#Live #Social #LifeStyles What Is #Generation Z, And What Does It Want?

While generational research is an inherently messy process—older generations study "the kids" to figure them out—much of the recent research is awash in normative preconceptions, biases, and stereotypes. Gen Z deserves a fairer shake, and the rest of us need a more nuanced conversation: This group makes up a quarter of the U.S. population and by 2020 will account for 40% of all consumers. Understanding them will be critical to companies wanting to succeed in the next decade and beyond.

My firm Altitude set out to dig below the surface to understand not only what Gen Z were doing but why—in their own words. We worked with over a dozen 16- to 18-year-olds with diverse backgrounds from across the country through a series of in-depth discussions, video diaries, and daily interactive exercises designed to provide a glimpse into their lives. Our goal was to view the world through their eyes.

What we learned was surprising.

1: It’s not an attention problem, It’s an 8-second filter

The recent headline-grabbing studies suggest that Gen Z attention spans have shrunk to eight seconds and that they’re unable to focus for extended amounts of time. However, we found that Gen Z actually have what we’re calling highly evolved "eight-second filters."

They’ve grown up in a world where their options are limitless but their time is not. As such, Gen Z have adapted to quickly sorting through and assessing enormous amounts of information. Online, they rely heavily on trending pages within apps to collect the most popular recent content. They also turn to trusted curators, such as Phil DeFranco and Bethany Mota, to locate the most relevant information and entertainment. These tools help Gen Z shrink their potential option set down to a more manageable size.

Once something has demonstrated attention-worthiness, Gen Z can become intensely committed and focused. They’ve come of age with an Internet that’s allowed them to go deep on any topic of their choosing and learn from like-minded fans. Marcus, a 17-year-old from Connecticut, spent years exploring the corners of vintage sneaker culture online, eventually becoming somewhat of a "sneakerhead." During his freshman year in college, he realized he could leverage this knowledge and started a side business flipping rare shoes.

Gen Z have a carefully tuned radar for being sold to and a limited amount of time and energy to spend assessing whether something’s worth their time. Getting past these filters, and winning Gen Z’s attention, will mean providing them with engaging and immediately beneficial experiences. One-way messaging alone will likely get drowned out in the noise.

Flickr user Rafael Castillo

2: They’re not screen addicts, They’re full-time brand managers.

The media has painted Gen Z as a bunch of socially inept netizens and older generations struggle to understand why they spend so much time online. In reality, Gen Z are under immense pressure to simultaneously manage their personal and professional brands to help them fit in while also standing out.

On a personal level, Gen Z seek immediate validation and acceptance through social media, since that’s where all their peers are and where many of the important conversations happen. They curate different social media personas in order to please each audience and minimize conflict or controversy. "We filter out whatever flaws we may have, to create the ideal image," says Sneha, a 16-year-old from Arizona.

On a professional level, Gen Z are hyperaware of the negative stereotypes that have plagued millennials. As a result, they want to be known for their ability to work hard and persevere offline. "I’ve always felt like I needed to prove myself," says Sneha. "Hard work eventually pays off."

The majority of the people in our study also said that their ability to communicate clearly in person, specifically with older adults, was the number one skill that would ensure their future success. "I need to be able to look adults in the eye, give them a firm handshake and ask them how they’re doing," says Liam, 17.