10 Observations from working with Millennials

The dynamics of ‘work’ have been changing for a while now, so much that when I think about writing on the subject, my thinking almost seems outdated! Not surprising, GigaOm’s post from a year ago – How the great generational shift is causing transformation in the very nature of employment – shows as many as six generations active in the workforce these days! Each of them with different world views, attitudes, priorities and approaches to work. But given that I’m trading one demographic number for another in a couple of days, I thought it an appropriate time to share a few observations based on my recent experiences. Since I had written earlier on the challenges faced by my generation in The Future of Work and The Entrepreneur & the Professional, this post focuses on a younger workforce. Millennials, if you are into labels.

The first two points set the context. I mention these two because I think they have a direct link to the worldview, attitudes and behaviours of the emerging workforce towards work, and their life in general. They serve as the backdrop for me to observe the 15+ people I have managed in the last 4-5 years. More

A shift in the world order

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It has been a while since I wrote about nation states, or notion states as I call them. Now is not really a good time to bring this up in India, but hey, it’s a free country. Oh, wait! Therefore, let’s talk about Apple vs the FBI on where digital security ends and national security begins. (via The GuardianWashington-Silicon Valley shadowboxing as the publication puts it, and Apple has the support of Google, Facebook and Twitter. [If this were happening in India, by now Tim Cook would have probably been lynched by a mob, and charged for sedition – now a very loose word that can be applied to even things such as sneezing while watching the Republic Day parade on TV]

This battle is interesting as it is because it will set a precedent for an individual’s privacy rights, and is being fought between the world’s most valuable corporation and the world’s biggest (one might even say only) superpower. On one side, we have and entity whose decisions affect billions of lives around the world, and on the other, a country marked by boundaries but influencing policies that affect an equal number. Phenomenally intriguing and layered as this is, I actually find it riveting because I see a couple of my favourite narratives coming to a boil. More

Empathy & Monoculture

Thanks to Shefaly, I saw this excellent video on Aeon about “outrospection.” As opposed to discovering who we are and what we do in this world by looking inwards (introspection), “outrospection” is about discovering it through cognitive empathy – consciously looking to understand the perspectives of others, and going beyond the labels we might have made for them. The idea is that outrospection is the ask of the times we live in, and not introspection.

I quite disagree with that either-or view, and think both have their place in this era. They both work in tandem. For example, to let go of my prejudices, I’d have to understand why they exist in the first place and then proceed to change my perspective. Here outrospection follows introspection. Once I let go of my biases and listen more objectively, my worldview and my view of myself starts shifting again. In this case, introspection follows outrospection. As Lao Tzu says,

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Processes, People & Culture

It has been more than three years since I wrote about my Indigo fandom. Since then, they have been my preferred airline, mostly thanks to their on-time promise. A few weeks ago, Karthik wrote an excellent post “Why I love an errant Meru and hate the awesome Indigo!” that offered some unique perspectives based on a few of his recent experiences with the airline. He ends the post with When did the ‘plastic’ nature of Indigo’s customer-facing organization set in? May be around the same time their hostesses were asked to use wigs? It restored a sense of objectivity to my fandom.

Our way of doing things” is how one definition of culture goes and I remembered Gautam’s recent insightful post on the components that make up ‘culture’ in an organisation. If you look at these factors, you’d wonder whether a cultural change was at the root of Indigo’s new avatar. It made me think of something I wrote earlier – Culture Architecture – the thrust of which  was culture being a strategic business advantage. But how can that be made sustainable? I’ve been a big fan of processes. Indeed, one of my favourite posters is




Culture Architecture

Despite several posts on ‘culture‘, of the four Ps I’d mentioned in the Agile @ Scale post, ‘People’ is a topic that has gotten the least attention here in the recent past. As the change imperative forces organisations to be more responsive to rapidly changing external dynamics, the structures, processes and methods it had adopted for its internal stakeholders will most likely have to change as well. Jobs in earlier era were well defined constructs, but this era requires employees to work far beyond their job description in order to thrive. (“Why We Need to Change the Software in our Organisations“) It is probably not a coincidence that the four organisations that are defining the larger contours of business and technology are also the most favoured employers.

The task is not easy. On one hand, there is a workforce that is increasingly getting overwhelmed by communication technologies that are dictating an always-on culture. (“Why you hate work.”) On the other hand, there is a new generation entering the workforce that has expectations of a culture tuned to their lifestyle and ways of functioning. They rapidly disengage if they feel this is no happening. In both cases, the end result is a loss in productivity. This is only one part of the story. There are several factors that define culture, and in an organisation, there are several factors that resist change as well.  How does an organisation adapt to these dynamics? A few thoughts, some strategic, some tactical. More

Agile @ Scale


I think I used ‘dis-aggregated social network‘ on this blog for the first time in 2009, referring to Google’s basket of services that were connected relatively flimsily then. IMO, Google has always been that way, even including Google+. (read) I remembered it when I tweeted this about Facebook – around the time news of their Fan Audience Network started trickling in.

