Imagine that you could travel back in time with ease. You decide to travel to the 15th century before Gutenberg invented the printing press and then move ahead four centuries to learn about its widespread impact.
Next, you travel to 1760 when most people in the US lived and worked on a farm and then traveled to 1820, to measure the impact of the Industrial Revolution, which resulted in many people living in big cities and working in large factories.
You take one more trip to 1950, before the invention of the Intel computer chip. Then you return to the present to take in all the dramatic changes of the Computer Age.
Even though you and I cannot travel backwards—only forwards—it is still amazing to realize the impact one watershed moment can have on us.
An Emerging Era
We are in the midst of a similar transformation and it is so disruptive, that whatever we end up with will be far beyond anything we can imagine. This change has many names; the label I give it is the ‘Creative Era.’ What is different this time is its speed and impact. A sweeping transformation such as the printed word used to take centuries, but now major disruptions are arriving faster. For example, the present day version of the Internet started in 1982 and the smartphone is less than a decade old.
This Creative Era is being embraced and fueled by those younger than you and me. Yet there is a widespread misbelief about the younger citizens we call Generation Y dubbed Millennials and Generation Z referred to as iGen, Homelanders, Plurals, ReGen, Boomlets, or Founders. [So far, no singular label has stuck with them.] The misconception is that they are lazy, unmotivated, and have an entitlement attitude.
This belief is untrue and masks what is really going on in most first world countries. The Y and Z generations are avidly embracing and using the tools developed over the past three decades and using them to solve problems and accomplish amazing things.
Examples of Embracement
- Naomi, my 10-year-old granddaughter described her future. “I will be rich and remove the pollution from the ocean,” she informed me. These are not the dreams of a child, but rather a vision of anything being possible, an attitude that is shared by most of Naomi’s peers.
- Today, a young person with passion and ideas believes that he or she can have multiple successful careers simultaneously. Actor Jessica Alba has a business worth $100 billion. Singer Sean Combs created the popular vodka Ciroc.
- Recently, I sat in mock interviews with high school seniors; five of them already had a business underway.
- Four years ago, two sophomores at Eastlake High School developed a successful sock company.
- A few months ago, I attended a session where I met five kids (all under 16) who developed products or created apps that are generating sales.
The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in them and I predict these young people will contribute to a spurt of small business and new enterprises; an enormous growth that the world has never witnessed.
Every Generation is Contributing
It is not just our children and grandchildren who are thriving in this Creative Era. The readily and widely available tools and technology are helping all generations contribute.
- A month ago, I met a 90-year-old woman who produced a video that is popular on YouTube about the day the shuttle Endeavor landed in Los Angeles.
- A New York based company WeWork is worth $10 billion and the company is in the business of creating “co-working space” for entrepreneurs worldwide. In their 67 buildings available in 20 major cities, people with ideas who want to start a company or a movement rent space by the month. WeWork’s ‘product’ is easily scalable, described as a “space complete with a sense of community, an internal social network, and the enriching and collaborative startup culture that prospective employees want.” A member can use WeWork space in any of the 67 locations. This incubator space is “not just for the millennial startup crowd. It is a beehive of activity and includes a diversity of people of all ages and nationalities.” Tenants can focus 100% on carrying out their creative dreams because WeWork provides all the office services they need and multiple meeting areas. Moreover, there is free beer and coffee!
Transformation Tool – 3D Printer
Do you know what a 3 D printer is capable of creating? If you do not, you should.
On the fictional Starship Enterprise, there is a device call the “Replicator” that instantaneously produces food and tools. That fictional tool actually exists in the form of a 3D printer, which is a device that converts a raw material into a finished product. As of today, this device can make toys, jewelry and art, jet replacement parts, and a guitar. Edible chocolate and pizza, a street legal car, a prosthetic ear, nose, and arm, human skin and bones, a human rib cage, and apartment buildings have all been built using 3D printer technology. There is even a 3D printer that converts worthless desert sand into a tangible product. Talk about a transformation!
We live, work, and lead in this age of rapid innovation and creation.
Leading In this Age
How do we lead in this creative age when it seems that everything is possible and creative innovations are coming at us every day? How do we manage these young minds who believe anything is possible using technology?
Those are challenges we face now and they will remain moving targets. Yet there are lessons from all previous social and cultural transformations that give us insight into what leaders need to do. As a leadership coach, I offer these suggestions.
- Foster a culture of innovation and exploration.
Many cultures are stuck in the past and cling to outdated ways of doing things.
- Get all followers engaged, not just a select few.
In today’s work world, over 70% of employees are disengaged.
- Embrace new ways of doing work and tasks.
You must believe that there is always a better way for work to get done. As the leader, find them and fund them.
- Realize that good people hold the key to good ideas.
Not all ideas are worthy, but you will not know until they see the light of day.
- Let the younger people have a voice and add their ideas.
Too many organizations tell the younger worker to “sit down, be quiet, and wait your turn.”
- Be willing to share your ideas and technology and be open to the ideas and technology of others.
Many great ideas get lost because of the belief that sharing ideas is bad and is a threat to free enterprise and capitalism.
- Value is only created when people cooperate and work together.
Contentiousness and divisiveness (like we see today) prevents progress.
I guarantee, as a leader, you will be tested as you strive to lead others in this dawning age of intense and rapid creativity and innovation. If you choose to stay stuck and attempt to lead using out of date methods, then you will end up like the dinosaurs—extinct!
 Puget Sound Business Journal, January 5, 2016