CONFIDENCE CULTURE: The art of capitalising on youthful exuberance
“You can’t win anything with kids” said renowned BBC pundit, Alan Hansen, following the opening day of the 1995 Premier League season.
He was alluding to a youthful Manchester United outfit that had just lost their opening fixture of the campaign. 260 days later they were crowned champions and thereafter known as one of the greatest football teams to play ‘the beautiful game’: disproving the validity of any such concerns.
From Hansen’s, now infamous, soundbite we can learn a lot about historic and systemic attitudes towards youth vs experience and how the former is often overlooked as a component of business success.
Where Hansen lacked faith in the abilities of younger professionals, Sir Alex Ferguson had belief in what he saw as a longer-term strategy.
One man would be reminded of the quote by his colleagues for years to come, the other would use it as impetus for what would later become a footballing dynasty.
Agile by age, agile by nature
While Ferguson’s bullish perseverance with talented, albeit inexperienced players has certainly paid off, I’m not suggesting we implicitly trust those fresh out of University to run the nation’s biggest brands — although the success of people like Ben Francis at GymShark and Whitney Wolfe Herd at Bumble has shown that this isn’t beyond the realms of possibility.
However, there is great value in trusting, and indeed harnessing, the raw creativity and fearless exuberance of youth.
The pandemic has dealt young people an unfortunate hand with regards to their employment. Statistically, young professionals have been the group most likely to lose their job (OFNS) in the fallout of COVID-19 and they make up a considerable proportion of the nation’s furlough claimants as a result.
The job-search paints a similarly bleak picture, with unprecedented numbers of applicants for a scant number of graduate opportunities. Those lucky enough to succeed are faced with the daunting prospect of virtual onboarding, the inability to adopt the age-old technique of ‘learning by osmosis’, and an overwhelming sense of disconnect from those they spend the majority of their waking hours working alongside.
However, such challenges are equipping this generation with a uniquely valuable skill; the capacity to be truly agile in the workplace, as well as out of it.
Agile working, methodologies, mindsets — not only are they the buzzwords of the 21st century, but they’re vital tools to navigate brands and businesses through crises. While mammoth companies are still grappling with how to facilitate agile ways of working, for the youth of today, being agile is an imbued mindset, a second nature and an imperative for success.
This new wave are adapting to a changing environment — they aren’t learning how to be agile, they’re living it. This makes them uniquely positioned to help businesses future-proof against tomorrow’s challenges and potential crises.
This is a generation that has lost confidence in today’s professional world, but is uniquely prepared to tackle tomorrow’s challenges — and it’s down to organisations themselves to decide whether to take advantage of the latter by addressing the former.
Trust your talent
Challenges are inevitable and it’s clear that brands must look outside of the proverbial box for agile solutions to help tackle them. Empowering younger employees within your business can act as a vital first step in doing so.
Firstly, empowering youth within your business to take ownership allows leaders to focus their skills where they are needed most — on addressing the key strategic challenges facing the business. You need to give business leaders the freedom to be removed from the messy day-to-day and look farther out, in order to make the decisions only they’re experienced enough to make.
Secondly, and arguably more importantly, empowering youth provides the basis for a positive internal culture which can directly enhance the performance of younger talent within a business.
Too often, younger employees endure a working environment in which they are handcuffed by a fear of what might happen if something doesn’t go as planned. Usually, this can be attributed to a lack of trust from senior colleagues — meaning junior employees are stripped of the confidence they need to flex the intrinsic creative abilities they likely possess.
But that’s easy to change.
Embodying a culture of confidence within your business simply means trusting in the talent you have recruited, paving the way for those employees to feel confident and empowering them to take the reins and run with their own ideas.
Fail fast, learn fast
As human beings, our brains have evolved to look at threats through a ‘life-or-death’ lens. In the workplace, dismissive provocations by colleagues ignite a fight-or-flight response, which hijacks our ability to think clearly and narrows our cognitive response.
Google foster the latter, and internal culture has become paramount to the business’ success. Following a two-year study which examined team performance, the tech-giant determined one key trait of the highest performing teams: psychological safety, i.e., having the confidence to work instinctively and ‘stick your neck out’ without the fear of being punished for a mistake.
“In Google’s fast-paced, highly demanding environment, our success hinges on the ability to take risks and be vulnerable in front of peers.” — Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google
Google aren’t alone. This notion of ‘fail fast, learn fast’ is echoed in the approach of the late Steve Jobs, who advocated for a ‘test and learn’ environment to drive innovation and growth. This mentality prepares people to see failure as an opportunity to grow and has defined Apple as the trailblazer of consumer technology.
Gil Horsky, Director of Global Innovation at Mondelez, encapsulated this sentiment brilliantly in his talk at last year’s GIF; “If you’re not on the verge of getting fired at least once a year, you’re not doing your job as an innovator. You’re not pushing the boundaries and taking risks.”
Creating a culture of confidence and empowering the youth within your organisation will undoubtedly lead to some failures, but these setbacks provide invaluable learning opportunities — and collective talent will grow as a result.
It’s time to find the Ferguson in you and trust the younger, fresh thinking that is currently buried and under-utilised within your organisation. Empower them to learn more organically and instil them with the confidence to bring their voice and their passions to the table.
As Sir Alex famously retorted… “If they’re good enough, they’re old enough”.
Oli Kriskinans is a Consultant at Brand Genetics, an agency specialising in human-centred insight and innovation. With experience across strategy & innovation, as well establishing his own youth media start-up, Oli is a proven entrepreneur and problem-solver with a distinct passion for understanding what drives human behaviour.