Joseph Noujaim, Executive Director – Digital Transformation at Fine Hygienic Holding, describes the Covidians, the generation shaped by the pandemic.
It's undeniably clear that we're witnessing the rise of a new generation, one that has been deeply impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. We will soon be talking about "The Covid Generation" or "The Covidians".
What defines a Covidian, and how will Covidians impact the world in the coming 20 years, when they become the next leaders?
What is a "Generation"?
If you're in sales or marketing, you're surely hammered every day with terms like "Baby Boomers," "Millenials," "Generation Z," and so on.
If you search for "Generation Definition" on Google, you land onsomething like this: A generation is "all of the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively." It can also be described as "the average period, generally considered to be about 20–30 years, during which children are born and grow up, become adults, and begin to have children."
There are various definitions and segmentations of modern era generations. The most commonly adopted segmentation goes as follows:
Considering that human beings shape a significant part of their personality within the first 10 to 12 years of their life, we tend to split each generation into two. For example, people born between 1980 and 1990 are considered "Early Millenials" and people born between 1990 and 2000 are "Late Millenials."
What impacts a "Generation"?
Events. Local and global events shape a generation.
Let me tell you what I mean.
I live in Dubai, where I had the chance and privilege of meeting, living, and working with people from different cultures. I noticed that many friends and colleagues consider Lebanese of my generation as good salesmen, natural marketers, and very entrepreneurial. I heard that many times, to the point that I believe it to be a stereotype. It got me thinking, why is that?
Digging into the common denominator of Early Millennial Lebanese, I figured that people from my generation were born and lived the first 12 years of their life in a country torn by civil war.
Alright, but how does this make us good salesmen, talented marketers, and very entrepreneurial? It's simple. War creates an environment where you have to continuously find ways around problems. You always have to be agile and take immediate action and swift decisions in case of a catastrophe. Also, considering there is no law and order during a war, you have to continuously argue and reason with people to get what you want. You have to be persuasive. I am painting a very candid picture for a very complicated situation, yet, there is something to it. The civil war shaped my generation to develop specific skills that other generations didn't necessarily develop.
I am giving the example of Lebanese, but dealing with many people from Europe, America, Asia, Africa, I identified common skills from other generations with other nationalities as well. For instance, early Millennials from eastern Europe have prevalent traits. They are very humanistic, extremely creative, and love to lead joyful and straightforward lives. Why is that? What is their common denominator? Most of them witnessed the fall of communism. They saw both worlds and lived the transition from one system to another. That's such a unique experience, and it shaped their personality.
Getting into this mindset, I started asking friends and colleagues many questions about their past, their experiences, and it became clear to me that what shapes a generation is a series of events.
It's not only local and political. There are global events that shaped my entire generation, regardless of geographical location like, for example, color TV. This innovation affected the Early Millennials generation across the board. The invention of the computer, the creation of satellite TV... This is somehow the common ground between me and someone from my generation.
If we look at Generation X, you can spot prevailing trends in their characters as well. Generation X are highly business-oriented, very serious, very ambitious, and extremely expansionist. This is due to major events in the 1960s/1970s, such as the Cold War, the first man on the moon, the space race, etc.
How about future generations?
And here comes the core of our subject: "The Covidians"
Let's consider the Covidians as the generation of people who were born in 2010 and onwards.
Well, this is more or less the time where smartphones, social media, and high-speed Internet took off. People born around that time are true digital natives; digital was a given for them.
I also have to say that my children were born in 2010 (Alex) and 2012 (Cyril). Therefore, this was the start of a new era for me :).
I believe that kids' behaviors are the most significant indicators of how the world will be when they grow up and are in the driving seat. So if you are in the business of predicting the future, that's where you should start digging for answers.
Let me share some scenarios that I believe to be indicators of particular traits of the Covidians.
Movies and TV shows
It's amazing how things evolve. When we were kids, we had to wait until 5 pm to watch our favorite show. We had VHS, which gave us the option of renting a movie and watching it at any time; yet, selection was scarce.
