Historically, generations of business leaders have come and gone in orderly fashion. Today it’s the turn of Generation X, people born in the Sixties and Seventies who received the baton from the Baby Boomers born soon after World War II.
But a perfect storm of factors – including the rise of powerful new technologies and a sudden shift in the conventional view of how and where business is done – has disrupted this natural progression, and has thrown a large and feisty cat among the pigeons.
‘Generation Flux’ doesn’t mean that younger people are taking the lead before their time, although that is part of it; the guiding principle of this new age is that anyone can develop better skills, learn something new, or do their job more productively than they did before, regardless of who they are or to what generation they belong.
It started with the Millennials: typified by the teenage CEOs unconstrained by the ‘rules of work’ and extremely idea-driven. “This generation has a short attention span and likes things to change regularly,” says Sue Honoré, a consultant at Ashridge Business School. “They are very meritocratic and don’t respect the normal hierarchy of business – they are interested in driving through their own changes and they are a lot more vocal.”
Millennials were among the first to embrace the notion of ‘ideas from anywhere’, collaboration to problem-solve and, subsequently, sounded a death knell for traditional working environments. The result? An evolving attitude to work and business values that is being embraced by workers of all ages.
The values of this new ‘psychographic’ Generation Flux are creativity, impulsiveness and willingness to experiment. Honoré says: “These types of people want to be able to do the job and do it in a way that they think works. They are causing organisations to start asking questions about how people communicate with each other and whether certain time-honoured rules still apply.”
Just one example of a company embracing these new attitudes to work is Touchnote, a mobile-commerce business selling printed greeting cards and postcards which can be ordered from mobile phones. The idea is simple enough: upload an image on your PC, laptop or smartphone, add a message and address, review and click ‘send’.
The business, launched in 2008 is based in Camden, North London, and it’s 35 year-old founder Raam Thakrar says he follows the principles of “agile business”, which is prevalent among start-ups.
“Of the 15 people who work at Touchnote, 12 have no physical storage; they are 100 per cent digital, no documents and no furniture. But the culture is incredibly tight, we all have lunch together and it’s an open forum for discussion. We’ve got a great team and some of our best ideas have developed from very frank and open discussions.”
Another example is BrewDog; an Aberdeenshire-headquartered brewery, chain of nine bars and an online shop founded in 2007 that is the very antithesis of a dotcom crash company, yet which embraces the ideals of Generation Flux just as strongly as anyone in the technology sector.
“Due to fast-growth, our office has moved at least every six months in the past couple of years and we’ve had to hire portacabins for more office space,” says 29 year-old BrewDog co-founder James Watt. “Headcount in the office has tripled over the last five years and we have built a new eco brewery which will add further to the business.”
“But our staffing structure is as controlled as our brewing process. It takes a specific, detailed mix of hops, malt and water to make a quality beer and our office reflects this with a healthy dose of everything from messy creative types to grammar fascists and neat freaks in our staff.”
“Everyone is contactable 24 hours a day and seven days a week if needed, with each team responsible for keeping their people up to date when working on the move.
Naturally, there are drawbacks to the ideals of Generation Flux, especially if ambitious and idea-fuelled ‘fluxers’ get too wrapped up in the concepts and forget to focus on core principles. But this Wild West of experimentation has many positives to offer too.
The agility that ‘fluxers’ demonstrate is fostering a wave of innovative and creative businesses that will continue to add colour to the entrepreneurial landscape for years to come. It is inspiring companies to work in new ways and in doing so to become more efficient and productive while keeping employees, regardless of age both enthusiastic and incentivised. But the ‘flux’ mentality isn’t confined to just tech startups, it’s applicable to all businesses wishing to remain relevant in a changing world. It is sweeping away old methods of working that have pegged traditionalists back for decades and opened up new opportunities for business to attract and retain the most dynamic teams and drive new ways of thinking.