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Generation G: Wired to care, wired to share

Trendwatching gets it right (again): "Giving is the new taking, and sharing is the new giving." This month's trend briefing describes the characteristics of Generation G (for generosity).


Trendwatching gets it right (again): "Giving is the new taking, and sharing is the new giving." That's the key assertion in this month's trend briefing, which describes the characteristics of Generation G (for generosity) and offers eight ways for brands to join: from Tryvertising to Brand Butlers to Random Acts of Kindness (RAK).

One can object to the catchy neologisms used in Trendwatching's reports and accuse the authors of over-simplifying complex phenomena into easy-to-digest, convenient "snacks of meaning" that are then recycled and cited at every single business conference in the next 12 months without ever really being more profoundly examined. But that skepticism is not entirely fair.

Trend researchers are like marketers: they are by definition simplifiers, "sensemakers," or in other words: storytellers. And like all great storytellers they have to tweak the truth if needed. Trend reports are in-the-moment cultural observations, overarching narratives rather than scientifically backed studies.

And so the Generation G report strikes a chord--in tune with the calls for rebooting capitalism, the notion of "Chief Meaning Officers" (marketing's new role as arbiters of social value), and also the kind of Activism 2.0 espoused by start-ups like Virgance: "As consumers are disgusted with greed and its current dire consequences for the economy--and while that same upheaval has them longing more than ever for institutions that care--the need for more generosity beautifully coincides with the ongoing (and pre-recession) emergence of an online-fueled culture of individuals who share, give, engage, create, and collaborate in large numbers."

The driving forces behind Generation G are powerful indeed: "Challenging times see people craving care, empathy, sympathy, and generosity. Now, with a full-blown recession having set in, expect to hear even more about caring, as that's what consumers and citizens will demand from governments and organizations: someone to take care of their jobs, their savings, their fellow citizens. This need becomes extra poignant in societies where individualism is the new religion, and thus every person, young and old, rich and poor, has been told by society that he or she matters as an individual."

Generation G not only demands new concepts of quality of life vs. concepts of material wealth, safety, status, and comfort, it also wants to have a say in developing them. Maslow's Pyramid of Needs has become a "Human Tower" (see picture above; also called Castells in the Catalan tradition), offering an endless array of configurations of "balance" that are only possible through continued focus, experimentation, and cooperation. For Generation G, the value of sharing trumps shareholder value. While the boundaries between work and life are dissipating, Lifeholder Value is gaining traction as the penultimate return on investment.

In this vein, Umair Haque, in his "Smart Growth Manifesto," makes the case for "outcomes, not income": "Dumb growth is about incomes--are we richer today than we were yesterday? Smart growth is about people, and how much better or worse off they are--not merely how much junk an economy can churn out. Smart growth measures people's outcomes--not just their incomes. Are people healthier, fitter, smarter, happier? Economics that measure financial numbers, we've learned the hard way, often fail to be meaningful, except to the quants among us. It is tangible human outcomes that are the arbiters of authentic value creation."

For corporations seeking to engage Generation G, two things are key: One is empathy or as Jump Associates' Dev Patnaik posits in a recent book: Today's corporations need to be "Wired to Care." Empathy must not be confused with sympathy: Sympathy is literally "feeling with"--compassion for or commiseration with another person. Empathy, by contrast, is literally "feeling into"--the ability to project one's personality into another person and more fully understand that person. You feel sympathy when you haven't been there; empathy is when you have.

The other critical ability for engaging Generation G is "sharing." In a digital economy where most of the transactions are for free (or expected to be free), value is mainly created through the act of sharing. This means replacing outdated concepts of ownership, control, and coordination with concepts of open source, open IP, and open innovation. It also means open conversations in the spirit of what Clive Thompson labeled "Radical Transparency." As they are increasingly replacing traditional media companies, brands' foremost task is to share information.

The message for Generation G is loud and clear: As much as transparency can underscore that you have nothing to hide, it can also highlight that you have a lot to give.