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In the mid 1980s, I immigrated with my family from the UK to Australia. At ten years old and one of two British kids in my class, I quickly began to feel like an outsider. The label “Prisoner of Mother England 2” given to me by my classmates certainly helped.

We set about assimilating to the new culture. With not much money behind them, my parents had rented in a unit complex where other immigrants tried, like us, to make a new life. I met a boy from a newly-immigrated Polish family there and made fast friends.

I grew up in Liverpool in the 70’s and early 80’s. If you’ve been there, you’ll know the jokes about coming out in the morning to find the wheel of your car stolen. But not every kid at school knew my city’s reputation. What they did know, was the strong, almost indecipherable ‘Scouse’ accent I brought with me. The accent made it clear I was an outsider here.

As a ten-year-old boy, all you want to do is make friends and fit in. As i hung out with my Polish friend, I did my best to imitate an Australian accent, but intentionally focusing on my speech only made the ‘Scouse’ more prominent. Soon it evolved into a weird mix of Liverpudlian, Polish and Australian. Believe me, my classmates made much of the new sound.

It became evident to me that something had to change if I wanted to enjoy my life going forward in Australia. This convergence of cultures and accents needed to resolve itself; the faster the better.

As leaders in the day of instantaneous global connection, we see a similar convergence of cultures in our context. Old meets new. East meets west. Machine meets human.

If we want to get our bearings and chart a course forward, we must understand the new context in which we find ourselves. Then, we can make informed decisions about changing ourselves and the organisations we serve.

As I reflect on the external changes in the global culture over the past generation, I see an entirely “new normal” rising to influence our lives and work for the generation to come. Here are three of the most important things to understand about our context:

The “Triple Bottom Line” Rises

In Business 101, we learned that a firm’s chief responsibility is to deliver increasing value to its stakeholders, generally through profit but also through the appreciation of assets. More recently, however, we’ve concluded that approach leaves much to be desired.

As people became more connected and able to share their stories, we grew aware of grave inequities in our workplaces. We saw the human cost present in our manufacturing systems and the impact of business practices on communities, and decided this would no longer be acceptable. So, beside “profit,” the word “people” was added to the bottom line.

We also became aware of the impact on our planet that we didn’t have (or at least didn’t know) 100 or 150 years ago. Questions of natural resources, air quality, land use, and the global climate entered the picture. Profit alone couldn’t provide the calculus for lasting, viable commerce in the centuries to come.

That’s not a knock against profit, by the way. Businesses should improve the lives of their stakeholders and employees by enhancing financial stability and empower them to do good in the world. A rising tide does lift all boats – but so do rising sea levels.

In the 21st century and beyond, businesses will place “planet” and “people” alongside “profit” as the primary values, or pay the social and economic price. The new generation will make sure of that. Speaking of which…

 

A New Generation Drives Industries

Members of Generation X take their place atop massive organisations with the power to influence billions of lives. The richest man in the world grew up watching Star Wars and shares memes prolifically on Twitter.

Generations Y and Z are implementing the vision, or going their own path – and voting with their dollars (or euros, or yen). Never before in the history of mankind has one age group held so much economic power, and the global marketplace feels the gravity.

But Millenials and Gen Z carry a different set of priorities than those who came before them. They grew up with one eye on the outcomes of the past century and another eye on their fellow humans scattered around the globe.

Now, they’re giving up on the grind by turning down promotions and higher compensation in favor of family, well-being, and mental health. They’re passionate, socially active, and they can afford to demand change.

The pandemic only accelerated this seismic shift. In decades to come, the new generation will steer us all toward conscious capitalism, and the move has already begun.

They’re leaving what they perceive as soulless corporations and joining or starting their own, more sustainable ventures. They refuse to work somewhere without flexibility and alignment – and they can afford to be picky in a digital economy powered by previously unimaginable technology. In regards to that…

The World Sits at a Technological Crossroads

We’re at the tail end of the digital innovation. COVID-19 showed us that for many, work is entirely viable through technology, from the comfort of a mattress or local coffee shop. Even for jobs requiring labor, technology has begun to facilitate and augment work like never before.

Technologically-minded historians agree that the 3rd Industrial Revolution took place in the latter half of the 20th century to the present day. It brought nuclear energy, telecommunication systems, the internet, robotics, and the beginning of A.I.

Now a new shift has started, with the potential to alter life as we know it. The digital innovation has met biological and physical innovation. The Cloud and Internet of Everything have given us an unprecedented level of connectedness, redefining what it means to be human.

Imagine telling someone in the 1950s that your watch can detect and analyze your vital signs, connect with your fridge to analyze your stock of food and suggest changes to your diet, order said foods from the grocer and have them delivered to you within two hours… all without you leaving the couch, watching your choice of millions of television programs or billions of videos.

This is just the start of the 4th Industrial Revolution. The tools and technology we will use to conduct business 15-30 years from now haven’t even been invented yet.

 

The Path Forward

As a 10-year-old immigrant in Australia, I set about consciously training my accent,  listening carefully to the kids and the conversations around me. The new context forced me to change, or risk outcast status for the rest of my school days. Very quickly it became hard to distinguish that I was from the ‘”motherland.”

Nowadays, I don’t attempt to mask where I’ve come from… but I’m also forthright about where I want to go.

In the same way, today’s leaders must determine how to honor the old while integrating the new. Most err on one side or the other. Some hold to tradition, “the way we’ve always done it” as they watch their influence evaporate. Others try to reinvent the wheel, not understanding that some boundary lines were set for a very good reason.

For positive change to take place, we have to synthesize the two. We must accept the realities of our context, and identify points of transformation going forward. Then, we must leverage our positional authority and nonpositional influence in a new direction.

It may feel awkward at first, like learning a new accent… but soon, we’ll find our footing in a new land. If you want to learn more about leading change in the 4th Industrial Revolution, visit Change Chef.