The Benefit of the Millennial Mindset in a VUCA World

Today’s post is courtesy of board member Steffi Burkhart. Um diesen Artikel auf deutsch zu lesen, klicken Sie hier.

Although the baby boomer generation is the largest and most powerful in terms of purchasing power, I would argue that my generation, millennials, are the most influential age group in the digital era. We are the key to solving many of the world and economic problems that lie ahead, not only because we have to somehow fill a huge gap after the baby boomers retire, but also because our mind- and skill sets will be the ones that will help change the economy in a lasting way.

Gen Y, Gen Z: Who are we anyway?

In terms of population size, the millennials are the total of Generation Y (*1980-1995) and Generation Z (*1995-2010) added together. We live in a time of so-called multi-optionality. This means that unlike many of our parents, we do not live through a classic three-phase biography, but multi-graphical: experiencing full-time employment, self-employment, part-time employment, sabbaticals, time spent abroad and industry changes. We’re the first generation that’s probably going to change jobs eight times. This is at least the assumption of the World Economic Forum. I personally believe more changes will take place. We no longer live a structured life and we want to develop horizontally rather than fight our way up the vertical career ladder over the years. If we feel the need to improve our working environment elsewhere, to develop ourselves further or to create more impact, then we are gone.

While just a few years ago CEO’s in large corporations  were role models for young talent and trainees, today these are founders like Mark Zuckerberg or Elon Musk. And while in the past it was possible to attract graduates from elite universities to companies, consulting firms or investment banks – at least for the first few years of their professional lives – today things are very different. Now these younger workers feel that meaning, impact and success are more likely to be achieved through self-employment or starting up a new business rather than through working in large organizations and being dependent on their risk-averse managers.

New impetus in a VUCA reality

So why are millennials going to be the creators of tomorrow? Because today we live in a VUCA reality. VUCA is a term that was coined in 1987 by the U.S. Army War College and stands for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambivalence. These four phenomena are shaping our times – consider digitization and modern technologies as the VUCA-catalyst. They form a new world that cannot be explained by old textbook theories nor by any previous experiences. Successfully confronting this new reality can only happen if we face it in a different way.

We are already in the middle of creating our new tomorrow: the use of intelligent technology, especially information and data collection and its processing in real time, will enable us to defeat diseases, decode the human genes in just a few minutes for the price of a cheeseburger, push people to make the right decisions, change the complex weather situation, revolutionize agriculture through the use of robotics, and completely redesign energy reduction and production.

However, in order to do all that, these technologies must be researched, developed, programmed and controlled. And who would be more suitable to get this job done than those who grew up in a VUCA reality? Those who have been shaped by the digital world, have a networked and collaborative mindset and the power to interpret the most important mass technology of our time – the Internet. It’s us – the Digital Natives. “Pay attention to those who are 30 years old. They are the internet generation. They are the builders of the world,” says Jack Ma, CEO of the Alibaba Group.

New thinking

Facebook, Google, and Wework and Co. were either founded by millennials or the majority of the employees belong to this generation. It is noteworthy that the value of these “young” companies is already much higher than that of many “Old Economy” companies. We need more of these new business models, this new way of thinking!

Airbnb is a prime result of “new thinking” when you compare it to the Old Economy: one of the largest hotel chains in the world is the Hilton Group with almost one million beds. It has been around for nearly one hundred years and is worth around 31.5 billion U.S. dollars. The corporate value of Airbnb, a community platform founded in 2008 without a single hotel room of its own, is 35 billion U.S. dollars.

The Airbnb founders have achieved something amazing: They have taken the old principle of “staying overnight out of town”, and re-thought and remodeled it, bypassing the most established and centuries-old companies in just 10 years. 

Your experience is worth nothing in an all new world

When the rules of our world change, we need a new way of thinking and behaving. Don’t let your organization think and act in hierarchical structures but build networks and use them intelligently to develop into a smart and agile company that can react quickly to market challenges.

If only it were that simple. Many organizations are still stuck in their old ways. In order to develop your organization, cultural change is needed on three levels: technology (digital transformation), structure (organizational design and workflow architecture) and people (employee empowerment, leadership culture, customer-centricity). Only when disruptions caused by hierarchies have been eliminated can mass intelligence develop in organizations. Without us, the millennials, without our ideas and our collaborative and experimental mindset, this change will not happen.


2 thoughts on “The Benefit of the Millennial Mindset in a VUCA World

    1. Steffi,

      Great article! The example of Airbnb vs Hilton Group strongly resonates and really drives home a key point of your article…

Please share your comments

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.