How Gen Z Can and Should Combat the Status Quo

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“At 17, I realized I was having a mid-life crisis and needed to figure out what I really wanted to do,” said Justin Lafazan.
 
Justin took the unusual step of telling his dream school — University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School — that he was deferring his admission and taking a gap year.
 
“My friends looked at me like I was crazy,” he confided. “But the reality was that I needed to talk to a ton of entrepreneurs to learn what they’d done to do what they loved.”
 
Justin’s story is the norm among Gen Z entrepreneurs. They each decided to look inward, find out who they wanted to become, and then developed a confidence that has led them to discover their own direction and ultimately found their own companies. 
 
Today Justin is the 21-year-old co-founder and co-CEO of Next Gen Summit, and he eventually did start at Wharton where he’s also a full-time student on track to graduate in May 2019.

Researchers have found that our self-confidence is a huge determinant of our ultimate success in our career aspirations. Patrick J. Carroll, an assistant professor of psychology at Ohio State University at Lima, wanted to understand how social pressure can affect how qualified we feel for a certain job. His theory was that our self-confidence would determine what we believed was attainable for ourselves.
 
Carroll invited 67 undergraduate students studying psychology or business to meet with the college’s career advisor to discuss their career paths. The advisor offered each student a brochure about an exciting new master’s degree program in “business psychology.” 
 
But here’s the funny part: The program didn’t actually exist. 
 
What Carroll hoped to learn was who applied to the prestigious program, and why.
 
In the study, students were divided into four test groups. Each student was asked to submit their GPA and rate how confident they were in becoming a “business psychologist” in the initial evaluations. The four groups were as follows.

  1. A control group who was told that there was no GPA requirement for the program.
  2. A group who was told that the GPA requirement was 10 percent lower than what they submitted as their GPA.
  3. A group who was told that the GPA requirement was 10 percent higher than what they submitted as their GPA. These students were also told by an advisor that they were unlikely to be rejected by the program.
  4. A group who was told that the GPA requirement was 10 percent lower than what they submitted as their GPA; however, they were told by an advisor that they were a perfect fit for the program and that there was a strong likelihood that they would graduate with many job offers

At the end of the study, the results were rather surprising. While one would think that the students with the higher GPAs would be the most likely to apply for this program, it was actually the students who were encouraged to apply by an advisor. After being validated by someone else, they did it. And they were successful.

Justin’s experience during his gap year follows the research. 
 
“I met with every entrepreneur I could and they all gave me advice and encouraged me to pursue my dreams,” he said. It was during that year that he would launch three businesses and write and publish a book. His favorite part of the process was meeting with other young entrepreneurs and change-makers. As an entrepreneur, he thought it was difficult to meet other people like himself — and more specifically, that there weren’t conferences and events aimed at other young entrepreneurs — so he created a solution.

In February of 2014, Justin co-founded Next Gen Summit, in many ways spurred by the support of the entrepreneurs he’d met and his own need for wider networking opportunities.

One of the biggest things Gen Z Entrepreneurs struggle with is making their move to something “unusual” and combat status quo bias— especially in the age of social media where it seems like everyone and their mother is watching our every move online. It isn’t uncommon for Gen Z entrepreneurs to get a reaction much like Justin received when he told his friends he was taking a gap year.
 
“You’re doing what?”
 
 Just what is the status quo bias?
 
In 1988, William Samuelson and Richard Zeckhauser published “Status Quo Bias in Decision Making” where the term was first mentioned. In this study, Samuelson and Zeckhauser found that people prefer making the same decisions as those made previously or keeping things the same by doing nothing. By studying data from university health plan enrollments, they found that faculty members were disproportionately likely to stick with their old insurance plans even though new insurance plans were clearly superior. Later that year, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, two pioneers of heuristics and biases research in psychology, connected status quo bias with loss aversion. They found that people feel greater regret for bad outcomes based on the results from new actions taken as compared to bad outcomes that are the results of inaction.

It is easy to get stuck in the status quo. It is easy to follow what everyone else is doing and not be proactive in fast-forwarding your career. But if you stick to the status quo, you are only hurting yourself in the long run.

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