Gen Z & Gen AI: Building the Future with the Future – An Interview with Marti Grimminck

by Deborah Reuben, CLFP Nov/Dec 2023
Gen Z is approaching generative AI in a different way than other generations. In an interview with Deb Reuben, Marti Grimminck shares how Gen Z engages with emerging technology and how leaders can harness the perspectives of this younger generation to shape the future of their companies.

Deborah Reuben, CLFP,
Founder & CEO,
The TomorrowZone

Embracing innovation and crafting a brighter future demands more than our own perspectives. How can we break free from entrenched biases and infuse new vision into our journey? In our quest for answers, I had the privilege of speaking with Marti Grimminck, the visionary force behind International Connector. Her groundbreaking firm is rewriting the playbook for the future of work, engaging a global network of Gen Z leaders across more than 190 countries. They’re injecting fresh Gen Z insights into giants like Microsoft, IBM, Google and even Canada, reshaping work, education and beyond. Dive into our streamlined interview below.

Deb Reuben: Share your background and journey to what you do today.

Marti Grimminck: I originally launched International Connector as a digital media and program management consulting agency. At the time, I was running Your Big Year, a program focused on empowering young people globally, right in the midst of what we now call the “millennial craze.” Our project engaged hundreds of thousands of millennials worldwide, and it sparked interest from friends who were struggling to

Marti Grimminck, founder, International Connectors

connect with this demographic.

In response, I decided to bring everyone together, adopting a human-centric approach from the get-go. What became evident, perhaps even more so in hindsight, was that we were using technology and tools tailored to this generation. We weren’t relying solely on traditional research methods like surveys or focus groups. Instead, we integrated these approaches in a unique way, yielding distinct outcomes in the market. Fast forward to today, we’ve continued this approach with each emerging generation, now focusing on Gen Z and beyond, constantly pushing the boundaries.

Reuben: Generative AI (tools like Chat GPT, Claude, Bard and others) is a hot topic in our industry today. The Gen Z perspective is one we often miss in our industry level discussion about AI and the future of work. What are themes emerging from your survey of Gen Z perspectives on Generative AI?

Grimminck: You’re absolutely right; the Gen Z perspective on generative AI is often overlooked, and it’s crucial to understand. Let me share the key themes that have emerged from our survey.

First and foremost, what’s striking is that most Gen Z individuals are approaching generative AI with a sense of excitement and optimism. Fear is a minority response, with only a small percentage expressing apprehension. They were pushing against the fear narrative they’re hearing from other generations. It’s not that they don’t recognize there are going to be serious problems, but fear wasn’t their primary frame.

I want to highlight a quote from a young man in Brazil that perfectly encapsulates their viewpoint. He said, “It feels so good and so bad to be a Gen Z right now. . . . I’m looking at the future and I’m like, what are we going to do with this?” This quote illustrates the mix of emotions they’re experiencing. They acknowledge the challenges but are primarily focused on the potential opportunities.

In addition to this, there’s a strong sense of curiosity and a desire to explore how AI can be harnessed, even in the face of uncertainty about its full impact. While Gen Z acknowledges the potential problems, their prevailing attitude is one of optimism and a proactive approach to embracing the possibilities.

I recall a young man from the U.S. who made a memorable point in our recent meeting. He said, “No math genius was created just because of a calculator.” It’s a testament to their recognition that technology, while advanced, is only one part of the equation. Their outlook is mature and impressive, understanding the nuances involved.

Reuben: What did you learn about how Gen Z is engaging with generative AI?

Grimminck: Let me provide some context on how we approach this. Our network of youth spans 190 countries, representing diverse backgrounds. Diversity has always been at our core because we value the richness of different perspectives.

Moreover, younger generations have grown up with technology from day one. They’re true digital natives, and their relationship with technology is distinct. When considering how AI is used, it’s essential to recognize that their approach is fundamentally different from my generation’s.

They’re looking at it differently. They’re interacting with it differently. They’re more humanized with it than we are.

Currently, many young people are utilizing AI primarily for research, creative projects, coding and as a tool to support their school or job-related work, particularly in writing. However, what’s truly fascinating is when we challenged some of them to embark on more creative projects. They explored Chat GPT’s capabilities in co-creating apps, scripting, devising action plans for UN SDGs (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals), and thinking outside the box.

