The fluid generation

December 17, 2018


fluid generation

Fluid generation.

I was recently with my 22 year old son talking about “the future”.  His future, to be specific.  Not one of those “now son, it’s time you got serious and started to plan everything for the next fifty years” conversations, but more about how he imagines things might develop for him having recently embarked on the first stage of what I would describe as his first career.

His response was interesting, and not altogether surprising to me. I’ve had similar responses to this enquiry from several people of his generation over the last few years. In essence, he said he has no clear idea of how things will pan out for him beyond the next 4 years or so, and, (and this is the important bit to my mind), he’s not worried about it.  He’s focused on what he’s doing now and when the next stage of his career comes across the horizon he’ll make his choice about what to pursue given the opportunities that are presented.

Things are going to change so quickly in the meantime, both in the world of work and beyond, that there’s little point in trying to plan beyond holding some fairly loose ideas.

This is the fluid generation.

The term has been coined to refer to the rejection of gender as binary: male or female.  While most of us find the idea of gender fluidity at best confusing and at worst dangerously threatening, most of my son’s friends have absolutely no difficulty with it, and I admire them for it. Indeed, they find it curious that we struggle with such a notion.

The idea of fluidity for millennials, I suggest, is not confined to gender. I think young people are fluid, open, non-committal about just about everything of importance in their lives.

Granted, when I was in my twenties I couldn’t tell you what my long-term plan was so that’s nothing new.  What is different is that when I was in my twenties I had a sense that I was on some kind of linear path in life  – that each step would lead inevitably to the next. That model of thought was predominant for my, and probably previous, generations.  I also saw work in binary terms: employed or unemployed; waged or self-employed; working hours and non-working hours; weekday and weekend. Again, I’m not saying that these distinctions have completely disappeared, but I don’t think they are as defining for millennials as they were for me. A week that comprises some hours of work, some hours learning, some in the gym, some volunteering, plus the inevitable every moment in between online, so that ones social life is conducted more or less continuously throughout the day, regardless of the primary activity, is standard.

Moreover, in my day it was rare for anyone in their twenties or thirties to work on a freelance basis.  Nowadays many young people work that way, and as a freelancer working hours are very much more fluid than 9 to 5. My daughter is not yet 24 yet has worked on several projects as a freelancer, and that’s not counting internships. Self-employment is the norm for her and she’s doing this alongside her studies.

Why is it that those people just now becoming economically active see the world in much more fluid terms?

We can’t discount the pace of change in the world. Things have moved on significantly in the handful of years since the millennials left school. Technology is their touchstone, and they know better than anyone how quickly ideas, apps, games, etc., become old.  They are completely used to obsolescence in every aspect of their lives.

Perhaps political uncertainly also plays a part?  Unpredictability in world affairs, environmental collapse,  and in the breakdown of the left v right system may all be feeding a sense amongst young people that it is foolish to predict what their world will look like in the medium-term, let alone the long-term.

In other words, there’s no point in my children and their friends planning for the future because that future is so unpredictable.  Actually the future was always unpredictable, but my generation and those before me thought they could predict it. Instead millennials living much more in the moment, seeking satisfaction from what is available now, taking advantage of current opportunities, and wherever those opportunities lead, that will be their path. They are not confining their decisions to work opportunities, but to life opportunities, because work opportunities are no more valuable, have no more potential to lead to a “good” life, than any other opportunity.

Again, my generation also responded to opportunities.  People I work with in their forties and older talk me through their careers and many jobs taken are responses to opportunities rather than the result of planning.  Why did you go to work in Australia?  I was in Singapore and met an Australian, we got married and I went to live there for the next 20 years, might be a typical case, but that’s still a different situation to what I’m noticing today where people don’t even have a clear path from which to deviate.

I think that ten to fifteen years down the line we are going to see a significant cohort of people who have drifted, but that drifting will not be a bad thing, it will simply describe the way people move through life, settling down to something for a while and then upping and moving on to something else.

How a balanced life makes you better at work

October 26, 2015

I was asked to give a short talk last week.  “What rest means to me”, was the title.