It got me thinking (again) on ‘scale’, a recurring theme here. In a less complicated world, where the trends in the business landscape were significantly more linear, (growth, competition, consumption, economy) scale was a powerful weapon to wield. But it’s a different world now. Artificial Intelligence, 3D Printing, Internet of Things, Wearables  and a hundred other things might completely disrupt the status quo and the need an incumbent brand satisfies. These are the known ones, and then there are the conceptually invisible (at this point) ones. Surviving (let alone thriving) in this shifting scenario requires agility, and it is difficult (though not impossible) to see scale and agility together. I looked to Google and Facebook for an approach towards this because not only are they surviving, they seem to be thriving. Yes, we’ll get to Amazon in a while.

What does it take to be agile at scale? I can think of four ingredients, the last three repurposed from the title of this post by JP Rangaswami.


I remember talking about re-defining of scale at the Dachis Social Business Summit. The thrust of the presentation was that brands could engage consumers at scale only if they use currencies that create value for the user in the context of a shared purpose. I have elaborated it in this post at Medianama. Recently, I saw that Hugh MacLeod has brought it out beautifully here. Simply put




The purpose need not have one constant rendition. As the landscape changes, a business will need to adapt it to suit changing circumstances. For that, a business needs to understand the possibilities. I saw a very good line in this post about being a maker – the more you work in the future, the less competition you will have. How much into the future a business needs to be working is subjective and depends on its dynamics, but if it doesn’t disrupt itself, someone else will gladly do it for them. (“The Jeff Bezos School of Long-Term Thinking” is a good read in this context)


While purpose and possibilities are all good at high altitudes, a business also needs strong operational  platforms to back it up. As organisations scale, I have seen two things that affect agility. One, the processes that are introduced to create efficiency @ scale more often than not, become the goal instead of a means, slowing things down and taking away from actual goals. Two, as processes and manpower increase, silos are created. The good news is that it is easy to see technology platforms bringing more efficiency into processes as well as an iterative way of thinking in the near future. It is already happening in marketing. This, and many other factors are also dictating a consumer experience driven approach and are forcing organisations to break silos. As the entire brand/organisation becomes a platform (read) that regularly revisits its context and purpose in the life of a consumer, ‘everything becomes a node on the network


HuffPo had a post sometime back, citing Zappos, calling 2014 the year of workplace reinvention. It is interesting to note that parent company Amazon has apparently aped Zappos’ ‘pay to quit’ policy, even as more and more stories about working there being a ‘soul crushing experience‘ are coming out. Meanwhile, the two points it mentioned for this to happen are purpose and trust. These I’d say are the bedrock of culture. It’s intuitive that a workforce mindful of the organisation’s purpose and their role in it would keep an eye out for the business’ possibilities, be ready to work beyond silos towards a great consumer experience, and bring in others who would help the business scale. This, along with purpose, has to be the glue that holds it all together, enabling the organisation to move fast without cracking.

While different sectors are at disparate distances from a radical shift necessitated by technological developments, it is, I think, inevitable. In this fantastic post titled ‘Knowledge is faster than mortar‘, which looks at scale through a different lens, the author makes the point that ‘the old mechanisms don’t fit the new social structure.Old mechanisms were built to scale stability, new ones will have to be built to scale despite instability. Anti-fragile, so to speak. Indeed, we will see many manifestations as existing structures try to adapt – internal mechanisms like Amazon’s 2 pizza rule, consumer facing disaggregation like Facebook that have a corresponding internal wiring, or brands tweaking their 4Ps even further for different contexts. But whatever paths businesses choose, this will hold true


until next time, the fast and the curious

Social’s second chance

For context, I believe the first chance was brand/marketing. That potential has pretty much been converted into a banal, mostly campaign oriented, traditional media (with better targeting thanks to various contexts) approach, though thankfully, we have do some rebel strongholds. I can clearly see this within the Big Shift construct – the third wave is about how organisations/institutions respond to knowledge and the flow of information, and what I see now is the typical marketing organisation conveniently converting social into a media framework that it seemingly understands and has worked with for a long while. The big boys – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube – have all created advertising products that cater to this thinking. Viva la broadcast!

But I’d like to think that all is not lost. Social changed to social media when it approached brand in the same way its media predecessors did. I see this as a phase which will last until social media saturates itself and becomes just another standard media platform. That leads me to think – if each domain (HR, Product) treats social in the same piecemeal way, it is bound to fail across them all.  When this does happen, at least some organisations will realise that a larger structural change is afoot and the institutional response needs to be more strategic. “The Next Social Imperative” made me realise that social has been attempting to work on top of business processes, but it needs to work the other way to even begin this journey. (also, strongly reminded of Tac Anderson’s post in this context back in 2010!) The driver will be market dynamics but the good news for organisations is that many in the existing workforce have the potential to become navigators of this change.

