Upending disruption.

 

Large companies used to spend decades on the who’s who of business lists, in the zone where the competition couldn’t inflict much damage and it was easy to attract as much talent and funding as was wanted. Earnings were at record highs and high flyers were rewarded accordingly. However, their impact on the communities could have been better and profits could have been more fairly shared with employees. This is going by sentiments held by a certain generation expected to change the way business works.

Fresh college graduates, growing disillusioned with the promise of big corporates are going out on their own to start new businesses, fully aware of the risks. Reports indicate that many will fail within the first five years, but some succeed and grow quickly as if in solidarity with those who failed. Graduates who choose to work at existing corporate giants, where given the choice, seem to look for those that have a clear sense of purpose and direction.

By interpretation, existing businesses might need to be faster in getting the right products to the market. They would also need to show a stronger connection to a higher purpose than their forebears, as today’s millennial professional is looking for something more than size and rewards alone. In his book, “How will you measure you life?”, management consultant and professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, Clay Christensen came to the conclusion that there are things deeper than material definitions of success. This is after decades of observing the career paths of his Harvard MBA classmates.

Financial and material rewards have their place of course, but it is hard to find people at the end of their lives screaming for the opportunity to make a little more money. If it’s any reference to go by, the world’s richest tend to go after things that are more contributory in nature. The days where wealth was measured by expensive assets (or toys) are gone somewhat as doing that today communicates a certain emptiness in the actor. There is value to consciously investing in communities, making them stronger and more resilient.

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Millennials, also the world’s largest and soon to be wealthiest demographic, (born between 1980 and 2000) may have figured also come to a similar conclusion. They are out not only to create a good life for themselves, but to also make a difference in their environment. Research shows that some are willing to accept lower pay if the destination company is serious about improving the quality of life on a global scale. This is more likely to be the case as careers mature. A willingness to make a difference is part of the fuel for today’s startup. True, there is also the craving for wealth and fame but this usually gives way to a renewed quest for meaning as it becomes clear that after record profits, additional profit won’t have the same effect it once had. In effect, today’s founders might want wealth and fame, but are unwilling to let go of purpose and meaning at any phase in the process to becoming successful.

The established players will continue to experience irritation from these startups, losing out completely in some instances if they remain mainly focused on the bottom line. As most disruptions go, it will start in trickles, innocuous and may take years to grow. But if not prepared for, it will catch on and redraw the competitive landscape for decades to come.

A few established players have rightly recognised Millennials not only as a market segment, but also as a unique talent pool. Some now have millennials in strategic positions, while others have created internal units with products focused on their needs. In some cases outright acquisition of millennial startups has been the best option. Nevertheless, having experienced hands looking over their shoulders further ensures past mistakes don’t repeat themselves. Interestingly only a few startups have to succeed to upend an industry, and they have the wind in their sails at the moment.

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