Posted January 7, 2020 by Mark Perna
The new ‘Why Generation’ is set to change the world. But who are they—and why should the rest of us care? Mark’s article, “The Why Gen: Meet Our Next Greatest Generation,” published at Forbes.com on October 22, 2019.
In the classroom, at the workplace, it’s the question every young person is asking today. Why do we need to do it this way? Why is this important? Why can’t we try doing it differently?
This can be frustrating for parents, educators, and employers, and others in the older generations who interact daily with Millennials and Generation-Z. Though this constant question can feel like a delay tactic, disrespect, or even insubordination, in general nothing could be further from reality.
The Why Generation (anyone age 39 and under today) is not asking why in order to stall, show off, or flout authority. Their constant “Why?” is an honest question. They need to know the background information so they can forge a new path forward. Because they’ve been raised to believe they are unique, special, and important, they care about making their mark on whatever they are involved in. Many times when they ask why, what they’re really asking is if a better way exists.
And if not, they’re prepared to make it.
Together, the Millennials and Generation-Z are the largest generational cohort alive today, with the Millennials estimated at 75 million+ Americans and Generation-Z coming in at 65 million and still growing. Though there are nuances between the two generations, they share many traits, especially an innate curiosity.
They ask about the why because they want to innovate the what. They want to improve the outcome and take pride in their contribution to something bigger than themselves. Smart, techy, and resourceful, they have an inherent ability to grasp the important facts, see the interrelations, and brainstorm big-picture solutions. When they see a compelling purpose in their effort, they pursue their goals with tenacious intensity. Like the Greatest Generation who won World War II and built America into a global superpower, the Why Generation is intelligent, adaptable, inventive, and determined to make a positive difference.Like the Greatest Generation who won World War II and built America into a global superpower, the Why Generation is intelligent, adaptable, inventive, and determined to make a positive difference. Click To Tweet
And yet despite all these traits, they are often characterized in a negative light: lazy, entitled, addicted to social media, self-focused, unmotivated, incompetent, and more. People tend to meet the expectations that are placed on them, and the Why Generation is no different. Young people who fit these stereotypes have not been challenged and equipped to reach their full potential. Could it be because their older-gen parents, educators, and employers don’t believe them capable?
Millennials are already the largest cohort in the workplace, and Generation-Z is not far behind. But are they thriving in their educational and career journey? Are they getting the answers to their all-important “Why?” They’ve been educated, taught to believe in themselves, and given all the tools and technology to troubleshoot, streamline the process, and problem-solve—and then they’re expected to fit the mold instead of reinventing it. They’ve been told they can change the world—but not to question company policy. They’ve been given rules instead of wings.
Today, parents, educators, and employers must realize that these young Americans are not a problem for older generations to mitigate. On the contrary, their inquisitive and innovative nature is what will drive the future—and make them the next Greatest Generation.