphus650
    Sisyphus650 says:

    I’m an Xer who totally supports these Z kids. I like the fact that they are being compared to my Generation.

  11. Jon Loomis
    Jon Loomis says:

    WHat a CROCK!! Generation Y are NOT “cheery optimists”. They are SPOILED!! They are “optimistic” to the extent that they expect to get their way – and – as relates to this article itself, they certainly
    HAVE!!. I’m sure they’ll be very “optimistic” about themselves all the more with one more apologists laying the butter effusively on their bread. They are in FACT… THE DUMBEST GENERATION (see the book) as well as the most emotionally brittle, fragile and self – congratulating. Just because their parents and teachers spoiled them and enabled their arrogance and grandiosity doesn’t mean that the rest of us have to…. I’m waiting for Gen Z to save the day, frankly.

  12. Justin
    Justin says:

    They will be whiney, complaining, self-entitled idiots. They already are. they should all be sent downrange for a year to see what the real world is about. Useless, and we made them that way.

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    ILUVLIFE says:

    Wow, I adore how people are already determing
    how we’ll be in the future, when we are still children. This seriously pisses me off, and to Justin,
    and Barry Robinson, shut the (insert rude word)up. Really, you think you’re better than me because of the generation you were raised in? MORONS!!!!!!!!!:)

  15. Starla4270
    Starla4270 says:

    Margaret Talbot wrote in the New Yorker that a “pretty clear trend across the studies say neuro-enhancers will be less helpful for people who score above average” and cognitive enhancing pills could actually become levelers, if they are dispensed cheaply. And Talbot quotes The British Medical Association as declaring: “Universal access to enhancing interventions would bring up the base-line of cognitive ability, which is generally seen to be a good thing.”


  16. Abby
    Abby says:

    I am born at the end of the gen y spectrum. I think the generations are getting shorter is because our world is changing so fast. I have babby sat many gen Z and can tell a vast difference from us and resemble their parrents like we did ours. I don’t dislike their tack-ticks of learning, but it fascinates me. I wish I could do stuff on my own like that, but I need to talk and work with others to learn and hash it out a solution. I do not think gen x, y, or z names will stick. A gen is named by how it is shaped by what it goes though in their early adult years and parenting, their for will receive proper names later on (when that gen is middle aged and defined).

  17. John
    John says:

    I took buckets of speed to get through medical school. Almost killed me. After withdrawing from10 plus years of dextrostat. I can no longer achieve that high a level of sustained cognition. Though on the other hand, I am alive. Enhance wisely my friends….

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