THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Gen Z: Learn what they're after

It's great fun to track trends to try to figure out what the future holds. 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 generational trait, it likely won't change much over time. But it could play out in interesting ways.

Gen Z will not be team players.

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.

But they are not likely to teach the value to their kids. In typical parent fashion, parents stress what they are lacking– why, for example, first-generation immigrants often do not teach the native tongue to their American kids.

One way to read this trend is baby naming. 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 as individuals. Gen Y is naming their kids eccentrically. 

Gen 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 rule-followers, parent-huggers, and very good students.

Which means they are terrible at figuring out what they want to do. Gen X, on the other hand, was left to its 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.

Gen Z will process information at lightning speed.

So much of the workplace today is about processing information. "The brain is designed to change based on experience, a feature called neuroplasticity," Sam Anderson writes in New York magazine. "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."

Gen Z will be smarter.

Generation Y is the most educated generation in US history. By far. They have access to more information and teaching, and they did way more homework than any of their predecessors (which is one reason they're 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.

Margaret Talbot wrote in the New Yorker that a "pretty clear trend across the studies" suggests neuro-enhancers and cognitive enhancing pills could actually become levelers– if 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 info, think how Gen Y will feel when the next generation tells them their IQ is much higher. Gen Y will probably be getting on the Adderall bandwagon to stay competitive the way today's Baby Boomers clog Facebook.


Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more.