Young, Gifted and Blocked

From Job Seekers to Job Creators

As an early morning ‘ice breaker’ for our Leadership Retreats, we run quite a straight forward exercise that focuses on the groups ability to simplify complex situations and work in small action orientated teams. It’s a popular and fun exercise that provides many subtle and not so subtle insights into the prevailing culture of the organisation they all work in.

We split the attendees into teams of 6-8 people with a careful mixture of gender, age, experience and any other variables we are able to identify.

The objective is to produce a 140-character tweet to be used for marketing purposes.  Having explained the object of the exercise out loud to everyone, we then give out an A4 page full of complex data and impenetrable text. The page is a complete ‘red herring’, and has no bearing on the exercise whatsoever.

Game of Thrones

Because the teams are made up of people who don’t normally work together but are a mix of executives, managers and operational people, the time it takes to get things moving is always the first insight into the culture of the business.

Some organisations will have an institutionalised deference based upon seniority and/or age. This is not at all universal, but it does happen a heck of a lot. It can be frustrating for both participants and observers when the youngsters feel they have to defer to their elders, even if their elders have never been on social media or have never tweeted in their lives.

It is still all too rare that those with the most knowledge and experience of social media (usually the younger members) jump to the fore and take over proceedings. They are far more likely to stand back and let the elders and more senior people take over.

Fast Digits Love Digital

Some of the younger participants will just take out their smartphones or tablets and key in messages directly in to Twitter which does all the work and counting for them linking in images and videos to bring the whole exercise alive.

Each team is provided with a flip chart and before long someone will get up and scribe the 140-character message.

There’s usually painful counting and recounting out loud of actual characters with an unintentional, but sometimes insensitive suppression of ideas and dismissing of the young. This can lead to the young not even trying to speak.

Good Times

It’s a tiny but rather telling microcosm peak into why we really need to give the younger generation a regular damn good listening to, and appreciate that in our rapidly changing world, they may just have a really important voice that needs to be heard.

Today, those aged between 15 and 30 years old account for 1.8 billion people, nearly a quarter of the world’s population. They are without doubt richer than any previous generation and maybe the luckiest young people to have ever lived. They are by far the best educated generation ever. They are more intelligent than their elders and betters, and they live in a world where there is no smallpox and polio, measles and mumps are well on the way out too. They will live longer, have better nutrition and have so many more career and leisure options open to them.

If they are female or gay, they now have greater freedom in more countries than even their parents could ever have imagined possible.

They live their lives comfortably with swathes of new technology constantly hitting them and they nonchalantly consume these without skipping a beat.

With rapid advances in science and medicine, many will live well past 100 years old.

Something special is happening with this generation, they are not constrained by national borders or religion, gender or language. They have managed to form a common culture that appears to bond the world’s youngsters together in a manner never witnessed before.

Lucrative but Tough

But it’s not all good news, growing up nowadays is more expensive, takes longer and has become far more problematic than we have ever known before.

In most western developed countries, the populations are getting forever older and far too many government policies favour the old over the young. Getting into the world of work is much more challenging, but those who are in work are far better protected than ever before. This favours the old over the young who tend to be the majority of the unemployed.

It’s also the young unemployed who end up being forced to take the worse paid jobs, and again this may have lasting effects on their ambition and self-esteem.

Our young generation are much bolder when it comes to travel and moving around.  Unlike their parents and grandparents, they are much more likely to move far away from their birth place, sometimes cutting ties with their countries of birth forever.

There’s evidence that our society is becoming increasingly segregated by age. Just 5% of people living in the same neighbourhood as someone under 18 are 65. Compared with 15% in 1991. This geographical divide is unhealthy as it feeds misunderstanding and division between generations.

Many young people are prepared to leave poorer nations and go seek their fortune in a much wealthier nation.

It’s is a real shame that currently this youth migration has become an integral part of initially positive populist politics that quickly become negative nativism, despite the shrinking populations of so many richer states. These able, educated and energetic youth should be part of their employment solution.

Getting on to the housing ladder has become increasingly difficult for the young.  National and local government policies tend to be fiercely dominated by those who own homes already, and they tend not to want new homes built in their rarefied surroundings. Heavy handed regulation has also made it incredibly expensive for the young to buy their first homes, especially in the big vibrant cities where most of the migrating young would want to live.

The proportion of 25-year-old Brits owning their own home has shrunk by 50% over the past 20 years. Now just 18% of the UK’s property wealth is owned by people under 50.

So, the young have it good but also have it bad, but they still deserve to be listened to, as they are the future.


