The “i” generation – not quite the selfish focused gang that was recently called out in the UK by its Chief Rabbi and noted by c|net’s Chris Matyszczyk. Like prior generational movements, this one too is misunderstood. The “i” generation is about the importance of the individual which is profoundly different than focusing selfishly on yourself. We have plenty of selfishness in the world today, but i-i-i is about emerging from the selfishness to recognize the importance of other people – individuals.
In order to focus on the needs of others one must realize that all humans are individuals – unique and special – and that realization begins by developing a sense of self. We have individual needs, ideas, beings, and beliefs. We are not statistical collections of generic classifications used by marketers to push messages at us. We are not drones who, like Taylor’s view of human machinery, are only worthy of doing mechanical tasks until machinery is adapted to efficiently replace us. Instead, “i-i-i” is about recognizing an individual’s uniqueness, emotions, imagination, initiative, and cognitive contributions. It encourages empathy.
Today we awake to a new global economic condition, new social expectations, and full swing consumerization. Businesses are being changed by Zuboff’s relationship-based economics — an economic paradigm that demands a human-centered approach to business-consumer relationships. Individuals no longer desire impersonal economic relationships. Organizations must become human to their customers, and we each in turn must become human to others.
This is changing the fundamentals upon which every efficiency-oriented organization thinks about managing people . The nature of work is fundamentally changing. It is returning to a human and naturally social environment. I can only imagine that the current generation entering the workforce cannot believe that work has become so mechanized, impersonal, and non-participative.
If i-i-i was about selfishness then co-creativity would be dying instead of on the rise. Individuals want to be engaged in co-creative relationships where they collaborate with others (i.e., individuals, groups, communities, mobs, markets, and firms that shape the direction of society and business) to solve problems, fundamentally shape products, and redefine economic relationships. New forms of social uprising and funding have emerged where individuals are able to make a difference. It stands in stark contrast to the actions of someone that is only out for their own self interest.
I certainly hope that the “i” generation succeeds in transforming the world. I hope that we learn to focus on the needs of others, think deeply about the contribution we can make to others, and appreciate the perspective of other individuals. I also hope that we realize that unlike other generational movements this one need not stay confined to a generation. This movement transcends generations because we are all individuals.