This highlights why it’s crucial to involve them in the process and create a space for diverse perspectives. The way they harness AI as a tool is refreshingly innovative and goes beyond what I could have envisioned. These are all examples for why you need Gen Z perspectives embedded in the AI futures conversations from the start.

Reuben: You mentioned that Gen Z is “more humanized” with AI, what does that mean?

Grimminck: When we consider our interactions with technology, there’s a stark contrast between generations. For instance, when I first set up Alexa, I mainly used it as a kitchen timer. However, many younger people immediately engage with it differently, asking it to play games or initiating conversations.

Their notion of socializing has evolved too. On Friday or Saturday nights, you’ll often find young individuals, especially young men, playing video games in the comfort of their homes. To them, this is a form of socializing. Similarly, they might be physically next to each other yet choose to communicate through texting. While I might not perceive it as socializing, they do, and we should respect that.

The key here is that they interpret words and interactions in a unique way. It’s how they connect with their peers and perceive the world. Technology is the lens through which they experience life, forming strong relationships with people they may have never met in person. This mindset shift is vital as we develop AI to understand and accommodate these different perspectives.

Reuben: What are the benefits of engaging Gen Z perspectives in shaping the future?

Grimminck: It’s a tremendous experience. Bringing a diverse group of young voices into the conversation right from the beginning has a profound impact on our partners. Many of our clients have embraced this approach, even though it can be quite raw. They’re willing to listen, learn and adapt because they recognize the power of hearing directly from younger generations.

What I’ve observed is that companies that embrace this approach can’t revert to their old ways. They understand the value of diverse thought, not just from one region or subset but from a variety of perspectives. This change in approach extends to their design work.

When these companies involve youth and then come back to them with ideas, it transforms the entire dynamic. Executives, directors, engineers and designers all appreciate the human-centric approach and the fusion of diverse ideas, especially when seen through the lens of younger generations who have a unique relationship with technology. It’s truly transformative for how companies approach innovation.

Reuben: When it comes to customer experience, we need to design for where the customer is going, not based on past notions. How does bringing the Gen Z voice to the table help us do that?

Grimminck: Exactly, you’ve articulated it well. They are our customers, even if they’re younger employees. It’s essential to recognize that they’re not the same as previous generations within the business. We could delve into intergenerational discussions at length, but the missing piece is understanding why they differ from the youth of past generations.

Their experiences and social constructs have evolved differently, and we must create space for these unique perspectives to drive innovation and shape our future endeavors.

Reuben: How can leaders start engaging Gen Z perspectives in shaping business futures?

Grimminck: Certainly, the first step is to involve the younger generation already in your office and give them the space to contribute. However, relying solely on this internal approach can be challenging due to inherent biases and established company culture.

To truly engage Gen Z perspectives, consider bringing in diverse external groups. These outsiders have a fresh perspective and nothing to lose, allowing them to speak candidly. Encourage internal discussions that involve various generations to foster a more open perspective.

Diversity should extend beyond generations. Including voices from different parts of the world and diverse backgrounds encourages fresh iterations and language that resonates with a broader audience.

We must create space to allow them to use words that we need to know. That will shift our mindset, how we work and will start to make a huge difference.

Reuben: What can leaders do today to shape a more awesome future?

Grimminck: There are several key actions leaders can take to shape a brighter future. First and foremost, bring in diverse voices. I know I’ve mentioned this repeatedly, but it’s a fundamental principle. We often remain within our own bubbles and need constant reminders of its importance. Drawing from various backgrounds and perspectives is incredibly impactful and, in my view, one of the most effective ways to create a more awesome future.

Marti Grimminck is the founder of International Connectors, a global consortium of innovators making a daily impact in communities worldwide through a multi-service consultancy and innovation agency. Based in San Francisco with a global reach, they specialize in unveiling emerging generational trends and crafting solutions for your business landscape. More info at International Connector.

Deborah Reuben, CLFP, is CEO and founder of TomorrowZone, an innovative consulting firm bringing forward-thinking insights and original ideas to help companies adopt digital, gain efficiencies and design roadmaps for the future. She holds many industry leadership positions and authored The Certified Lease & Finance Professionals’ Handbook sixth to ninth editions. Learn more at

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