Years ago, the limits of wealth and successful enterprise were set by people whose mindsets and mode of operation differ from what the millennial grew up understanding. Perhaps one of the most visible figures of that era is the former president of the US Donald Trump.
Mr Trump was born in 1946, and grew up in a world defined by three major catalysts of wealth creation — industry, real estate and finance.
The world’s billionaires of the era were marked by their involvement in these key areas. It took some of them many years to make it to billionaire status, and by the time they did, there were tangible physical assets to back their status.
Mr Trump’s fashion style epitomises the flamboyance of the era: Expensive designer suits, custom-made shoes and specially tailored shirts.
This was what the workplace that I entered into looked like. There was a boss who had all power and whose word was law. When my boss called me, I dropped everything and went to see what was needed. The most popular question of today’s workforce is “why”.
To ask why back in the day was professional suicide. The response to everything my boss said was “Yes sir”.
To disagree with the boss meant trouble because divergent thought was seen as insubordination. And so organisations were mostly led by the instincts of the boss, and the team existed to carry out his decisions.
Not in their wildest dreams could these Trump era billionaires have imagined what was coming — disruption. A poster boy for this era is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, born in 1984, 38 years after Trump.
In January 2016, Mr Zuckerberg saw his wealth increase by $6 billion in one day — from $41.6 billion to $47.6 billion. It is important to note that he joined the billionaire club at the age of 23 and had no tangible physical assets!
Mr Zuckerberg is a member of an elite group of people called centi-billionaires; people with a net worth of over $100 billion.
Little did the old guard know that new industries and economies were emerging. Suddenly, a new crop of generals showed up. Many were school dropouts wearing jeans and not the traditional expensive suits. They made or lost in one day what it had taken the old generals years of business to acquire.
Characteristics of this new power include the democratisation of thought, which opened up the space for ideas and accelerated growth and the quality of thought.
So important was this concept that Google developed a 20 per cent rule in which workers could spend 20 per cent of their time working on anything of their choice. Through this model, some of the great innovations that have made the company what it is were born.
With the democratisation of thought came value. A case in point is Instagram, in which 13 people built a platform that attracted a value of $1 billion when Facebook bought the company in 2012. Similarly, WhatsApp had only 55 employees when they were bought for $19 billion in 2014, also by Facebook. No longer did you need hundreds or thousands of people, to create value. With deep thinking, the right technology and cultural environment, companies can maximise on the era in which we live and take their creation of value to the next level.
Value is no more the function of dominant dictatorial leadership or large expensive offices. The value of this era will be generated by small groups of people working together with a sense of purpose and destiny.
It will be characterised by the drive to make a difference and, as Steve Jobs put it, to make a dent in the universe. It will be characterised by workplaces where everyone’s voice is important and where dignity comes not from titles, but from the contribution of value.
Wale Akinyemi is the convenor of the Street University (www.thestreetuniversity.com) and chief transformation officer, PowerTalks