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 / Spring 2011 / Issue 62(originally published by Booz & Company)


The Rise of Generation C

Generation C at Work

The digitization of everything will have an equally profound effect on how businesses operate, and on how work gets done. Among the changes that will be wrought by the arrival of Generation C in the workplace will be the continuing consumerization of corporate IT. More than half of the CIOs in a recent Booz & Company survey said that in the next three to five years, most employees will bring their personal computers to work rather than using corporate resources. The trend of redefining employees as resident consumers will be led by Generation C, given its familiarity with technology and its expectation of always-on communications.

This trend will, in turn, encourage the increasing virtualization of the organization. As 24/7 connectivity, social networking, and increased demands for personal freedom further penetrate the walls of the corporation, corporate life will continue to move away from traditional hierarchical structures. Instead, workers, mixing business and personal matters over the course of the day, will self-organize into agile communities of interest. By 2020, more than half of all employees at large corporations will work in virtual project groups. These virtual communities will make it easier for non-Western knowledge workers to join global teams, and to migrate to the developed world. As they do, they will bring with them the innovative ideas and working behavior developed in their home territories.

Moreover, the proliferation and increasing sophistication of communication, interaction, and collaboration technologies and tools, and the economics of travel itself, will result in knowledge workers’ traveling much less frequently. The opportunity to meet face-to-face will be accorded primarily to top management, and business travel will become a valued luxury.

The Developing World

The trends that are already transforming life and work in the developed world are beginning to be felt in emerging economies as well, although the path such countries take to digitization will be significantly shortened. As the developing world increases in connectivity and sophistication, a huge new audience of people who have not yet been exposed to the consumer economy will develop outside the already connected urban centers. Between 1990 and 2005, more than 1 billion people worldwide entered the middle class, and the rate of entry is rising quickly. Their consumption of media and other kinds of content will transform the media industry. As with prior technology adoptions, these new audiences will leapfrog years of technological development and quickly emulate the behavior of Generation C in developed economies. The experience of the rapidly developing middle class in China will become typical: A member of the Chinese urban middle class spends almost 30 hours per week online but watches TV for just 12 hours. Three out of four regularly download music, two out of three watch online videos, and almost half play games online.

This increasing technological sophistication will promote the emergence of skilled and innovative digital entrepreneurs in massive numbers throughout the developing world. The rise of these entrepreneurs has the potential to significantly disrupt traditional Western business models. And they will have the attention of a large, newly connected audience that can benefit from their new ideas. In urban China, for instance, 76 percent of people are already online, and 61 percent have broadband at home. Western countries currently lead the world in just two critical online services, e-commerce (Germany) and online advertising (the U.K.), whereas non-Western countries are ahead in several others: broadband (South Korea), social networking (Brazil), online gaming (China), mobile payments (Japan), and microtransactions via SMS (the Philippines).

Industry Effects

As Generation C enters the workforce over the next decade, the manner in which it consumes information, communicates at work and play, and uses technology will transform many major industries. The most affected sector will be telecommunications, which is at the very center of how this new generation will live their lives; other sectors apt to greatly change include healthcare, retail, and travel. How will these industries evolve over the next decade?

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  1. Roman Friedrich, Michael Peterson, Alex Koster, and Sebastian Blum, “The Rise of Generation C” (PDF), Booz & Company white paper, March 2010: The paper from which this article was adapted.
  2. Michael Peterson, Volkmar Koch, Florian Gröne, and Kiet Vo, “Online Customer, Digital Marketing: The CIO–CMO Connection” (PDF), Booz & Company white paper, August 2009: Why information and marketing officers must work together to develop a marketing architecture for an increasingly digital and connected future.
  3. Daniel W. Rasmus, “Keeping Up with Workforce 2020,” s+b, 2/24/2009: How organizations can adopt and internalize the technology and skills needed to thrive in an increasingly virtual and flexible work environment.
  4. Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (Penguin Press, 2010): How the Internet and its tools will change leisure time, society, and the process of innovation.
  5. For more thought leadership on this topic, see the s+b website at:
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