In our 2012 YearBook, we share our “Five Vibes” for the year. This past year, we included one that we called, “Survival Savvy.” Like all of our “Vibes,” it’s not a trend or a fad, but rather our feelings about the state of youth right now. We see some evidence of the Survivalist trend on reality television, particularly of the basic cable variety. And while the Hunger Games’ Katniss serves as the poster girl for this idea, we think of it as more than just a fight to the death. For this cohort of youth, “making the most of what you have” is a necessary stance in a world that requires adaptation to new terms.
While we sometimes see youth as changing the game, it’s also important to acknowledge that this generation has had a few surprises thrown their way. Teens have encountered changing expectations about college and how they should calculate its costs. Growing up in a down economy means that many can’t count on summer jobs – but that’s just a starting point. Many have adapted to uncertainty surrounding their own financial future, becoming a generation more likely to value thrift-shop finds than extravagant expenditures. Some have bemoaned this generation’s seeming loss of interest in the environmental crisis (it’s fallen on our YouthBeat list of top concerns), but perhaps this generation has come to expect that they need to change to sustain. Instead of reacting to crisis, this generation recognizes that they need to simply readjust.
In their book, Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy suggest that “most of us were born into a culture which aspired to solve all problems. How do we support people and create systems that know how to recover, persist, and even thrive in the face of change?” They argue that the skill that this generation of problem-solvers requires most is the ability to know when a problem cannot be solved. In contrast with the “me, me, me” generation that Joel Stein describes in the May 13th issue of Time, this generation might be listening and carefully calculating in ways that we’ve overlooked. Look to them to solve problems by seeking the viewpoint of all sides, and to make decisions of all sorts with a careful understanding of how their desires look in the light of day. They might be more realists than dreamers, and more measured than spontaneous. And for brands, content providers and organizations, it means not underestimating their ability and their intent to adapt to an ever-changing world.