A number of years ago I developed a training session on life balance, not “work-life” balance – work is part of life, not something separate – and the thrust of the session was to look at the components of a healthy, balanced life.  It’s my strong view that the people who are most effective at work, both in terms of sustainable performance and in building strong relationships with colleagues and clients, are those who have acquired balance in their life.

The components of a balanced life are:

  • Healthy eating
  • Sufficient rest and sleep
  • Exercise
  • Spending time with those that love and support us
  • Exercising the brain in way other than through our work
  • Entertainment and pastimes.
  • Community or voluntary activity
  • Finding moments of peace, contemplation or spiritual nourishment.
Helping you work rest and play? It's a long time since this was the considered the key to a balanced life.

Helping you work rest and play? It’s a long time since this was the considered the key to a balanced life.

Making a life that includes as many of these as possible are, for me, more important that simply “rest” as a way of recharging.  I do not believe that someone who works incredibly hard, but has very little else in their life except for relaxation and sleep is likely to be able to perform well in their career over the long term.  External activity grows us and makes us more rounded people, and we bring all of that into our work.

Relaxation is important, but not less or more important than exercise. Volunteering for a charity enables us to do things that express care and valuing of others, while going to the cinema or a football match is a way of valuing and giving ourselves attention.  Being with friends and family is essential for a healthy life, but no more so that spending time alone.

Some of these components are to do with the body, some the mind, and some the soul.  I don’t want to get all spiritual on you here, but don’t underestimate the importance of ideas like inner peace and humility;  they are very grounding.

I’m not advocating that people incorporate all of the above into their lives.  Not everyone wants to get involved with a charity, not everyone is able to pursue a sport or exercise. I simply invite you to think about what you do to keep yourself physically healthy, engaged with those around you outside work, and mentally agile.

A full, varied life is a life that stimulates.  Recharging the batteries does not simply come from being passive.  A change is, as they say, as good as a rest.

Why Volunteer?

October 19, 2015

It’s five thirty am and I’m writing this from a thronging Luton Airport departure lounge. It strikes me that if I picked any house at random in the south-east of England, I’d almost certainly find it empty, the occupants being here at the airport with me. If only I’d chosen to be a burglar rather than a coach, I’d be minting it.

I’m travelling for a few days in my capacity as a trustee for a small charity. I must stress that this is not a glamorous task, in fact I’d really rather not be doing the travelling, but volunteering for the charity more generally is important and fulfilling, and as with most activities, there is good and bad. You just need to make sure that the good outweighs the bad.

I'm looking for a volunteer. Hands up!

I’m looking for a volunteer.  Hands up!

Volunteering is one of my recommendations for a healthy, balanced life and it’s good for work on a number of levels.

No job perfectly matches our skills, interests and values. Taking on the right voluntary role allows you to derive satisfaction where work may not offer it. As a sole trader, my charity role allows me to work with others and to take on leadership opportunities.

For someone in employment or looking for a job, having an alternative source of achievements can certainly enhance career prospects. A recent example was that of an accountant, qualified overseas who was struggling to find work in the UK owing to a lack of local knowledge and experience. My suggestion was to find a charity that would allow her work on a part time basis. She gets experience, they benefit form her expertise and skills.

If we’re lucky our job allows us to learn about something we are genuinely interest in, but that’s not the case for everyone, and even if it is, most people have wider interests than their job caters for. Working for a charity allows me to develop my interest in this other area.

In a similar vein, there are activities we enjoy doing, but opportunities for those activities are not always available in the job we have. Charity work may be the answer, enabling us to do some of the things we like outside of employment.

Ideally our values would be shared by our employer and in the work we do, but that’s not always the case. While a charity usually stands for clear enduring values making it easy to support if you share those values, a company’s values are often less clear, and they change depending on economic circumstances and the beliefs and ideals of its leaders. It’s common for a person to join a company whose values in terms of purpose and behaviour they share, yet after a period of time those values diverge and the person finds their beliefs at odds with those of their employer. Finding a charity that allows us to live more authentically according to what we feel is important can solve that problem.