The young don’t always help themselves though, as they never vote in the numbers that they could, but are quick to complain that the same old tired and out of touch politicians are returned to power.

In the recent US election that saw Donald Trump take such a surprising win, just over a fifth of 18-34-year olds bothered to vote, as opposed to over 60% of those aged of 65.

This phenomenon of the young not voting is a global issue, far too few of the younger generation feel that their vote will make a difference. The young have very strong views, but they do not fit nicely into the old political ideologies of left and right. This view of socialist tendencies or open markets no longer reflects or copes with the challenges of today’s much more complex world.

As we saw with the Brexit referendum, there were those who traditionally vote for the left who voted ‘Leave’ and as many of the left voted ‘Remain’.  The same was true for those who would normally vote for the right, many voted ‘Leave’, whilst other traditional voters of the right plumped for ‘Remain’.

But when it came to the younger generation, nearly all of them wanted to Remain in Europe.

We need a new politics, and those of my vintage will struggle to escape the pull of the political past. We now need leaders who are unencumbered from the old ideologies, and will take each issue on its merits. They will not slavishly first think left or right, they will just want to resolve the problem or challenge in the most pragmatic and optimal fashion.

The German sage, Samuel Ullman, despite a degree of exaggeration nailed it “You are as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fears; as young as your hope, as old as your despair”.

Local Bonding

In the part of London that we live in, we are very close to where the tragic fire at the Grenfell Tower took place on the unforgettable night of 17th June, six months ago. The tragedy cut right across all political lines, but it happened to take place in the second wealthiest borough in the country, Kensington and Chelsea, but paradoxically, in one of the most deprived areas in the country.

The poverty that many of us grew up in, was a shock to those who live close by, but were clueless to how the other half lived. Before long, partisan politics were rearing their ugly heads and the entrenched local and national politics were at full throttle and at each other’s throats.

This was an absolute disgrace, and the 71 who lost their lives and the surviving victims deserved so much better.

Most on the ground, who lived close by, be they rich or poor, working class or middle class, no matter what faith, no matter what race, all came together as one to help their neighbours in need.

It was humbling to see nearly all the local restaurants and cafes keeping their doors open and welcoming anyone and everyone who was suffering to free food and shelter.

Both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn made their way down to provide support and perhaps leadership, but it was a hit and miss affair. Corbyn having a much more authentic touch and appeal, than the Prime Ministers rather aloof and strained exterior. But this should not have been about party politics and it is a real shame that it takes such a tragedy for so many to come together, but the younger generation were the brave and energised role models on how we might just resolve the big issues of the day.

Most of the long-suffering victims have still not been re-housed. Priorities need changing.

Young, Travelled and Purposeful

It was instructive to see the younger generation mobilise over social media, and many made their way to do everything they could to support the downtrodden victims and traumatised families and neighbours.

Many older people have deep roots in their communities but with few contemporary connections, while many young people have hundreds of contemporary connections but no roots in communities.

This is a generation whose ideas tend to have a purpose and it’s now so much easier to align with like-minded audiences who share the same needs, motives and values. This maximises their chances of coming together in huge numbers and very quickly behind a contemporary theme. This is a mobilisation of those who share similar opinions and want to quickly demonstrate their socially responsible attitudes and are not afraid to have a strong point of view or do something significant for people and the planet.

Technology has given them the platforms to engage with each other at unprecedented speed, and we all have to accept that a new multi-commitment mindset has arrived, and the old factions of left and right are no longer sophisticated enough for this generation. We should all now embrace this and look for opportunities to use it to everybody’s advantage.

Just like in our simulated simplification exercise they need and deserve their voices heard, but it will not be through our tired and broken old political systems.

Leadership is no easier today than it has ever been, and it must and will remain difficult. Leadership carries a huge responsibility, as leaders can have a huge impact on other people’s lives. It should be taken seriously and it deserves the positive recognition that makes it worthwhile. It is time to remove the barrier of age and better understand that we require new mindsets and fresh thinking to tackle some of the impenetrably polarising issues of today.

Contemporary Leaders now have to:

  • Be real and authentic
  • Learn to adapt and evolve
  • Be the leader you want to follow
  • Lead by example
  • Focus on moving forward not just up
  • Be prepared to fail at times
  • Believe that diversity works
  • Learn to get out of the way
  • Play to your inherent strengths
  • Realise that collaboration wins

As we see the arrival of many national heads of state who are now aged under 40, maybe times are changing, but need to change even faster. This might be the first and vital step in changing our youth from the disenchanted job seekers of today to the bold job creators of tomorrow.