Will the iGeneration Deliver an iRenaissance?

The connectedness of people resulting in the free exchange of ideas and the “intersection” of ideas from different fields and perspectives has been shown to be a key to creativity and innovation.

  • 12.03.13

Image: thinkpublic/photopin cc

Imagine a modern renaissance where a generation holds creativity and innovation as a common goal, has constant access to creative tools that provide instant feedback and encouragement, and are highly connected to each other for the exchange of ideas.  Imagine how many innovators could emerge from that generation.  Now imagine what the beginnings of this phenomenon would look like. Could it be that today’s young generations, growing up in a world of iphones, ipads, twitter, and instagram could be on the verge of their own iRenaissance?

Today’s youngest generation is growing up in an era much different than past generations.  Today, there are more positive conditions to produce people with the traits of innovators than at any other time in history.  These conditions include a culture that favors innovators, has readily available creative tools, and has connectedness on a grand scale.  If a past generation produced a handful of innovators like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, what would the world be like if today’s generation produced thousands of great innovators?


The connectedness of people resulting in the free exchange of ideas and the “intersection” of ideas from different fields and perspectives has been shown to be a key to creativity and innovation.  Author Frans Johansson discusses this intersection as a driver of innovation in his book The Medici Effect.  The book is named for the Medici family that gathered the great thinkers of Europe in Florence and is considered to have been a potential catalyst for the Renaissance.  Comparably, the gathering of millions of young people from around the globe through social media is like the Medici Effect on steroids.  In a recent Pew study, teenagers on Facebook have an average of 200 friends and those on Twitter have 79 followers.  Granted the collaborations on Facebook and Twitter may not produce works of art like the gatherings in Florence, but kids are experiencing many different viewpoints and exchanges of ideas and perspectives that could lead to a lifelong pursuit of the “intersection” of ideas.

Culture Shift

For the most part, Steve Jobs and other innovators of past generations, had to have courage to go against cultural norms.  They were, to borrow from Apple’s famous ad campaign, the “crazy ones.”  As young people, these innovators were called nerds, dropped out of college to follow their creative interests, and were often forced to work out of their garages for a lack of available resources.  How many others were as creative as Steve Jobs but lacked his courage and grit? What if they did not need the courage to be different?

The popularity of technology such as the iPhone and iPad, combined with young people’s reliance on social media, has resulted in a shift in the perception of innovators.  Stories about innovators are becoming part of pop culture, like stories about entertainers and sports figures were in the past.  Yahoo’s acquisition of Tumblr this year spurred stories of David Karp, CEO of Tumblr.  Karp, as folklore goes, started working in the industry at the young age of 14, started Tumblr at age 20, and is now worth hundreds of millions of dollars.  While Karp’s story is extraordinary, the stories of young innovators are numerous, from the teenage girl that started her own jewelry company, to the teenage boy who developed his own mobile news app.  These stories serve as inspiration for the younger generation.  With businesses like Facebook, Google, and Instagram, there are currently an unprecedented number of businesses started by young people that are at the forefront of the economy.

Comparatively, previous generations did not have the extensive examples of teenage entrepreneurs, and technology and innovators were generally not considered cool.  For example, compare the 1980s movie “Revenge of the Nerds” to the movie “The Social Network” or even to the TV show “The Big Bang Theory.”  Further, try showing a group of teens today a picture of Steve Jobs.  Most teens can identify him and are likely to be carrying one of his devices.  Could teens in past generations have recognized the innovators of their time?

Access to Creative Tools

Today’s youngest generation literally has the world in the palms of their hands.  In the Pew research study, 95% of teens were on-line and 78% had cell phones.  This reliance on technology is not only used for ease of communication, it also gives the younger generation the tools to show their creativity.  The moment inspiration strikes, kids can write out their thoughts, take a picture, or make a video, all within seconds. From clever twitter accounts to creative YouTube videos, younger generations have their pick of creative tools. This daily exercise of creativity will most likely have a lasting impact.  In a separate Pew study, 78% of teachers believed that digital technology encouraged student creativity and personal expression.

In comparison, previous generations had limited access to creative tools.  For example, photography, for past generations, was reserved for special occasions and hobbyists.  Today there are some 55 million photos published each day on Instagram.  While the vast majority of these photos are not of Ansel Adams quality, mass use of built-in cameras has given rise to a generation for whom photography is a way of life.

These creative tools are not just in abundance, the tools also allow for creative works to be shared with a massive audience.  In the past, creative efforts might be posted on the refrigerator door for the family to see and appreciate.  Now young people’s creative work is posted online for millions of people to view and provide feedback and encouragement.  According to YouTube, the site now reaches more people ages 18-34 than any cable network.   Consider the amount of great ideas for TV shows and movies of past generations that were not pursued due to the insurmountable odds of ever getting it produced.  Today, a child armed with an iPhone and an idea can reach millions of people across the world.

Endless Possibilities

We live in an exciting era of history.  At no other time, have young people been so inspired by innovators, had the tools to allow their ideas to become reality, or been able to share them with so many people.  Just imagine what millions of kids today, who are busy on their ipads and instagram accounts, will do in twenty years, if they keep creating every day.  They could make our current level of innovation look like child’s play.

Have your say: Will the newest generation produce the most innovators in history?

Michael O’Bryan is a former intelligence analyst and founder of the innovation consulting company 360 Thinking. 

~ Curated by TME Pass The Idea (www.pass-the-idea.com), December 4, 2013

Source: http://www.wired.com/insights/2013/12/will-the-igeneration-deliver-an-irenaissance/


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