Within the ever-growing domain of creative media, now ruled by the generation known as Generation Y or the Millennials, a new work landscape has emerged. Characterised by the demand of expanding skill sets through continuous learning, shapeshifting is the rule of the market. In the quest for developing new competences and delivering innovation, adaptability is the most valuable asset to pursuit.
The journey of learning
10 years ago, back in the days of my studies at a Taiwanese University, I had the honor of meeting and attending lectures conducted by professor Dr. Peter Kien-Hong Yu. A leading thinker in the field of Comparative Politics, Asian Politics and above all, Chinese dialectical thinking, his course focused on the particular way Chinese political leaders applied dialectics to their actions and thoughts. In the classroom, core discussions ranged from Taiwan Strait Affairs to Deng Xiaoping’s Open Door policy, One Country, Two Systems. In short, it was a pretty inspiring ground for weirdos and wannabe sinologists like me.
Dr Yu’s course was probably my most remarkable experience as a learner. It confirmed my identity as a product of Generation Y and helped me to understand that the journey of learning never ends. The title of his greatest work, “The Crab and Frog Motion Paradigm Shift”, could be applied way beyond his theoretical construct to explore multiple paths to seek the truth within a Chinese mind. In his realm of thesis and antithesis, he describes and analyzes phenomena within a time/space framework that is constantly moving, hence the analogy with a frog leaping forward and the crab moving backwards: reality is shapeshifting and so are we.
I never really tried to unfold the various winding frameworks within Dr Yu’s work or used his theory to analyze phenomena. Even though I could never make practical use of such teachings, the experience led me to reading more on the topics of interest to me and, most importantly, to find real pleasure in being a learner.
Learning as relaxation
A top iconic baby boomer and notable weirdo, Bill Gates, claimed that learning is a key relaxation practice that shapes one’s outlook and thinking. Recently, he shared a story in his blog where he describes how he fell in a love with the teachings of Nobel Prize winner Richard Feynman, after accidentally picking one of his lectures on physics from a university’s film collection. The excitement with the discovery is reflected in the blog post’s title “The Best Teacher I Never Had” as well as in the fact that, years later, Gates bought the rights to professor Feynman’s lectures and posted them online for free. The experience of learning (regardless of one’s stage in life) is priceless, especially when the heartbreak of baby boomer generation lay in the fact that they could not fully enjoy the wealth they had moved heaven and earth to acquire.
Unlike the generation of the baby boomers, characterised by accomplishments such as civil rights movements and an anti-war collective spirit with specks of optimism, our times are governed by another rhythm: rapid, attention-diffuse, chaotic and apocalyptical. Our rites of passage include the global warming menace, widespread terrorism with the rise of the the Islamic State, the return of populism and Donald-Trump-like politicians. We are equipped with all the technological apparatus and global reach and yet we are moving backwards when it comes to co-existing and building the expected values of a benign Global Village.
People are aware of how a global “techboom” altered business relationships and brought about new competitive advantage rules, the so-called share economy, emerging startups etc. Our brave new world of technology is radically altering not only the way we shop, do business and live our lives. The work landscape has changed completely, worldwide: our roles as professionals in the digital/tech industry landscape have widened both in terms of experiences and possibilities. However, achievements such as innovation, flexibility and even freedom will not represent real gains unless they are combined with values that resonate responsibility - a utopian future or a legacy to future generations. And there is no utopian future without active learning and genuine inspiration.
Companies where learning options are limited leave little if any autonomy for innovation. The actual fuel for innovation is leisure time. Learning, as a relaxation practice, fits into this logic. Still, to the capitalist captive mind, if you spend too much time meditating you are not capitalizing. Therefore, courses become webinars, TedTalks and stuff shared on LinkedIn replace books and other sources of inspiration. Obviously, one might find something relevant in accounts of success stories, but there is still a need of picking the learning experience of choice, something that helps to carve out new initiatives or, at least, leads to a pleasant career path.
So, how can we characterize this new class of individuals that will be responsible for delivering the utopian future we need, where technology is supposed to make the world a better place? Millennial entrepreneurs are known for breaking conventions and adding value to society with new ways of doing business and self-regulating mechanisms that replace the idea of corporate social responsibility with (for instance) quality control based on customer reviews.
Are we part of the chapter where creative destruction meets the invisible hand? Even though the new enterprise models and creative landscape under the digital can be overpowering, it does not necessarily imply that they are moving other companies out of the way. The new work landscape opens up opportunities that did not exist before.
If the so-called Generation Next and Z Millennials are responsible for trying to invent a new work and creative landscape, they need to provide opportunities that did not exist before. They also need to face old challenges, for example creating the right culture and hiring the right people, adding value and regulating the overall impact of what has been created. One thing that still applies to both small businesses and startups aspiring to overnight growth is that they need to keep their people happy.
There is no doubt that many Nordic tech-industry enterprises have brought about a constructive approach to strategizing employee personal development – Making Waves for one is fully committed to the cause of building competencies – leading to both an increase in productivity and employee satisfaction. Individual development plans and annual training budgets provide the key ingredients in fostering valuable learning experiences – from various forms of training, including postgraduate studies and courses for specialists to participation in conferences and covering exam certification costs.
While embracing this new creative landscape and being aware of the market’s shapeshifting demands, the experience of surfing the waves of creative media production, free to design our own motion paradigm, is indeed a privilege.
The author with Peter Yu, Taoyuan, 2006