How does the workforce systemically play a part? Stowe Boyd’s insightful “The Future of Work : 4 trends for 2014” has at least two trends (consumerisation of work and me-isation of productivity and performance) that clearly point to this shift and its harbingers. Consumer technologies (and more so, the philosophy behind them) and a different kind of workflow can actually make an organisation more consumer centric than the silo approach currently followed. Steven Sinofsky’s long but superb post on the theory and manifestation of this paradigm shift is a must read on this subject. A very interesting manifestation of this shift I saw recently is Zappos’ move towards holacracy – a comprehensive ‘operating system’ for organisational governance that focuses on purpose and accountability without a top-down, hierarchical management structure.

This could be the first step towards ‘social business’, and I’m thinking of social business as a platform. (a fantastic read on platforms) The organisation and its purpose would actually work as a platform to channelise and augment the connection between employees and consumers. This purpose would also convert a job into work than an employee is connected to, and on the other side, it would help the consumer get closer to a brand he believes in. This is also when epics happen. Social (and other) technologies would play enablers for a more fundamental change in the structure and nature of work, and allow organisations to harness data, connections and transactions towards a shared purpose. More a transition than a disruption. Different organisations, I think, would evolve differently – some would not evolve at all. This is more hope than anything else, but I do believe that social technology has it in itself to be transformational, and not just transactional.

until next time, back to a socialist, communist workforce 😉


The evolution of work and the workplace

I spent Rajinikanth’s birthday  at Jaipur, all thanks to one of my favourite bloggers – Kavi, who, in his official avatar, invited me to his organisation’s annual HR conference. The theme of the conference was Evolve Connect Enhance, and I can honestly say that many of my perspectives were enhanced during discussions about the real  implications and challenges for organisations, brought about by radical changes in the business environment.

For now, I’ll let the talk do the talking!  (transcript below the ppt) Do comment with your thoughts!


Final Talk Points by manuscrypts


until next time, work it out

A culture of innovation

More than four years ago, I’d written a post juxtaposing product and consumer life cycles wondering how products could evolve, yet be relevant to users at various stages of their usage maturity. Personalisation as a theme has advanced much since then, and web based services are definitely closer to cracking this. I also got a perspective from Jeff Bezos in this post All businesses need to be young forever. If your customer base ages with you, you’re Woolworth’s” though I’d take it with a pinch of context.

But when disruption is the norm and technologies like 3D Printing and themes like the Collaborative Economy (and others) are poised to have an impact on an increasing number of business models, how does a brand pace its innovation? Branding Strategy Insider asked a relevant question on this premise – Can brands innovate too soon? The post quotes Michael Schrage in providing a good perspective “Your own rate of change is determined less by the quality or price/performance of your offerings than the measurable readiness of your customers and clients … Their inertia matters more than your momentum.

This post I came across cites a research by Forrester which points out that most innovations remain incremental in impact, rather than being radical innovation..Companies often ‘innovate’ things customers don’t even want. The post suggests a simple cyclical framework of Learn (strategy) – Make (technology) – Test. (design) A more nuanced view (and framework) of innovation can be found at Digital Tonto. Bezos once again has a take on it “We innovate by starting with the customer and working backwards. That becomes the touchstone for how we invent.

Social technologies provide multiple ways for an organisation to simulate scenarios and structure their innovation pathways in ways that will optimise customer benefits and business objectives. In fact, I believe that the responsive organisation (via) will soon become a strategic imperative. As quoted in that post “If the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is near.” I also think that the biggest challenge in this entire movement is a mindset-culture lag. In a sense, all the so-termed disruptions happen because incumbents were not agile enough to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. There is some wonderful learning from the founder of Sonar in this post titled “Postmortem of a Venture-backed Startup” One of may favourites is “Think of culture as a cofounder that is present when you are not.” The thing is, it can work both ways! A cultural mindset to experiment, fail, pick yourself up and work harder, and win is probably what will define the winning institutions of the future.


until next time, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” ~ Charles Darwin

Work from….

(image courtesy: Dilbert)

Sometime back, Marissa Mayer [disclosure: I’m a giggles fan 😉 ] created quite a flutter with her decision to get Yahoos to stop their work-from-home arrangements. This seems a performance linked decision and across the web, you will find various perspectives on it. This mix of perspectives continue on the employee side as well. Working-from-home brings its own set of pros and cons, and one can debate it from both sides.

As with most everything, there can hardly be a single solution that fits all, and there are various subjective elements on the employee and employer sides that need to be considered. This is especially so in the social era, when corporations will be compelled to align business objectives with a purpose that consumers and employees can identify with, and work cohesively towards.  More