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Serving Generations: Teaching Gen Z, Executive Education for Millenials and Gen X, Baby Boomer Donor


My 18 year old son watches the NBA Finals with me while on his phone. Is he even paying attention? He blurts out observations about the game, but I can't seem to catch him actually watching. That's so Gen Z.

My 14 year old daughter almost refuses to go to movies. She can't see the point. She says it's boring, too much sitting and you can't interact with friends. That's so Gen Z.

In my work, I break from the Gen Z'ers at home and find myself talking on the phone with a major donor who weathered the aftermath of WWII and helped establish the strong economic and technological foundation that gave rise to the screens my "screenagers" now enjoy. For him, technology advancement was ubiquitous vehicle ownership and color television and--later--the personal computer.

Then I plan for a new online graduate certificate and separately an Executive Program for an audience whose childhood was rocked by 9/11 and were kids when 2007 happened. As Thomas Friedman and others have already observed, in the U.S. 2007 will likely go down as a major inflection point for modern society: Apple launched the iPhone, Facebook and Twitter exploded globally; Kindle and Android were created; Airbnb began; Google purchased YouTube; and IBM created Watson (the poster child for artificial intelligence).

This Millenial generation was the "pioneer" of the technologies birthed in 2007 and beyond. We worried about how screen time might affect their brains. Now I see Gen Z toddlers at the grocery story watching Looney Toons re-runs on their parent's iPhone while they weave through the produce. One generation's fears become the next generation's norms.

Higher education works with perhaps the greatest generational expanse of any industry.

It is dizzying to interact with so many different perspectives, interests and communication expectations and platforms in one day or one week. But to skillfully do so is what is required of those working in higher education. Higher education works with perhaps the greatest generational expanse of any industry. We recruit and orient high schoolers and work with donors on bequests. That is work that spans four or five generations.

What about in the domain of business' responsibility for societal and environmental effects and a wider range of stakeholder interests?

These attitudes range widely among the generations. Understanding these differing perspectives allows us to tune our message and adjust our channel based on the audience.

Based on the reading I have done from Pew, Deloitte, and books like "The Gen Z Effect", I would summarize the current living generation's attitudes toward social and environmental impact this way. Please note of course, this is highly influenced by my Gen X United States-centric perspective. But I find it helpful to understand the differing views. The notes in green are my current thinking on what this might mean for those of us advancing "business for a better world" principles and practices.

Silent Generation: impact is the price we pay for national security (emphasize patriotism, security and legacies of national competitiveness and health/well-being for future generations)

Baby Boomer: impact is the price we pay for progress...and some of us aren't sure it's worth it (emphasize business acumen and improved performance resulting from social innovation; alternatively pinpoint skills for working effectively across non-profit/business lines)

Generation X: positive impact and progress is possible (emphasize job security and skill development around making the business case for social innovation)

Millenials: positive impact and progress is a necessity (emphasize entrepreneurial skills for the "gig economy" and soft skills for working for change within incumbents and assurance this is all based on sound business and economic principles)

Generation Z: positive impact and progress is a requirement and an inevitability (emphasize Fourth Industrial Revolution--Industry 4.0--applications of the technologies they grew up with along with gig economy skills and assurance this is all based on sound business and economic principles)

My son often finds statistics and backstories online during the game I never would have known. And my daughter's reluctance for movies has created, somewhat ironically, more meaningful family time. Don't tell them (pictured right), but I appreciate what a Gen Xer can learn from the Generation Z kids now flooding our schools at all levels.

I will be sure to tell them myself.

(I strongly recommend Deloitte's Millenium Survey 2018 which included Gen Z for the first time this year....very insightful and practical stuff)

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