The (management) power of culture clash

As an entrepreneur in my mid-forties who launched my first successful business in my early twenties, I’ve learned much of what I know through experience. Yet three of the most important lessons – the value of knowledge-sharing between generations, the limitations of hindsight and how to keep an entrepreneurial brain sharp – have come from running my latest company with someone who is 20 years younger.

My co-founder and business partner, Ellie Farrer, is 28. Together, we recently launched ICONIC – a marketing and entertainment company which aims to help brands navigate today’s new era of marketing by harnessing the power of popular culture, creative talent and AI.

Despite our age difference, we have a number of things in common; because of it, however, there is also much we don’t.

At 23, I started a digital agency, Holler, powered by enthusiasm, passion, and self-belief. We were young and bold, unused to the ‘right’ ways of doing things and as such willing to do things differently, to try something new and disrupt.

So, we were the first to market a TV show – E4’s ‘Skins’ – via social media. We made an arcade game for the hip-hop collective Wu-Tang Clan. And for the rapper Ludacris, we created a digital tombola. In short, we made up our own rules and learned faster than we could fail.

At 28, Ellie has racked up more experience than I had back then. She’s worked with brands like Puma, Gatorade and Visa producing content, dealing with clients, and thriving in the cut and thrust of agency life.

So, she has that same can do anything attitude that I had.

This was clear when we put out a print magazine, ICONIC MAG, this spring – something that despite being digital native in a post-print world she was as keen to do as me. And she’s applied the same enthusiasm and make-it-happen confidence to other complex projects like creating podcasts, hosting a live event series – even launching a drink.

Over time, however, all of us change. And so do the assumptions others make about us. We learn from the mistakes we make. And people assume as we’ve launched a number of successful companies, we can do it again.

But with this comes danger.

Hindsight – the ability to reflect on past experiences and extract valuable lessons – is good. But hindsight bias – the temptation to rinse and repeat, which feels safe but invariably leads to dull and bland outcomes – ends up making you wary of risk.

Autopilot may be comfortable, but it is a risky strategy for an entrepreneurial brain which by definition is driven by more than thew desire to simply follow a safe path to steady growth. Key is to keep testing and pushing and challenging: are you doing enough to stand out, to be different and cut through?

Which brings me to the benefits of working alongside a much younger co-founder and business partner.

It’s not just about tapping into or being inspired by the energy and drive of someone born in the 90s. Instead, it’s about being challenged by experiences, opinions and gut instincts that are different to my own – often in surprising ways.

And through this I am unbound and freed to be unfiltered.

Nor is it just about being dared to take more risks. Instead, her reality-check and pragmatism can reign in my wide-eyed dreaming. Where I might get over-excited at the start of a creative pitch, she will have a cool, calm head reminding me of crucial details vital to the successful answer.

Then there’s the juxtaposition of our different networks.

My peers are now in positions of seniority and power in brands, companies, agencies and beyond. Ellie’s immediate tribe are the hyper-connected crew who live and breathe contemporary culture and naturally tune into micro-trends and niche communities.

Combining our strengths helps us to work well. Cultural clash from our age gap, however, is a brilliant and exciting by-product.

Gen Z/Millennial crossovers have wisdom beyond their years, I have learned. And I firmly believe that others could benefit by learning this, too.