When we get honest with ourselves; amidst these rapidly changing times of economic, political and sociological transition many of us, if only on occasion, feel a little out of the loop, and fighting to understand the latest innovation to hit the marketplace and how our businesses might respond. We are 'future Shocked'; as described by Alvin Toffler the prolific writer, businessman and political futurist in his work Future Shock, we are hit by the perception and subsequent impact of ‘too much change in too short a period of time" that feeling that leaves us saying ‘everything is changing and I don’t know how to keep up’.
It is not all without just cause either, the past two decades have seen increasingly rapid changes and innovations from the production of culture shifting products such as mobile technology, transport, and connectivity; to wholesale paradigm shifts that debunk the bastions of old, such as religion, life long career, nuclear family and gender stereotypes. And one does not need to look much further than the headlines to see the results of such a changing world. Closing boarders, restrictions on trade and the rebuilding of socio-political monoliths to days gone by. Many combat this Future Shock by yearning for the days and structures in which we were rulers amongst fiefdoms of familiarity, security and a status quo of our making; building businesses based upon and beholden to the worldviews of its shareholders and senior executive alone. However, such unbridled retrospection kills a progressive market economy because it births fear and aversion to innovation. And the truth is, irrespective of one’s attitude towards it, the future is forever revealing itself, and revealing new generations of pioneering innovators who do not hold to the business models of last year, let alone yesteryear. The question is, will we welcome the future.
Toffler continued to state that
“the secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they - at some distant point in the future - will take over the reigns. Yet the fact is that the society is not running itself nicely... because the rest of us need all the energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile.”
No greater fact reinforces the importance of Toffler’s point than to acknowledge the swelling youth population of Sub-Saharan Africa and the resulting demographic dividend to be paid over the coming decades to a continent with 60% under 25 years old. Anne Bakilana, Senior Economist at the World Bank notes that in the 60 years between 1950 – 2010 the region’s population grew from 186 million to 856 million; with countries like Nigeria expected to outgrow the United States by 2050 to the tune of some 30 million. In addition, improving education, WASH and socio-political structures have driven a significant reduction in levels of deprivation in many areas. The factors perpetuating poverty are declining and an influx of extraordinarily ambitious, informed and connected young people is rising.
Whilst disparity between rich and poor has often increased, significant extreme poverty persists and the dangers of population growth far surpassing that of GDP such as is forecast for Nigeria loom; the pay-out from a booming population of highly educated, globally connected, tenacious and socially conscious youth and young adult generation offers an exciting future in which greater welfare, but also change in inevitable.
It is of course not just in Africa where young people are bringing an economic step change through an innovative and entrepreneurial start-up landscape; it is seen across the UK, US and elsewhere too. The approach to work is changing furthered through greater flexibility and a clear growth of values based businesses models. No longer is it acceptable clock in and clock out to work, the younger generations expect more from their work place and if they can’t get it, well, they will start their own thing. A dynamic business minded and socially hearted enterprise revolution is unfolding before us and the question is: will you welcome the future.
I started my first company when I was 24, and much to people’s surprise it was a consultancy firm specialising in various communication strategies. I remember people saying, ‘don’t people consult at the end of their career’ by implication they were saying don’t people consult once they’ve got a life of learning behind them. My response then and my response now is to echo Toffler, that the world needs the “energy, brains, imagination and talent that young people can bring to bear down on our difficulties. For society to attempt to solve its desperate problems without the full participation of even very young people is imbecile”.
Few countries illustrate this willingness to listen and learn from younger generations better that Finland's recent appointment of Prime Minster Sanna Marin, who at 34 becomes the youngest PM in the world and will lead a majority female cabinet with only one member over the age of 35 and as young as 32.I
Enterprising, socially engaged emerging generations will be the ones to lead us all into the future, drive economic growth and combat societal injustices; and so, to listen to them, to their insights and experience, to welcome them into your companies and onto your boards, to innovate with them and build organisations that recruits and retains them is not only advisable but essential. Whilst this listening, welcoming and working requires significant entrepreneurial humility which accepts that age is a poor measure of wisdom within a modern world, unless we can muster such humility within our personal lives and our business practices there is great risk we will be left only shocked by a future of which we are no longer a part.