My kids watched their kids' shows on an iPad, through YouTube or Netflix. They weren't limited to local shows as they had the chance of accessing every Mickey Mouse, Marvel or DC comics movie they wanted. When Alex was 3 years old, he loved Spiderman and managed to watch every single Spiderman movie/series starting from the 1960s!
At 5 years old, they figured out how to search on YouTube, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities. This is where they learned about the latest movies, series, and games. As they grew up, they learned that not everything they see on the Internet is true, considering that they got many conflicting answers for the same question. Therefore, they learned how to validate answers and form their understanding.
We took them once to a new restaurant, somewhere we have never been to before. The food was awful. So they asked me: "Who told you about this restaurant?" I said I found it on Google. Once we arrived home, Alex came to me furious: "WHO GOES TO A RESTAURANT RATED 2/5 BY MORE THAN 500 PEOPLE? IF GOOGLE SAYS IT'S GOOD, IT MAY BE FAKE! NEVER GO TO A PLACE BEFORE CHECKING THE REVIEWS, DAD!"
IPad or no iPad
We always have debates with other parents about whether we should limit kids' screentime or not. These are neverending debates and I never thought there was a right or a wrong in this matter. I always remember screentime when I was a kid, and how my parents used to give me time brackets to watch TV. I always thought it was unfair and unfounded. Today, my parents spend time watching TV much more than I do, how about that?
I decided to be leaner with my kids when it comes to screentime. Better allow and monitor rather than forbid and regulate. I always knew that eventually, this generation's life would revolve around digital.
Gaming, hackers, and online stalkers
Parents' most significant concern with the Internet is intruders' threat: what are kids watching and who is watching them? We worry about it because we don't understand it. I remember people back in the 90s wore gloves while using the mouse not to catch a computer virus (true story!).
Well, kids are much more aware than you might think. First of all, kids are aware of hackers, stalkers, and intruders. They are cautious about who to add as a friend on their gaming platform and who to avoid. They do their research and ask themselves, "Do I know this person?" before they click the accept button.
Kids also behave online. They know that if they do something wrong, they are banned! And the last thing they want is to be banned from an online game. They even know the rules and regulations. For example, they refuse to use a VPN in the UAE because the government forbids it. They don't swear online because bad language is considered a basis for banning.
You'd be shocked how disciplined this generation is when it comes to digital platforms, much more than you can imagine. And it's contagious. As parents do not enforce these rules, the community enforces them. Kids respect that because otherwise, they are left out.
After draining out every possible kids' series online, Alex and Cyril discovered the concept of YouTubers. Man, how this changed their life... At the start, I didn't like it! I started watching these YouTubers with them to make sure the content is adequate. And you know what? It's shocking! YouTubers are interesting! Believe it or not, most of them are educational! Alex learned all about the Titanic, World War II, the French Revolution, and online games through YouTubers! Cyril, who fancies lifestyle, learned all about cars and planes! YouTubers go deep into the smallest details and they usually are amazing storytellers. So, kids get hooked and they share their learnings. My kids know today much more than I knew what I was 18! And you know what? Kids became amazing storytellers themselves!
Some YouTubers are not appropriate, but usually, those vanish quickly for two reasons: first, bad YouTubers get little followers and a YouTuber with a few followers can't survive. Second, bad content is banned by YouTube. Therefore, it's effectively safe for kids to surf on YouTube. With the proper parental controls, you can make it even safer.
And then came 2020, bringing along Covid-19.
All the rules that kids accepted, by hook or by crook, suddenly changed overnight... We came back to them with a new set of arguments convincing them of the complete opposite of what we've been convincing them for the last ten years...
After spending ten years explaining to kids that they can only use iPads after they finish their studies, suddenly, their iPad became "THE" tool for their studies.
