embrace the snowflakes

Q. Why in the age of the internet does the British army need the ‘snowflake generation’ more than ever?

A. Their compassion in dealing with local populations, and their technological prowess, are essential qualities in any modern military operation

Major Heloise Goodley, army chief of general staff’s research fellow at Chatham House, says that new skills are needed for the modern, machine-augmented battlefield.

“The proliferation of automation and artificial intelligence has not decreased the requirement for a human component in war, but it is changing the decision making and cognitive skills required of those soldiers. The army needs soldiers who have the intellectual and psychological aptitude to work in an increasingly automated operational environment, the very computer skills Generation Z have become derided for.” —The Independent 2019-01-05

This is not your father’s Army. It’s not even the Army I left 20 years ago. Back in 1998, on leaving the Army, I felt that global digital networks would change everything — they have. I have more recently noted that the future is networked & feminine and that we need to retrieve gender balance to adapt to new societal and economic realities. That balance is not just masculine/feminine but a balance that utilizes a broad range of human capabilities —  including “phone zombies” & “snowflakes” as the UK recruiting posters state. Just look at the leadership skills that 32,000 respondents indicated were the most important in today’s work world.

Image: Inc. Magazine

The top traits are — Plans for the Future, Communicative, Decisive, Reasonable, Flexible, Intuitive, Patient, Resilient. Most of these are considered more feminine.  Organizations can ignore these at their peril. A networked society is not an industrial society.

While many deride the military as a traditional institution that is not innovative, the reality of combat and operational stress sometimes enables it to see beyond the range of business, especially companies focused on the next quarter.  For example, the military integrates informal and social learning into its work, whereas many civilian organizations only develop formal instruction and leave the rest of workplace learning to chance. This missing half of training has been the secret of effective military units for centuries.

The British military is appealing to a sense of relatedness — “camaraderie and strong bonds that remain unique to soldiering, have been in decline in the workforce” — which should be the foundation for any workplace today. We need some control over our lives, we want to be good at something, and we want to feel that we belong with other people. I have said that the organizational design innovation we need today is connected people doing human work in organizational structures that promote self-determination. Diverse workplaces reflect a greater sense of humanity. Embrace the snowflakes.

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