The Generation Games: Clues to the Future of Work?

Imagine a complex network of future workers who were past gamers, motivated in self-forming teams, free of management, intent to solve complex problems both critically and creatively. Imagine their economic model as an exchange of avatar-based rewards that are given aside the baseline credit of money we were all taught to seek. Imagine 1000 startup businesses born an hour, each taking chunks out of the corporate reality the previous four generations applied their skill and strengths to build. Imagine a type of wearable technology that is parallel to the sword and scabbard, the gun and holster, and the laptop and smart phones of the past. And imagine the nature of the places these non-rote-and-response sages will reside as they redefine a world where data is the most valuable natural resource.

What are the teens in your life spending their time doing? Like mine, I would wager a guess they are either gaming across screens, being social on their screens, and/or are engaging with the media of the world on their screens. For three years I have been asking the same question in client sessions, from my peer groups, and on my social media: “What are your early teens ‘doing’?” The answer has been unanimous. Boys are gaming and girls are face-timing.

My curiosity began when my now 14-year-old son was flunking out of 6th grade. Like so many adolescents growing up today, my son is brilliant. He tests at the top of the standardize charts, he intelligently debates politics and economics, and he understands more about this active world than I; much more. Yet he is barely mediocre in school, is completely fixated on screens, and only wants to game. My “parent gene” was being stretched to the limit.

I began to immerse in Peter’s world. I don’t play, but I ask for and listen to his stories about his gaming core content: Destiny, Star Wars, Terraria, Overwatch, Minecraft, etc. I listened to his interactions with his teammates as he fly’s through complex environments fighting powerful “bosses”, all over his headphones with his controler in hand. I have heard the triumphs and tragedies being experienced. I have sat with him as he took me on his adventures to the moons of Saturn, to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, and through the fortresses of his magnificent creation in Minecraft.

The closer I engage into my 14-year-old sons gaming life, the more I see the future of work. Through gaming and social networking, our kids are learning in real time; learning:

1.      Leadership skill

2.      Management skill

3.      Business philosophy

4.      Financial strategy

5.      Economic behaviorism

6.      Social dynamics

7.      Motivational psychology

8.      Design thinking

9.      Environmentalism

10.    Creative and critical thinking…

And a host of other subtopics. My son is daily on “The Hero’s Journey” as defined by Joseph Campbell eight decades ago, which sheds light on the fact that he sees little value in the academic flaming hoops created by school, called “attendance and grades”.

Once his teacher contacted me directly with the fact that if peter completed an on-line assignment it would raise his grade one letter. That night I acted the part of the dubious father and made him complete the assignment. He was angry at the 10-minute disruption to his game, but sloppily added the names of the rivers of Africa onto the digital map provided. I made a comment about the funny names, and he grunted and pointed at the screen to tell me there were fresh water sharks in one of the rivers. I said, with a gleam of making a point, “Oh, you learned that in class?” But my smile turned to astonishment as he replied, “No, I learned it on YouTube.”

Fifteen minutes later we were sitting together at the kitchen counter and he was telling me about the ancient Megalodon shark, and that possibly an ancestor of this ancient monster lives in the Marinas Trench to this day. Next, he pulled up his laptop, opened an ocean exploration game, went into his submarine and took me to the bottom of the virtual Marinas Trench. He told me about the pressure of the water, the temperature, deep vent biology, and about the graphic living creatures we encountered in the exploration. As far as my son was concerned, he was, in essence, in the place. He has also been to the surface of Venus and Mercury, the moons of Saturn and Jupiter, and to the bottom of the crust of the earth. He has worn the garb of a Roman, has walked the ruins of countless past civilizations, and has envisioned many possible futures of civilization. He has started many businesses, has invented many devices of profound function, has won many rewards, and has failed many many times.

As my son is unique from all others and carries with him his own drives and personality traits, it is lacking to project future behavioral value from this teen generation based on one data point. Yet, so far, the majority who answer my question about what the teens in their life are “doing”, share very similar experiences. Amazingly, my 19-year-old daughter and 22-year old son express not having a clue what their younger brother is doing. The experience that is currently marching up to the future of work looks to blow the generations research of the past 20 years completely apart. I believe there is enough insight within the trends of today’s screening-teens to suggest a new phenom of work approaching; one that will upset the behavioral work cart and create a new wave of tension driven change onto the workplace; and quite possibly will provide the innovation that is exactly needed today and is so lacking.