Home Articles LEAD: THINGS UNDER 35



If you provide under-35s with a purpose and allow them to explore exponentially, you may find your organisation of tomorrow, today. By Paul Plummer

35 is not just your ordinary kind of number. In under 35 years you could make a difference in the business world that will land you being showcased as the prodigy whizz kid you are. With the right idea, in under 35 months you could launch a snapchat-like start-up with a market cap shrinking the archaic competitors in your shadow. In under 35 weeks you could have developed enough proficiencies and fitness to enter the functional muscle-clad club and compete for glory in the Crossfit competition arena. In under 35 days you could complete an online certificate in social entrepreneurship from the Copenhagen Business School rendering you proficient to inflate brainwave ideas into a billion-dollar business.

With enough caffeine, courage and a couple of water wings, in under 35 hours you could break Eastern Cape local Josh Enslin’s world record of continuous surfing. With a Goldcard, in under 35 minutes you will be at the airport, ready to board your flight, or so the Gautrain advert says. In under 35 seconds you could fall in love with your star-crossed lover on a fair night in Verona. And in under 35 split seconds after reading this sentence you could make the fatal erroneous decision to stop reading this article about ‘Things under 35’ …

Truth be told, the decision would not be fatal but you are already reading on, so why not indulge a little further and possibly gain a new perspective as I explore the most important thing under-35s want and the most important thing under-35s can give to you.

If you do one thing for an under-35er in your workplace, please do this. Provide a reason for them to come to work in the morning. If are you an under-35 like me, an underlying mantra driving your day to day, giving a deeper meaning to your work, will be the reason you wake every morning. The ‘what you are doing takes the back row seat to the ‘why’ you are doing what you are doing.

Salim Ismail, a hugely successful entrepreneur and strategist, calls this a massive transformative purpose (MTP) and notes it as an essential ingredient for organisations to succeed in the future. This MTP essentially underpins the reason we do what we do and forms the basis for our social contract with our employer. This social contract defines the value we collectively add in the world, an essential part of our existential under-35 existence.

Google’s MTP ‘organise the world’s information’ inspires the smartest young Silicon Valley geeks to clock in there every morning. Conversely,  it would be an absolute abomination for an under-35er to work where the MTP reads: ‘We sell huge amounts of unhealthy carbonated sugar water through optimised distribution networks by means of omnipresent global branding campaigns.’ ‘Coca-Cola’, however, is a lot more palatable and an employer of choice to our generation with the mantra ‘Open Happiness’. On a recent factory tour to the ABI bottling plant in Midrand I experienced this mantra being proudly communicated and practically lived out, from the email communication to the factory walls. The MTP was so unequivocal and almost tangible in the air that I left wanting to join the team. I also wanted to be an astronaut ‘opening happiness’ with my photo superimposed alongside the other factory workers in the larger than life-sized space vinyl cladding the factory wall. If you don’t have an MTP or don’t understand it, I suggest you discover and institutionalise this before your talented under-35s find a place where they too can be astronauts.

If you can learn one thing from an under-35er in your workplace, it would be this. In the digital world of work, there has been a disruption of traditional models. Technology-based exponentially transformative businesses have changed the way we operate, necessitating an extremely agile and always-on organisation. Under-35s not only understand but rather revel in this state of perpetual flux. Catalysed by a plethora of information over multiple devices, we leverage off networks of connected teams to disseminate, disaggregate and re-distribute information through formal and informal channels. This elasticity in our capacity to access, process and distill information positions under-35s well to deal with potential traditional business blind spots.

Consider for example the ability of an organisation to cope with exponential developments in their industry. Moore’s law – born out of Gordon Moore’s discovery over several decades of the advancement of Intel processors – suggests that technology has the ability to double in capacity approximately every 18 months. With new technologies and the application of Moore’s law in the business context, there is a need for a shift in a traditional to an exponential mindset.

The inability of traditional thinking to deal with exponential business blind spots can be seen by Vinod Khosla’s retrospective analysis of the predictions of the growth in the mobile phone industry in the 2000–2010 period. Forrester, Gartner and McKinsey’s – all well-respected industry leaders in research and consulting – seemed incapable of grasping the exponential trend, all predicting a linear growth in the period notwithstanding the exponential information available. In 2002, 2004 and 2006 the consensus from the experts for the 24-month grow prediction on average was 15%; however, after every two years the industry showed a real grow of over 100% over each of these periods. In 2008, despite the preceding three doubling patterns in a row, the experts merrily predicted a stabilisation and growth of 10%. When the figures came in once again at over 100% it was clear that erroneous application arithmetic was not to blame, but rather the inability of these experts to adjust their cognitive process and shift into exponential gear.

I wonder if a bunch of well-networked under-35ers would have done any better at predicting the trend? Companies such as Local Motors (LM) and Quirky that use agile methodologies and social learning will certainly lean towards a younger generation to deal with and process non-linear and qualitative sets of information. Under-35ers working for LM and Quirky have leveraged their ability to embrace exponential change to successfully reduce the time and cost of bringing products to market by over one thousand per cent. LM, a co-creation platform, successfully built a car from scratch for under $3 million versus the industry norm of $3 billion. Quirky, a community-led invention platform, have helped young inventors go from product concept to Walmart shelves in less than 30 days.

Younger generations’ propensity to embrace change, combined with malleable thought patterns, allows for constant recalibration of the accepted norm. The ability of under-35s to flex and recalibrate the accepted status quo leads to a much higher capacity to anticipate and predict exponential trends. If you are able to embrace and learn how to revel in this state of perpetual flux, your organisation will have the ability to convert potential blind spots into exponential growth.


Author l Paul Plummer CA(SA) is an Executive Lead in the Human Capital service line at Deloitte