Fast Company: Gen Y Entrepreneurs Transform Work, Life & Biz–Interview w/ Upstarts! Author, Donna Fenn

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Striking out on your own, either voluntarily or involuntarily, is becoming a more common experience along an increasingly flexible career path.  And, it turns out entrepreneurship is especially appealing for members of Generation Y.   In her terrific new book, Upstarts – How Gen Y Entrepreneurs Are Rocking the World of Business and 8 Ways You Can Profit from Their Success (McGraw/Hill), Donna Fenn says we all need to pay attention, 0071601880

“They were born between 1977 and 1997, and you can call them what you like; I call them entrepreneur generation.  There are approximately 77 million of them, and their sheer numbers, combined with the rate at which they’re starting businesses, will make them a force to be reckoned with…these “Upstarts” are destined to have a profound effect on the economy and specifically on the small-business landscape.”

In a recent interview, I asked Fenn to talk about some of the ways Gen Y entrepreneurs were transforming the future of work, life and career… for all of us:

CY: Welcome, Donna Fenn!  One of the reasons I love your book is that I want business leaders to expand their understanding of work+life flexibility, or flexibility in how, when and where work is done and life is managed.  Flexibility, in all of its forms, is a strategic lever that has broad application as a way to run your business.  The Gen Y entrepreneurs in your book seem to fundamentally see flexibility as a way of operating.  Here are some examples from the stories in the book:

  • Cost Saving: Having all or part of your workforce work remotely to save overhead costs, such as real estate.
  • Talent Resourcing: Using a combination of full-time, part-time, and “as needed” employees.
  • Productivity/Engagement: Letting people flexibly manage their lives and work as long as they produce.  This boosts morale and productivity.
  • Marketing/Brand Development: Devoting a certain number of hours a month to community service to promote their brand and motivate employees.

Do you think these Gen Y entrepreneurs are applying strategic work+life flexibility consciously or intuitively?  What do they “get” that many business leaders over 30 years old struggle to understand?

DF: This generation is going to have enormous impact on the future of work for all of us, as employers of their own business but also as employees.  They are hardwired for this more flexible and innovative way of operating we know is very important.

Gen Y entrepreneurs are creating the places they want to work. I don’t think they are sitting down and thinking about it.  They are doing it completely intuitively.  It gives you a huge advantage when an approach that is so strategic, important and gives you a competitive advantage in the workplace is something you don’t even have to think twice about.  It’s like the air you breathe.

The things that are important to Gen Y entrepreneurs—again, you have to be so careful when characterizing a whole group, because there are people to whom obviously this doesn’t apply—but by and large they crave flexibility.  For them, work+life is a 24/7 mash up.  There is no clear dividing line. They are the first generation that expects work to be fun and meaningful.  When you say that to a member of Gen Y, their response is, “Duh!”  But to anyone else and the response is “What a concept that I should actually want to go to my job in the morning.”

They want to work with their friends. They want to have relationships at work, and they want to play and have fun.  People might shake their heads, “What a spoiled bunch of kids,” but think about it.  What’s it like when you play games in the middle of the day?  You find out a whole lot about people that you otherwise might not know.  Like who’s trustworthy, or super competitive.   There is value to game playing and it’s a stress reliever at a time when we are working really hard.  To the older generations, there is still this dividing line, “When I am working I’m working.  When I’m playing, I’m playing.”  This generation doesn’t see it that way.

CY: From the book, it is clear that Gen Y entrepreneurs aren’t rigid about where they work. (Click here for more)