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The Why Generation and Why You Should Care

The Why Generation is characterized by a single question: why? They’re forever asking, why do we do things this way? Why is this needed? Why can’t we make it better?

This generation is asking a serious question. In general, their asking why is not an attempt to flout authority or show off. They are sincerely interested in the reasons behind everything, because they want to add their own stamp to improve the outcome. We do them (and ourselves) a disservice when we dismiss their question or fail to give a real answer.

Far from being a problem for parents, educators, and employers to solve, the inquisitive and innovative nature of the Why Generation is what will make them a legendary generational cohort in American culture.

Who They Are

The Why Generation is my collective term for Generations Y and Z, the millennials and the generation behind them. The millennials have been called many different names, including Generation Me, Generation We, Global Generation, Generation Next, The Net Generation, and The Burnout Generation. Generation Z has its fair share of titles, such as the Post-Millennials, the iGeneration, Founders, Plurals, and the Homeland Generation. All of these names indicate some trait about the group, but to my mind, none truly captures their defining desire to know why.

In an age when information on every topic is available instantly to everyone, it’s not surprising that the Why Generation has learned to ask this question. They get the “what,” but the “why” is often more elusive.

This is one reason that I see the Why Generation as our next Greatest Generation. They have an amazing ability to grasp the important facts, see the interrelations, and form a big-picture view. When they see a goal worth working toward, they will pursue it with a tenacious intensity. They’re intelligent, they’re adaptable, and they’re set to change the world. I believe they will.

Why We Should Care

Taken together, Generations Y and Z are the largest generational cohort alive today, with the millennials estimated at 75 million+ Americans and Generation Z coming in at 65 million and still growing. They are today’s young people, and they will lead our economy and nation into the future. But it’s not just tomorrow that they will have a significant impact on our culture. They already do.

Chances are, you interact with young people at some level every day. It could be in the classroom, in the workplace, or in your own home—or all of the above. We feel the impact of the generational divides (or rifts, as I call them) that can make these interactions much more difficult than they need to be. The fallout of these miscommunications and relational gaps affect us both on a personal level and as a nation. How much productivity is stifled by an imperfect understanding of the different ways that younger and older generations approach their work? How many families struggle with unmet expectations and intergenerational conflict because they just don’t see the world the same way? How much more effective could our education system be if instruction was informed by the dominant traits of those receiving it?

The Why Generation is different from the generations that have come before, and that’s not a bad thing. More than ever, we need a fresh perspective on the challenges inherent to our rapidly globalizing world. More than ever, we need to question our assumptions and improve our processes to stay effective. The Why Generation has discovered that the reason why drives everything—and they remind those of us in older generations to ask the same important question.

About the Author
Mark C. Perna Mark C. Perna is a best-selling author and the founder of TFS in Cleveland, Ohio, a full-service strategic consulting firm whose mission is to share and support every client’s passion for making a difference.

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