From left: Padma Warrior, CSO & CTO of Cisco; Troy Carter, CEO of Atom Factory; and Robert Safian, editor of Fast Company, discuss Generation Flux at SXSW Interactive (Photo: Andrew Hampp)
First Douglas Coupland’s 1991 novel popularized the term Gen X, then an Ad Age editorial declared a movement around Gen Y. Now Fast Company would like you to familiarize yourself with Generation Flux, a term used to describe a group of people defined not by their chronological age but by their ability to impact change.
“We’re living in this time of chaos, uncertainty and ambiguity, and what defines these things is how you succeed,” Fast Company editor Robert Safian said in a panel titled “Fast Company Presents: Are You Generation Flux?” at South By Southwest Interactive on Sunday. “[Generation Flux] is much more defined by a psychographic mindset, a willingness to embrace and be adaptable and flexible about what’s going on around them.”
Safian was joined by a panel that included Troy Carter, CEO of Atom Factory and manager of Lady Gaga, as well as Padma Warrior, chief strategy officer and chief technology officer of Cisco, with additional insights provided throughout the audience from executives like General Electic’s Beth Comstock, Microsoft’s Danah Boyd, Hearsay’s Clara Shih and others.
For Carter, a longtime music executive who’s recently become an active investor in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley, embracing change and flux is a natural result of the music industry’s vast overhaul during the past decade. “We were the canaries and the coal mine of digital change when it comes to media, and now we’ve had the luxury of getting our asses kicked for the last 10 years,” he said. “The new generation of music executives and artists — they’re breaking down distribution models, they’re breaking down any sort of barriers or intermediaries when it comes to reaching audiences, and the companies that are sticking to their guns are the companies dying off now. With us, you evolve or die on your business. Nothing wakes you up like cold concrete.”
Carter added that his personal business is currently in flux because of his work with startups as well as emerging artists, which he also treats as startups in taking them on as management clients. A recent signing, Ceremonies, will release an album in partnership with Atom Factory later this year without a label deal, and without having played a single live show.
“They created this record that’s lived in their bedroom for the past year – just three brothers making music,” Carter said. “Instead of us taking it directly to a music label and signing things over, our idea was, ‘Let’s do it differently. Let’s split the royalty with the band. We own it together. It’s not gonna cost us any money to do Instagram, Twitter, all these other places that are free for now. We’re creating these new models as you go along because you gotta be able to take a risk.”
As for whom best personifies Generation Flux to Carter, that would be Gaga’s label head Jimmy Iovine, co-founder of Beats By Dre. “He’s one of the most creative guys in the business from creating Beats headphones. Her saw the deterioration of the music industry. Three hundred bucks is a better business vs. $1.29.”
While Carter has become an increasingly frequent presence at tech events and investor conferences, one place you won’t find him sharing his views any time soon is Twitter. While Cisco’s Warrior spoke of the value of sharing her personal life outside of her job title with the Twittersphere, using the platform to get feedback from professional artists on personal projects like her paintings, Carter is more hesitant to put his own self out there. “I need that filter in between when I press send.”