I know many people reading this will be thinking, “that’s all very well but if you have a busy job there’s no time for volunteering”. They’re right, not everyone can or wants to give their spare time away, but if you are one of those people, I encourage you to think about the wider benefits you might derive from voluntary work, not just for your personal well-being, but also for your longer term career goals.

Twenty-somethings and the World of Work

April 16, 2015
“Can you help my child to move their career forward?” is a question I’m often asked.  My first response is to ask whether it’s the child or the parent who is worried.  It’s usually the parent who, understandably, is concerned that their child should start to climb the career ladder and is able to live independently as soon as possible.

If you’re a parent of one of those twenty-somethings, here are a few thoughts that may help you to manage your concerns.

The first thing to say is that it takes time for some people to decide what they want to do and are best suited to.  Don’t worry if your son or daughter spends the first few years of their working life trying different jobs.  this will help them  to work out where their strengths and interests lie.  Are they better suited to working with the public, a close set of colleagues or largely alone?  Do they like to be moving about or sitting behind a desk?  Can they sell? (I always recommend people try at least one job where they have to sell – it’s excellent training for all areas of work). Do they like the cut and thrust of business, or are they better suited to something that is related to social values?

Think of those first few years as a set of extended paid internships and by the end of it they will know themselves pretty well.  I like to think that in the future there will be far fewer people coming to see me around the age of 40 having realised that they have been unhappy for the best part of twenty years because they entered a career without knowing if it really was right for them.

Secondly,  the world of work is probably very different compared with when you started out.  There’s much less long-term careering nowadays.  The workplace is changing so rapidly that skills needs come and go almost overnight.  I think you’re going to see many more people who enter the job market today end up with upwards of four or five different careers behind them.  By the time they end their working life there’s a chance that some of their early jobs will be as obscure and obsolete to their grandchildren as a lamplighter is to us.  In other words, they might look like they are drifting from one thing to another, but the reality is that this is how many people will work in the future.

Which brings me on to my next thought: I don’t think the current generation entering the workforce think about work in the same way as we and our parents did.  Many are still motivated to achieve in a professional sense.  They are concerned about being able to enjoy a good quality of life and they worry about whether they will ever be able to own a property.   Nonetheless, a career (and life more generally) for the next generation will not be about climbing a ladder, but about gathering a range of fulfilling and challenging experiences.

One final thought.  Your children are going to be a long time working.  Much longer than us.  They are going to live longer, and if they retire at 60 or 65 they’re going to struggle on a pension plan that will need to stretch for perhaps 40 years.  They know that they are probably still going to be fit enough to work into their 80’s and they know they will probably need to.  Is it any wonder they’re not all champing at the bit to get started on their career now? In a sense they are bringing their retirement forward.  Instead of going on cruises at the end of their working life, they’re going to irrigate African villages at the beginning of it.

In conclusion, don’t worry that your child appears not to be engaging in their career they way you might expect them to do.  They are probably looking it through a different lens.  Their world of work is very different to yours, and the way they are approaching it probably looks strange to you, but not to them.

Cote D’amour: The art of fitting in

February 5, 2015

Alfred Dreyfus was a brilliant student of warfare and military tactics. He was ambitious and dedicated and he was immensely patriotic.  

Against great competition he won a place at the prestigious École de Guerre where he was determined to pass out as the best in his class.  

He didn’t manage that.  He would have been third, an exceptional achievement under any circumstances, but for being marked down to a zero by one of his examiners.  The reason for this zero grade?  Not as simple as you may be thinking. Institutional anti-semitism almost certainly had a part to play, but it wasn’t the whole story.

Although he was intelligent and highly motivated, Dreyfus lacked one important quality:  Côte D’amour; what we might call likability or the ability to fit into a group. 

He lacked warmth as a person, could not do small talk, lacked empathy, had little sense of humour and possessed a dull, monotone voice.  As a result he was not deemed suitable by his superiors for the highest ranks in the armed forces because they felt he would not be liked by his colleagues or subordinates.  

