There are bits of my portfolio life which I obviously can’t talk about. For instance, the time when I helped Sir Martin Sorrell structure a complex 10-year reverse buy-out of a research facility in Pyongyang. (As it happened, it was just someone’s front room).
It’s a shame really, because some of the most interesting projects are out of bounds. In the TV world, I once advised Simon Cowell to start a TV show in which he just laughed at some mentally deficient people, but I don’t know if he followed my advice.
But there are bits I can talk about. Like the breakfast hosted by Albion last Thursday to discuss Gen Y and ask the question – “Is this the end of youthful rebellion ?”
Jesus, I f*cking hope not. Is there nothing worth fighting against these days ?
That just makes me so angry.
It reminds me of when Adam Lury, the greatest planner who ever lived, used to say that there was no point in doing research groups in Birmingham. He said the people there never hated or loved anything, they just went “yea well it’s allright, innit” about everything you put in front of them.
I hoped the same wasn’t true of Gen Y.
The morning started brilliantly when we met Eliza Robeiro – a spectacularly self-possessed and eloquent 17-year-old. She talked about fighting knife crime – something she set up a charity organisation to deal with, at age 13. Get that. This young woman was doing something amazing to change the world for the better, at an age when the rest of us were just figuring out why sex was going to dominate our lives for the next 60 years …
We met Robin Klein, a serial entrepreneur, who works with a lot of Gen-Y-ers. Robin claimed to be from Gen X – but I reckon that like me he scrapes into the bottom of the “Baby Boomer” group. And while I’m not normally a fan of bottom-scraping, I do think Boomer is better than X; the Boomers changed stuff and set agendas. Sure they screwed up massively, on a global scale, in a way which has probably f*cked the planet for ever – but hey, anyone can make a mistake. And unlike Gen X, they weren’t content just to get the mortgage paid and buy too many iPods.
We met Emi Gal, an immensely impressive 23-year-old winner of this year’s Seedcamp, something which Albion takes a key interest in.
He talked about his attitude to failure. He told us of one company he’d set up which “went successfully bankrupt” – a good joke which the VC guy then picked up and said was absolutely crucial. Gen Y doesn’t mind failing. In “the Valley” apparently, they say – Fail fast, fail often.
We met Mike Butcher, editor of Techcrunch, who told us the now familiar provocation that Facebook is “the people you used to know” and Twitter is “the people you want to know in the future”. I always want to add – “and Linked-in is the unemployed people you wish you didn’t know”.
He also told us that journalists need to “get off the stage and into the crowd”.
Sadly he didn’t take his own advice, since it would have been great if he’d mingled among us. We could have patted him on the back and offered him a sticky bun.
If I had to sum up Gen Y, I’d say that they are massively into collaboration and doing stuff without waiting for permission.
They’re also into failing.
I like that a lot. Experimenting without having the paralyzing fear of failure is at the heart of all true creativity.
But for me the most poky thought came from Robin, the guy with the grey hair.
He said he was always looking for the next disruption. That nothing was interesting unless it disrupted the market. This is a guy who invests money in exactly that attitude and makes a fortune doing it.
That’s a belief I’d like to see a lot more of in Gen Y.
Not just wanting to make money for its own sake – I hope they’re smart enough to get beyond that.
But the idea that you have to be willing to upset the applecart.
More than that, actually. You have to be actively looking for applecarts to tip over.
Which is another way of saying what Marlon Brando said in that old film when someone asked him “What are you rebelling against ?”
And he replied “What have you got ?”