The times they are a-changin’

With unbridled confidence and digital solutions at their fingertips, the new generation are ready to do it their way, says Johanna Frelin, chief executive of Hyper Island

7 min read

I meet and “hang out” with people from the younger generations, also called “Millennials” and ”digital natives”, every day – students, clients, staff and my own family. I have learnt how they think and I have seen how behaviour, values and motivations have changed rapidly during the past few years.


The technological advances during the past decades have enabled this rapid shift among younger people, giving birth to new opportunities. It is now easier than ever to start your own business (or businesses). The ways we interact have changed: younger generations now multi-task without thinking, and link with friends at the same time as they check in on social media networks, do online financial transfers and open up their new e-store.

Students at work

Students at work

The lines between what is private and what is professional have become blurred, including the perception of personal integrity as we used to know it. Kids of today trust their friends more than other authorities and ask their peers for advice before turning to mainstream media or the more “traditional” experts. They are used to freemium business models and are only prepared to pay for products or services that really add value to their lives. Most young people have already been part of, or maybe even have started, their own grassroots community movement (via the internet, of course). 


Young people are raised with the belief that they can do anything and that everything is possible

Despite the recent years of recession and high youth unemployment, young people are raised with the belief that they can do anything and that everything is possible. Looking at my own daughter, I have more than once been surprised, inspired – and intimidated – by her strong belief in herself and her capabilities.

What we see among our students is that titles, fancy brands or money are no longer key drivers in the creative industries. Instead, many seek to use their creativity to make an impact on a bigger level and choose to work with something they believe in. And if this “something” does not already exist, who would be a better person to do it than yourself?


Our statistics show that one in five students at Hyper Island will start their own business during their career; one in twenty straight after graduation. Some even start their own business after being enrolled a couple of weeks, like one group of Hyper Island students who formed Costeau Collective, raising funds through selling their brainpower on eBay, offering 48 hours of creative and artistic nouse to the highest bidder. Within a couple of days they managed to get US$10,000.


Digital native  at work or play?

Digital native at work or play?

Another example is the The Pop Up Agency, formed by a group of Hyper Island students who had just started studying interactive art direction. Blending the pop-up phenomenon with their creative agency, the idea was for the agency to pop up at their clients’ offices where they would work on a brief for 48 hours and then leave. The concept was a success and the group travelled all over the world to meet clients. A couple of months after graduation, the group has already opened up their first office in London.

Creativity has always been about problem-solving – looking at something from a fresh perspective

This world has always seen entrepreneurs, especially in the freelance creative industry. But during the past couple of years, there has been a great shift in the way we look at entrepreneurs. I remember how my own generation stereotyped the entrepreneur as a rare breed, brave, highly independent and high-risk loving. Today, everyone can – and maybe even should – start their own business. Looking at a growing group of our students, getting your own business has become the new aspiration. Still, the majority are keen to get traditional jobs, but most likely they will combine their jobs with numerous side projects and hobbies that can channel their drive and creativity. Young people are bored easily, and are constantly seeking new ways to grow and develop.


Brainstorming of socialising?

Brainstorming of socialising?


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Creativity has always been about problem-solving – looking at something from a fresh perspective or tweaking what already exists to create something new. But similar to the concept of entrepreneurialism, there are many assumptions connected with the meaning of the word “creativity”: that it’s for marketeers, creatives, artists or radical inventors working in the R&D department. “Being in the creative industry” used to mean working as a high-end consultant in a flashy agency, working long and stressful hours on major brand accounts. 


These days we are starting to see another big shift. Creativity spans different functions and industries, and more businesses are starting to realise the value of integrating creativity into their business. New breeds of industries and functions, such as e-commerce and data, have also increased the importance of, and need for, creativity. For example when spotting or creating a business need in the digital space or when utilising, interpreting, visualising and developing the data tracks left by your customers. Companies, such as payment innovator Klarna or music experience service Spotify, both utilise creativity and technology to develop and find new ways to do business.


A recent survey we did among professionals and leaders within our network show that creativity will be one of the most sought-after skills and traits among employees globally during the coming years.

Even so, creativity has started to earn more respect in management and boardrooms. And so it should.

With technology shaping new behaviours and needs that lead to new business models and revenue streams, creativity is the foundation for new perspectives that in turn could lead to development and innovation. If openness and creativity had always been core ingredients in management, would someone within the record industry have come up with an invention like Spotify? Or would somebody from Kodak have developed the business and come up with Instagram? 


Here is where I see that the younger generation, born within this context and with their creativity, go-getting attitude and belief that anything is possible, is highly valuable for any business or organisation.

Hard work can be fun

Hard work can be fun


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Talking about this with businesses and organisations, I am often met with a lot of frustration. The same people that have raised this generation get provoked by their values and attitudes towards work, leadership and the workplace. 


“They need to adapt. There is no way their way of thinking will pay off when entering the ‘real’ world… a spoiled generation, with no self-awareness, or respect for authority or experience,” is what I usually hear.

And yes, organisations and leaders should not make drastic changes simply to meet the conditions of the younger generations. But, at the same time, businesses need to realise that this change is happening within a larger context, and that, by leading development and embracing the new societal conditions, there are crucial gains to be made, like new approaches to business, leadership and innovation. 


And if businesses are not willing to prepare for these changes, the digital natives are fully prepared and ready to lead these changes themselves.

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