Before I start, this isn’t an impassioned plea for a lost youth by someone having a mid-life crisis (well maybe a little). Nor is it an article about how the “oldies” or “the man” have messed everything up and now we have got to do it for the kids.
I was compelled to write this having run a series of innovation and transformational mindset workshops this year in which we had mixed groups of senior leaders and graduates working together. In observing this I noticed how the grads thrived on the support and knowledge sharing of their elders but equally how the senior leaders were both fascinated and energised by the willingness to question and ability to deal with uncertainty and speed that the mindset of their younger counterparts demonstrated. To be clear this wasn’t just about youth, it was an evolutionary adaptation to thrive in today’s socio-economic and technological environment.
In observing this I began to ask myself;
Are Baby Boomers and Gen Xs (of which I am one) needlessly projecting their own fears of a VUCA world onto the subsequent generations?
The Kids are Alright.
2016 has been a strange year eh?
Regardless of your political leanings, Brexit and Trump’s rise to power have undoubtedly amplified the pervading sense of unpredictability, uncertainty and unease. In this age of big data, pollsters lost their ability to predict, markets crashed and no-one quite knows what is coming next. The speed of technological advancement and it’s place in our daily lives continues to increase and grow exponentially.
VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity) is nothing new but…my god…this feels like some kind of Mega-VUCA.
A herd of Mega-VUCA’s consider their response to Donald Trump’s election.
In the field of innovation leadership, much of the work I have done this year with DPA has been enabling organisations and leaders to articulate and employ the mindset, emotional resilience and skills to drive and navigate this VUCA world. A world in which the sheer breathtaking acceleration and speed of change is leaving many organisations and their leaders feeling punch-drunk and slightly bewildered.
But hold on a second.
We created this. We wanted this. We wanted mass-media, multiple choice, instantaneous, individualised everything.
It’s time to take ownership of that and stop complaining about the VUCA world, or “the world” as anyone below the age of 30 calls it. The constant shifting sands aren’t going to stop now. So we have a choice. Take off our shoes and enjoy the feel of sand beneath our toes or keep our shoes on and worry about getting sand in our socks.
So how do you plan for a third or even second horizon when the view is constantly moving in and out of focus?
Want to enjoy not knowing? Want to view the unknown as an open blue sky of opportunity rather than a bottomless blackhole of despair?
Then speak to your grads.
I don’t want to use buzz words, but it’s useful for this articulation. Here are six reasons why your organisation needs the Y & Z mindset.
- They have never experienced socio-economic stability. The generation of graduates entering your business were under 10 years old on 9/11 and have grown up in the turmoil that has ensued since.
- They are the first generation of true digital natives. They don’t just understand digital; they are digital. What does that mean for your organisation? I can’t think of one organisation that I have worked with in the last two years that doesn’t have something “digital” in their strategy. But the notion of digital and it’s possibilities held by baby boomers and gen X’s is a trillion terabytes behind that of gen Y, Z and millennials.
- We berate or look down on their seemingly short attention spans. There is some truth in this theory. Research shows that the average attention span of gen Z is around eight seconds. But before you start making goldfish jokes think about this. This is a natural and necessary evolution to deal with the volume of information and choice that is available. They are able to skim a large amount of data very quickly assimilating and using what is relevant.
- The days of a career for life are long gone. Most organisations are unable to promise that kind of career, and neither does it fit the business models of the future in which organisations will need to scale up and scale down depending on demand and workflow. Which is lucky. Your grads don’t want that. They value new experiences, progression and to a certain extent transience. If you had offered our parents a job for life they would have snapped it up, the younger generations see that as a prison sentence.
- They care. Don’t be distracted by the short attention span. These generations are flipping Maslow’s hierarchy. They are the first generations that are going to be less wealthy than their parents. They don’t expect stability of finances or career, they don’t expect to own their own home. They are heading straight for autonomy and mastery. The good stuff. They wan’t to contribute to something with meaning that makes a difference.
- You want to understand agile. Watch the way they work. Rather than viewing IP as something to protect as much as your life, they open-source, share and explore in the search for greater solutions and impactful iterations. Your organisation wants speed and agility. They’ve got it.
If you want to learn how to enjoy uncertainty, embrace your grads.
Well maybe not literally. And not at the Christmas party.
But seriously you may learn something from those who know nothing.