THE BLOG
10/20/2014 05:56 pm ET Updated Dec 17, 2014

The Leaders of Now

Doesn't the 20th century seem so long ago already? So many aspects of our lives have been transformed. A generation, we call the millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, are embracing and shaping this new era. The kids of the recession(s) understand that the crisis we all keep hearing about is actually more of a transition. The French writer Marguerite Duras once said:

"It is believed that when something ends, another starts immediately. No. In between, it's a mess."

We are leaving the previous industrial revolution to enter the 21st century with new powerful innovative tools and hopefully a new mindset. Progress does not depend on the new means we have in hand but our vision of what we want to accomplish with them. The latest global survey from Telefonica explores what this generation wants, hopes and expresses, be they in Europe, the US or in Latin America. There are many fascinating insights in the report but one aspect caught my attention in particular: our optimism. 62% of millennials in Latin America claim to be very optimistic about the future, versus only 22% in Western Europe.

Optimism is a beautiful value to cultivate in chaotic times. I know pessimism can seem deeper but I do not believe cynics or the fearful are needed to build the future. To survive a transition, it is better to be responsive than simply the strongest. Yes, the future is never certain and the revolution we are experiencing continuously keeps changing everything faster than ever.

Industries are transformed, new jobs are created, many will disappear, institutions are shaking. As says Alec Ross, former Senior Advisor for Innovation to the U.S. Secretary of State, "The 21st Century is a really bad time for control freaks". You can't stop the wave, but you can learn to surf and that is what optimism is all about.

Latin America will be empowered by this ability to believe better times are yet to come. A more diverse, dynamic world can be imagined. Innovation will depend on this change as well. Bill Gates in his foundation's annual letter declared that "the terms 'developing countries' and 'developed countries' have outlived their usefulness." As proposed by the journalist Dayo Olopade "maybe it is time that we start describing the world as fat or lean."

The future belongs to those who want it the most. It is therefore with little surprise that many of those Telefonica has identified as "the millennials leaders" will come from Latin America, with Panama, Peru, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Columbia, Guatamela at the top of the list in front of The United States.

Optimism is this intuition that you can be bigger than your circumstances. It does not mean you are in denial. The millennials are aware of the economic situation. 54% of US millennials think their country is going in the wrong direction, 69% in Latin America and 50% in Western Europe. We also rank economic issues high in the challenges facing the world and their country.

Education, corruption, inequality illustrate how previous generations and leaders did not create the world we dream of. But millennials were not the ones in charge... What if?

Enthusiasm for what could be, a natural curiosity, an ability to adapt, learning as fast as our wireless connections, a deep and natural understanding of technology, that is a strong resume to become the leaders of tomorrow. Optimism is not only a feeling, it is a weapons of mass creation. An innovative society is not only about the technological tools, but also about our resilience and responsive behavior to change.

We must cultivate this optimism, this curiosity of what could be, whatever the current world situation is telling us. The world is already experiencing the digital revolution and millennials are leading it. This new era is not only about powerful tools, but the belief we can imagine a better world with them. The leaders of tomorrow will be driven by a new way of thinking the world, a world they can access permanently and interact with from anywhere.

For the moment, "only" 3 billion people are connected to the internet. But this will change pretty fast, especially in lean countries. 78% own a smartphone in Latin America, 84% in Western Europe and 79% in US.

The digital revolution allows us to have the world in our pocket which changes our vision of it and the impact we can have on it. 48% of millennials in Latin America think they can make a global difference, against 39% in the United States. Millennials are more mobile than ever, like the world they live in. The motivations are diverse, but a majority of them are willing to work abroad, up to 81% for millennials in Latin America (66% in the United States, and 61% in Western Europe).

We have the abilities to discover, to interact, exchange, to create a world as open as we are, where connected devices will not only represent connections to information but to others. Technology and innovation will not let any established industry or system rest on their laurels. /You will find millennials disrupting, challenging, reinventing their countries, creating new jobs and businesses. It is not good to be a control freak in the 21th century, but a huge competitive advantage will come to those who can be resilient, curious, empathetic and who know how to provoke luck.

26% of millennials in Latin America see starting their own business as the key personal accomplishment. This generation feels a defiance for institutions from the previous centuries, and with the technological revolution, it is easier than ever to become an agent of change. We have the potential not only to imagine the future but to build it.

We are the generation who truly believes technology is part of the solution and will be key to designing the world of tomorrow. Far from the cliche of isolated individuals addicted to their screens, we are social animals and love when innovation helps us cultivate this aspect of life. For millennials technology represents not only access to entertainment or news but a reinvented social life, a network for personal expression and creativity. The digital revolution is empowering and can give us the means of our dreams and a path to the future. 40% of millennials in Latin America see their country as a global leader in technology and innovation in 10 years and 48% think government should invest in new technologies.

For the millennials, technology appears in the survey more a means than a goal. They see themselves at the edge of technology but this does not mean their career has to be exclusively in this domain. I hope liberal arts will survive, as real innovation happens at the interaction of the two disciplines. Many millennials see computer programming and technology skills as key to getting a great job. In a world where many repetitive task will be done by robots, our competitive advantage will be our authenticity more than our efficiency: celebrating our intuition, creativity, vulnerability have to be part of an education to build an innovative society.

Millennials used to be called "the emo generation". But the leaders of tomorrow are not afraid to embrace their humanity and emotions to empower the new values of the digital revolution.

We are no longer the leaders of tomorrow. Tomorrow is already here.