Côte d’amour is important for everyone at work and it is definitely something that can be worked on and improved, but it’s not easy. Many don’t even realise that they need to work on it and it is rarely pointed out in appraisals, partly because it’s often hard to put your finger on why someone doesn’t fit in – it’s just a feeling you get about a person. 

If you’ve ever wondered why you haven’t managed to progress beyond a certain level in your career, or struggle to make a good impression at interviews, it may well be that you lack côte d’amour.


December 22, 2014

This is an article I wrote for my newsletter earlier in 2014 and was meaning to upload it to this blog.  When you read it you may understand why it has taken so long.

Shortly after unleashing my last newsletter article on unblocking, I saw a piece in the Evening Standard under the headline of “Just do it” all to do with procrastination. Immediately I ripped the page out of the newspaper and turned to the sports section, making made a mental note to read it later.

That was a couple of weeks ago.

I’ve just read the article and I’m pleased I did finally get round to doing so. Not because I thought it was particularly enlightening, in fact I found much of it contradictory and confusing, but because it’s given me a something to write about today.  (Yes, I’m still suffering from writers block).

Anyway, the gist of the piece was that procrastination is psychologically bad for us because it means storing up stress.  If we get things done and out of the way we relieve that stress.  However, a peculiar experiment conducted at Penn State University suggests that many of us are so keen to relieve this stress that we will actually put ourselves at risk in other ways to do so.

Here’s a link to a fuller explanation

but for those of you who already have too many tasks backed up and don’t want to add another, the gist of the experiment is that students were stood at one end of an alley along which at different distances were placed two laden buckets. Students were asked to pick up one of the buckets and drop it off at the end of the alley.  The majority picked up the first bucket even ‘though it meant carrying the object further than necessary. The conclusion is that people saw the overall task to be made up of two sub-tasks:  pick up a bucket and set it down at the end of the line.  By picking up the nearest bucket they were mentally ticking off one of the tasks thus relieving a level of stress, but increasing their chance of injury.

This phenomena of doing a task early has been dubbed pre-crastination and it may not be a good thing.  Some problems need noodling over otherwise they may not be done efficiently or well.  Rushing to complete a task may lead to a worse outcome than waiting until you are ready to do it.

The trick is to balance pre-crastination with procrastination.  If you are delaying a task know why, and if you are getting it done quickly know that it is the right thing to do and there are no risks involved.  Of course, this goes hand in hand with prioritisation, the topic of my last newsletter.  You can only procrastinate for so long, and similarly, if the task is not urgent then there is no need to pre-crastinate on it.

Thanks for reading this, if indeed you have got round to doing so. Oh hang on, if you’ve got this far you must have.  Hope you liked it.

On Delegation

February 21, 2014

A recent session with an executive coaching client brought up an interesting isight I thought I’d share.

Our conversation revolved around how my client delegates work to his team. Why was it an issue? My client considers himself to be a good delegator, a leader who is keen to develop his team by passing work their way.  So why did he feel busier than ever?

We talked about what he meant by delegation and the tasks he delegated.  It was my client who came up with an elegant way of describing what he was doing and what he should be doing.

What he identified was that he was busy delegating solutions, but not delegating problems.  The result:  he spent his time thinking about the problems and then passed on the tasks to solve those problems.

In so doing my client thought he was empowering his team when in fact he was having the opposite effect.  Delegating solutions takes away all the creative side of problem solving, leaving only the actions to execute.  Team members who are given only tasks to do will improve their execution of those tasks, but they get very little experience dealing with workplace challenges. True delegation requires a transfer of decision making authority.

It’s easy to assume that the failure to delegate is doing everything yourself but that’s not a fine enough distinction.  The failure to delegate is as much about what you delegate as whether you delegate, and what you delegate is not about how many tasks you pass on to team members, but the extent to which you trust the team to come up with effective solutions to your problems.

If you struggle with effective delegation, as opposed to distributing simple tasks around, there’s something you need to work on.