After spending ten years pushing the kids to play outdoors, make friends, and invite friends over, we suddenly asked them to stay home and NEVER GO OUT.
What made this worst is that the pandemic was a global event. Therefore, kids from all over the world witnessed the exact same thing, at the exact same time. And they shared their experiences online while playing!
Kids lost confidence in our generation. If not consciously, I am sure they did unconsciously. And you can feel it.
Kids are disillusioned. Our generation and the generation before us spent so much time marketing amazing stuff, telling amazing stories about how safe and beautiful the world is, how good this or that product is, how advanced our society became, how we're solving all kind of issues, and how we're going to Mars. Suddenly, a microscopic virus ravaged the planet. No one could find a solution for over a year. Surely, kids are disillusioned and surely, they will question everything that we feed them with going forward.
Kids adapt. Much faster than we do, that's for sure. Within weeks, they immediately established their online presence, and now with minimal "rules" and maximum "screentime," they had much more time to explore the Internet and bend it to their needs.
Suddenly, all their school friends became their gaming buddies. They started organizing video conferencing sessions to discuss projects, organize events, and plan for their next purchase.
They even got into global news. Kids don't only discuss games or their favorite series, they discuss Trump, Brexit, the Beirut bombing, the release of the latest vaccines, and the impact of Covid on the world. The world became small for kids, and they get it.
Kids understand digital... They are true digital natives. It's natural to them.
So, what is the impact?
I believe that Covid shaped an entirely new generation. Twenty years from now, the Covidians will be the next leaders. So, what do you think will happen?
Let's pause for a minute and analyze previous generations:
What will the Covidians do?
Let me share my thoughts on some general Covidian traits:
What do we do now?
If you're a business leader trying to build or market a product for the Covidians, you'd better think differently.
Let me give two examples, and you can extrapolate from there:
I've met with many IT managers nagging about the lack of adoption of their systems by employees. Instead of focusing on user behavior, most focus on features and try to enforce adoption. Well, Millenials are hooked to Whatsapp, Snapchat, and Instagram. You want to win them over? Try deploying your services on these platforms, or at least on platforms with similar experiences. Yes, it seems impossible and unfounded from a technical perspective, but the IT manager who will figure this out will surely outpace everyone else. People will not bend to your platform. You have to choose a platform that copes with user behavior! Try using the 3.5 inch floppy disk today; would that make sense to you?
And we're still talking Millenials! Immagine what Covidians will expect! We'd better deploy our future ERPs on Playstation or on VR sets because that's how high their expectations are!
As for marketers... Boy, you have so much work to do... I know many marketers are hooked to this mobile-first mindset. Many agencies start their pitch with: "We are a mobile-first agency!" When they start like this, you can be sure that this agency is not forward-thinking AT ALL. If you want to survive, get this out of your head and think differently! Mobile first is an illusion created by Baby Boomers to cater to millennials who use mobile phones! This will end soon! I mean, think about it: who the hell wants to work on a 5 inch screen? Seriously? When was the last time you did a conference call with four or five of your colleagues on the phone? If you did, was it practical? Wouldn't you prefer A HUGE SCREEN? You seriously believe mobile first is the answer?
Ask a kid: "Do you want an iPhone, an iPad or a 64 inch UHD screen?" What do you think they will answer you? DEFINITELY THE BIGGER SCREEN! So, you'd better think differently! The future is augmented and virtual reality! These two technologies HAVE NO SIZE! It's AMBIENT, 360 degrees, endless depth! So, drop this "mobile first" before you lose your job. Covidians will use mobile in case of EMERGENCY ONLY.
In my view, Covidians will be a very serious generation, driven by boundless dreams, solving problems on a broad scale. They will be very humanistic and global thinkers.
Covidians will consider themselves better than Millennials and Baby Boomers; They will unconsciously blame previous generations for the pandemic and the mess it created, and will make it their lifetime mission to be different and make sure that the world is a better place for future generations.
What do you think? How will the Covidians shape our future?