The origin story is a Silicon Valley art form. Born of the pitch, it is a narrative where well-told tales never fail to engage, and it is perpetually new. As story-tellers, we at Orange Silicon Valley saw an opportunity to create a platform for the most interesting and global origin story of all: that of the arrival of GenZ into the digital economy. Being here in the Bay Area long enough to remember life before Facebook, we have a lot of friends to help us tell that story. Interestingly, because GenZ’s debut is not a tech — but rather a human — story, we ended up reaching outside the Valley — to Hollywood and New York, and the results were truly gratifying. To the 20 speakers and panelists who contributed their perspectives to the day-long workshop held here in our offices, we offer a deeply felt thank-you.
Below are some key themes and memes that came up throughout the workshop. For more, read the full program and our research notes, which can be found here.
Authenticity + community: It’s complicated
Orange Silicon Valley’s Guillaume Payan brought the attention of the workshop to Community in the context of Content — as exemplified by one of the panelists, Mathieu de Fayet from Niantic. Niantic’s global community of Pokémon Go players is 750 million, almost 10% of the world’s population. The Content/Community nexus is native to GenZ. As Guillaume’s colleague Christophre Betremieux notes, “GenZers do not follow programs; they follow influencers.”
For influencers like Wes Tucker, this poses major authenticity challenges: from how to relate to hundreds of thousands of followers — “I care about the people who follow me, but I can’t care about all of them,” he says — to the complicated role of mediating between Fans and Brands: “I don’t want people that are following me on a daily basis to give them crap … I have to enjoy the product, because if I don’t like it I’m not gonna tell anyone to buy it.”
For older cohorts who might be inclined to roll their eyes at the question of authenticity, just don’t. GenZ has a global average of six friends she describes as “close,” and their top three values are loyalty, honesty, and sincerity. GenZ is out to change the world (hence the title for our workshop) for the better; 30% say racism is the No. 1 issue that needs fixing. Another reason to eschew cynicism: 87% of GenZ believes brands can have a positive impact on the world.
The answer is friends, but what was the question?
If there was one recurring theme that drove home how inextricably GenZ behavior is linked to Social, it was the idea of friends as a motivation, as the answer to the question of what do now. Consider these questions at the intersection of Friends and Doing: “How do I just ask my friends for money?” The answer is important because it enables spontaneous social activity, and the answer is: Venmo, which was represented at the event by co-founder Jay Parikh. Sometimes, the answer to a friend’s question takes us in new design directions, as it did for urbanist and architect Omar Toro Vaca, who asked “Where can I spend time with my friends?” The answer is re-imagining the Street as a shared space (one that GenZ will enjoy more of once shared self-driving vehicles eliminate parking spaces). Sometimes the quest for friends is the start of something bigger, as influencer Molly O’Malia discovered: “I was looking for friends, I never thought I’d end up with a half-million followers.”
There is nothing that GenZ doesn’t see: the power of Native Access
As a Director at McCann Worldwide’s Global Innovation team, Elav Horwitz sees GenZ as equipped with native accessibility — the first generation to come into the world with complete access to all knowledge. This creates disequilibria — 25% of McCann’s GenZ respondents said they received a nude photograph via social media — as well as a pervasive social milieu that makes live streaming an actual career choice (as in the case of influencers Wes Tucker and Molly).
Two young female entrepreneurs illustrate vividly how native accessibility blows away inhibitions to new business formation: Zebra Intelligence founder Tiffany Zhong dropped out of UC Berkeley when she saw that answering questions about GenZ was actually a business opportunity. Daniela Fernandez leveraged an invitation to sit in on a climate change experts meeting in her freshman year at Georgetown into a global crowd-sourced hacktivist platform for ocean tech as soon as she graduated. As Daniela explains the impact of Native Access, GenZ doesn’t want to wait until they make their fortune, they want to have an impact now. Native Access is about Urgency, it’s the next big thing after on-demand.
What does the Authentic Workplace look like?
Based on the abundant insights that our blend of experts and practitioners shared over the day, the workplace that GenZ will call its own will be deeply social, focused on having a positive impact beyond profits and owning things, and above all be home to optimists from across the world.