Both confident and anxious, “Generation Flux” embraces chaos

Chaos is the defining feature of modern business, driven by “dizzying velocity” of our changing environment.

That’s the claim made by Fast Company’s editor Robert Safian in his lead story, which cites Box co-founder and CEO Aaron Levie as a “Generation Flux” executive who is both “totally confident” and “deeply anxious”.Here are a several good Levie quotes:

“The three-month road map is about the best horizon you can think about coherently.

“You have to build an organization that is capable of acting like a startup but can operate at large scale simultaneously.

“The advantages of long-standing brands, of distribution, of reach _ these don’t offer the same leverage thanks to technology, the newcomer may be as well or even better equipped.”

Levie’s Box is an online storage company, with a $US 1.2 billion valuation and 600 employees.

Editor Safian’s central message is that business must have a cultural DNA that drives a rhythm of constant reinvention.

“We have grown up with assumptions about what works in an enterprise, what the metrics for success are, how we organize and deploy resources,” Safian says.

“Those assumptions no longer hold true.

“The challenge is to encourage creativity and agility while retaining the advantages of hierarchy.

“Organizational systems based on the Newtonian model are not equipped for these dualities.

“Leadership is about ambiguity. You need a balance between command-and-control and bottom-up. It’s not one or the other.”

Here are a good collection of quotes from the Safian’s article:

  • “Sometimes it’s good to see raw ideas at a basic level.” –Mark Parker, CEO of Nike, which employs 44,000 staffers around the globe
  • “Today, we need to listen more carefully. I read what people say on Twitter, my friends on Path, in addition to formal media. I look for patterns, and then I post questions back to my network.” –Padmasree Warrior, chief strategy and technology officer at 67,000-employee Cisco Systems
  • “If you don’t go to every level of your company, you distance yourself from the marketplace and from your people.” –Aaron Levie, CEO of 600-person Box
  • “You can’t have people siloed in their particular areas of strength. You have to value all styles, because you will never know which type will solve a problem … we need everyone contributing. The wisest decisions are made by those closest to the problem– regardless of their seniority,” retired Four-Star US Army General Stanley McChrystal,
  • “We’re in a new era. For us, that’s very exciting. If I’m at a multibillion-dollar conglomerate, I’m very scared,” Troy Carter founder and CEO of Atom Factory

Interestingly Nike’s Parker holds out hope for the established players.

He says companies, regardless of their size, need to foster a “cadence of change”.

“I don’t think it’s true that size by definition limits adaptability,” Parker argues. What does is “the notion that the way we’ve done things is a formula for success. That can be death”.

Safian says the “Generation Flux” leaders he spoke to valued “hard experiences” over “codified learning”, which they saw as “insulating business people” from today’s realities.

He quotes the CEO of a large not-for-profit Neigorhood Centres, Angela Blanchard, saying she tells her people that they cannot expected to be coddled.

When she meets promising job candidates, they are often forthright about their limitations. “They’ll say, ‘I’m not trained for this,'” Blanchard notes.

Her response to them: “Well, no one is.” Increasingly, she says, the most important jobs are what she calls “FIO jobs”: “Figure it out. That is the job,” she tells them.

Finally, Safian says “Generation Flux” leaders must take time out to reflect.

For Blanchard, “Some of the things that matter most unfold in the same rhythm they always have. If the goal is to connect with all opportunities, we will be burned-out shells,” she says. “The pace of life hasn’t changed, even if the pace of communication has. Do people fall in love more quickly? Do people trust each other more quickly? I work in my garden: You cannot make flowers bloom faster.”

Check out Safian’s article in the November 2012 issue of Fast Company and these Generation Flux tagged stories.

8 years ago