Despite the brutal world around them, Gen Z has the unique potential to shape the future’s narrative through superior diversity, curiosity and data literacy.

THERE HAS NEVER been a period in the history of humanity where a person’s expectations of the future are so incredibly murky and screwed up as they are today. Our world is marked by wicked problems — climate change, polarization, inequity, war, financial instability and AI — that threaten our existence. It’s no wonder Gen Z recoils from future planning.

My annual research on curiosity and feelings about the future reveals a concerning trend of future fear among 20-somethings. In fact, 25% of Gen Z use “fear” to describe their feelings about the future, and 34% also express anger, disgust and sadness to characterize the narrative.

This generation has been saddled with massive student debt, global crises and job insecurity in a highly competitive market with four generations of workers and AI. They experience unprecedented stress and depression, giving rise to the “quarter-life crisis.”

Despite the brutal world around them, Gen Z has the unique potential to shape the future’s narrative through superior diversity, curiosity and data literacy.

Tomorrowing: The Survival Skill You Weren’t Taught in School

Futures literacy is arguably one of the most critical life skills. Yet our education system has failed to prepare us, especially Gen Z, for this world of constant upheaval. We weren’t taught how to anticipate future events, let alone navigate or shape them.

It’s not well known that a dedicated industry of foresight and futures studies actually exists and is extensively utilized by businesses, non-profits, governments and Wall Street. Research suggests that 25% of Fortune 500 companies have foresight capabilities. Just because professional futurists are a niche community doesn’t mean futures-literacy is out of reach for all.

Foresight and futurism can be intimidating terms. I coined “tomorrowing” to make it more approachable — and hopeful. It’s an active mindset, engaging in and making tomorrow happen. “Tomorrowers” anticipate challenges and opportunities rather than passively waiting for the future.

For 20 years, I’ve assisted businesses, billionaires, institutions and intelligence agencies in building better futures. As a professional tomorrower, I think Gen Z is especially good at tomorrowing. Here’s why:

1. Diversity Design

In my research analyzing futurists who authored hundreds of 2030 futures reports, I found:

  •  66% male
  •  86% Caucasian
  •  Average age: 52
  •  61% hold a master’s degree or higher
  •  95% located in Western developed markets (mostly urban)
  • This is a sliver of the world’s population, and it does not represent the world’s diversity. And yet this is the profile of the most influential voices in foresight/futures who are shaping all our futures. However, we can change this narrative.

    Gen Z is underrepresented in futures work, and they rarely participate in futurist conferences. They lack equitable representation when discussing the future with experts and innovators.

    This is unjust, considering that Gen Z, the most diverse and inclusive generation, is leading the charge in DEI&A activism and social change. Collaborating with them on futures projects reveals their vision of inclusive, equitable and cohesive worlds. Their commitment to diversity fuels exceptional problem-solving abilities.

  • Diversity doesn’t happen on its own; it needs to be designed. Assembling individuals from diverse backgrounds takes intentionality. Bringing Gen Z on board at our companies can help us create more equitable, diverse and inclusive business environments that have the potential to shape the future of the business and society as a whole.
  • 2. Strategic Curiosity

    Society is experiencing a decline in curiosity, exploration and discovery. We are increasingly incurious, indifferent and disengaged. The pandemic exacerbated this trend by trapping people in self-confirming bubbles and limiting exposure to new ideas and interactions. Why do 28% of Americans feel indifferent about most things outside of politics and two hobbies? We’re in a “meh-pedemic.”

    However, we have the ability to cultivate curiosity deliberately. Curiosity can be nurtured and expanded. By fostering curiosity, exploration and discovery, we can unlock critical thinking, insights, solutions and potential. Curiosity is contagious, presenting an exceptional opportunity for Gen Z.

  • Gen Z is at peak curiosity. This life stage, particularly between 20 and 25, is characterized by intense exploration of inner and outer worlds. Young adults in this phase are independent, confident, educated and free to explore various aspects of life. Their curiosity-driven nature fuels activism and drives them to question everything.

    It can feel scary to hire someone straight out of college, but Gen Z’s innate curiosity can help you fill holes in your business you may have never known were there. They are eager to learn, find creative solutions to interesting problems and simplify outdated business procedures.

    The quality of tomorrowing — both in the field and within a company — would be significantly enhanced by curiosity-rich Gen Z.

    3. Exotic Data

    For those allergic to data: don’t be turned off. “Exotic data” is sexy. It’s unconventional, found online in non-obvious ways. When you combine Spotify’s regional music tastes with Amazon’s ratings and Google’s trends to discover new insights, that’s exotic data. Additionally, it’s often free and accessible with clever desk research skills.

    Those leading and shaping businesses tend to be older and rely on traditional qualitative research methods. In my own study, I found none of them use exotic data. But Gen Z naturally excels in exotic data — they are expert researchers and innovators.

  • Hire some members of Gen Z for your research and development teams. You’d be surprised at what the rest of your team could learn from them.
  • Now What? Tomorrowing Today

    Gen Z is a remarkable generation—bright, educated, pragmatic and resilient. With a strong desire for self-made success, 62% aspire to be self-employed. This diverse group exhibits radical curiosity. As digital natives immersed in big data, their data literacy surpasses previous generations. Their independence and entrepreneurial spirit forge unconventional paths as they work to hack life.

    Gen Z possesses the ideal qualities, skills and circumstances necessary to shape history. As change agents, they can redefine equitable futures through designed diversity. Their ability to ask tough questions, explore creative solutions and uncover profound insights from diverse data untangles future challenges. Gen T (tomorrowers) holds the three force-multiplier traits that can fix our future.

the original story appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine on 29 June 2023 and can be accessed here: