The next major generation of workers and consumers is taking shape. Today they are our children and grandchildren, our students and customers. Soon they will be our employees and colleagues. Smart leaders will prepare their businesses today to succeed with this new cohort.
This new generation, the re-generation, has been steeped in reality, bound by finite limits and weaned on mobile technology. Members of this generation were born after 1995, but they are already showing a commitment to stewardship of our shared resources, a sense of fiscal conservatism, an innate appreciation of compromise and an unconscious reliance on ubiquitous connectivity. My research has profiled this generation and its implications for business.
They save and are reluctant to incur debt. In comparison to the optimistic and immediate Gen Y’s, re-gens save and defer gratification. My research shows that many are delaying purchases while they save to buy goods outright. The popularity of old-fashioned models for purchasing, such as layaway, will grow, as will debit cards and pre-loaded purchase cards, over credit. They are unlikely to make impulse purchases of major items based on enticing financing offers.
They will rent. Re-gens will apply their comfort with technology and financial caution to access capital goods in new ways. Renting on-demand, spreading costs over a broad network of individuals, will become the norm. Avis’ recent acquisition of Zipcar is a savvy recognition of this trend. The bicycle rental models appearing in many major cities and online options for renting luxury apparel are other examples.
They recycle, share, trade and barter. Gen Y’s are considered curators; they often like to have multiple versions of an item in various styles or colors. Not re-gens. They already easily exchange toys and other belongings with friends, without sentimentality. Companies must move away from variety-dependent strategies to products that provide value through unique utility or relationship options.
They are authorized. Re-gens do not associate position with authority. Even the youngest re-gens have concluded that the adults in their world — whether teachers or parents — are not necessarily as reliable as sources of knowledge as the mobile Internet. For re-gens, authority stems from access, not age or position. And, because their access to information is on par with that of the adults in their lives, they feel they too have the authority to act.
Re-gens are normal, not exceptional, users of technology. Unlike Gen Y’s, the re-gens are not growing up as the family authority on technology; their Generation X parents are equally adept. While digital technology belonged to the Y’s, both shaping and elevating them, it is widely shared by all in the re-gens’ world. Their use of technology is normal.
They don’t schedule. Re-gens are conditioned to get to the right place at the right time — to be related and relevant — through technology. Devices plot their every move; their activities and locations are tracked online by both friends and hovering parents. Advanced planning and scheduling are not important when mobile connections allow real-time coordination.
They improvise. This resilient generation, buoyed by the confidence that comes from unlimited access to content, believes in doing more with less. They value individual ingenuity and unique paths to success: self-reliance, free agency and entrepreneurship. Many re-gens see themselves operating outside the boundaries of large organizations throughout their lives.
They compromise. In my research, even very young re-gens demonstrate sensitivity to multiple points of view and pragmatically accept the need to make trade-offs. Their group dynamics recognize that members of the group may have differing needs, and progress requires finding a middle ground that will work for all. While Gen Y’s were good at collaboration, the re-gens bring the added skill of compromise. In their world of finite limits, they accept compromise as inevitable; it is a normal and necessary process that they will bring to the business world.
The re-gens will be strong additions to the workforce and demanding consumers. Leaders should prepare now to meet the needs and maximize the productivity of this new generation.