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Generation Flux

Recently a colleague sent me a link to an article over at Fast Company all about what it has decided to call “Generation Flux.” The general idea is that “fluxers” are successful in today’s volatility because they find comfort in uncertainty, apparently unlike the norm (presumably the rest of us poor, rigid souls). Unfortunately, the definition of a “fluxer” doesn’t get much more specific than that; it remains, then, uncertain as to what it means to be of “Generation Flux” or how to be like them. So, let the hand-waving commence about how one aught to be more fluxy in order to succeed.

As I read the article I got increasingly annoyed. Why? Because I have a problem with the notion that in the face of frequent and abundant change, the most reasonable response is some kind of indifferent agnosticism toward understanding why things are happening and what might occur in the near or more distant future. As if there’s a measurable level of change past which planning is impossible. And the idea that success will only come to those who embrace instability is, if taken dogmatically, about as self-refuting as post-modernism (of the “the truth is there is no truth” variety) was. Pomo sprawled and collapsed upon itself before most people even realized it went away—hence the fact that some philosophers still waste their time debunking it. By the time there’s a theory behind Generation Flux, it’ll have passed with no existential impact other than to give people something to argue over.

But I think there probably is a meaningful point here—especially the idea that today’s is a generation of people who will, despite being immersed in instability, manage to carve out a kind of success that looks very different from the 20th century paradigm. So, sure, that’s interesting. But it’s not really new. People found ways to success in the depression; why would that be any different today?

Meanwhile, some very 20th-century style people have ignored the act-now impulse and have been working toward a longer-term vision for years now and will likely wield huge influence in the next decade or more as a result. One great example is IBM. Not as often talked about, and vastly less “sexy” than the Googles, Facebooks, etc., IBM is still a major player. In fact, the CEO who just retired, Sam Palmisano, initiated their smart cities initiative years before anyone owned a smartphone or even knew what they were. He had the much longer view in mind and encouraged his research team to observe the past and present but think about how their observations extrapolated over a much wider span of time. I think that kind of thinking and planning is still possible and still relevant. In fact, IBM is one of the only major companies today actually developing infrasctructural technology. I wrote this in my last PRINT column and stand by it: “It would be a shame to be remembered as the generation that tweeted while the world crumbled around us.” I think IBM gets this.

By the way, science fiction people have been pushing on this for years, and from their cohort comes some really interesting thinking. Here’s an example: A yearly brainstorm from Bruce Sterling with the express purpose of very long term thinking. I’d be willing to bet that many of his notions prove accurate. A second example comes from Charles Stross, another brilliant science fiction author.

But I digress…

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