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Gini Dietrich

Sabotaging An Entire Culture

By: Gini Dietrich | September 6, 2011 | 
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“A good 65 percent of today’s grade-school kids may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet.” – Cathy Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions

I saw a stat the other day that said most grade school kids aren’t learning cursive handwriting anymore. It’s pretty clear paper will eventually be extinct. Does that mean the next generation won’t write long hand?

Now we’re discovering these same kids will enter the workforce and do something that doesn’t yet exist. Still, our school system is preparing them for a world not one of us will recognize. And, as business leaders, we keep expecting to go back to the way things have always been done. But the economy and technology have changed things so quickly in the past three years, we’ll never go back to the way things were. Ever.

So why do we keep insisting they will?

A new book, “Now You See It,” by Cathy Davidson explores the idea that we can’t keep ignoring the “formidable cognitive skills” Generation Y and younger are developing. She also suggests we must stop disparaging digital prowess just because some of us don’t possess it.

She says, “A grudge match with the young can sabotage an entire culture.”

And still, we have a grudge match with the young.

No matter where I am or what type of business leader I’m working with, I hear the same things: “My customer isn’t 20 years old” or “my customer doesn’t use the Internet.” Business leaders who refuse to acknowledge that the way they’ve always done business has inherently changed…and it’s not going back.

Sure, most of us are straddling generations. You still have the Baby Boomer customer who prefers to do business by looking at the whites of your eyes. And you have late Generation X and Generation Y influencing purchase decisions, but not yet the decision maker, and they build trust by what they read and relationships they’ve built online. So we have to cater to both.

But too many of us are not catering to the younger generations at all and that’s where we’ll get stuck. That’s where we’ll sabotage an entire culture.

I don’t want to hear the “I’ll retire before I have to deal with this” excuse. That’s a cop out and a lousy excuse. Retirement is getting later and later and technology is moving so quickly it’ll catch up to you before you have the chance to play golf all day.

Stop holding a grudge match with the young professionals. Stop sabotaging a culture.

Instead start blazing the trail for your industry…before your competition does it for you.

This first ran as my weekly Crain’s Chicago Business column.

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, a Chicago-based integrated marketing communications firm. She is the lead blogger here at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro. She is the co-author of Marketing in the Round and co-host of Inside PR. Her second book, Spin Sucks, is available now.

80 comments
t.greaves
t.greaves

Business leaders need to step up their efforts to embrace younger generations. The global business and economic environment is not static; it changes as technology advances and as social norms evolve. Web 2.0 platforms that my generation engage on a daily basis prove to positively influence both return on investment and return on expectations. Furthermore, they mark the future of commerce and best practices. It is true that baby boomers hold the decision making power today, but businesses must prepare themselves for the future.

SocialMediaDDS
SocialMediaDDS

Great post @ginidietrich So, as one of your elderly fans, I thought I would throw in my two cents. I agree entirely with what you are saying...it's an ever changing world out there and, if you don't want to embrace the exciting changes, you are being naive and will most likely miss out on great opportunities. I would like to add, however, that while my generation (referencing the elderly) may certainly be reluctant to infuse digital technology in their "tried and true" ways of doing things, I can't tell you how many times I have been in shops, restaurants, boutiques, independent coffee houses and asked their YOUNG manager or owner if they are utilizing social media to promote their business and they look at me like I am some old crazy lady (okay, okay...so maybe they are looking at me that way because I AM some old crazy lady). I have stood at a counter of a local very cool independent sports store and taught the 30-something owner how to set up a Foursquare account! I have encouraged hair salon owners, chiropractors, local eateries (it's an old people's word ), all of them in their 30's, to open their minds up to the possibilities of digital marketing. I teach in a well respected dental school where the kids get four years of intensive training on all things dental so that they can go out into the world to own their own practice....with NO education on anything related to business ownership let alone digital marketing. NONE. Future business owners with no business classes under their belt. So, while the majority of people who are digging their heels in the sand are indeed older, there are an awful lot of young entrepreneurs out there that haven't got a clue about the possibilities out there.

JohnLutter
JohnLutter

The truth is, those that want to learn, do. Those that don't want to learn, don't.

When I was growing up, there weren't any classes in web development/design... but somehow I was able to learn it without a teacher. I suspect it will be the same for the next generation.

Don't sell the kids of today short. Every generation thinks the next is dumb and completely un-prepared for life. But those generations always end up doing just fine.

Erika Napoletano
Erika Napoletano

I've run into this in meeting interns from the local universities around Denver and Boulder. Graphic Design students are still, in their junior and senior years, being taught ONLY print-based concepts. MarComm students on both the creative and strategy sides aren't being taught anything about online outlets. The onus is on the universities to up their games - find guest lecturers when their faculty can't make the modern tech grade instead of just saying, "that's the curriculum." That's crap. Given that today's college student will be in debt for years following graduation from merely a bachelor's degree if they didn't receive scholarships, a subpar skill set and a pile of loans is a craptastic way to enter the workforce. Do parents know any better? I doubt it. It's the educators who are supposed to be breaking ground and blazing trails for today's students. Who's holding THEM accountable?

</rant>

ingrid.glenn
ingrid.glenn

One thing that seems to be missing in this conversation is the recognition that any new comms technology that we have stems from the old ways of doing things.

As Leon suggested, modern communication is still useless without good grammar and spelling - in fact there is nothing worse than reading a blog written by someone with poor communication skills! The reason that an 18 year old kid can code for online games is because someone actually taught him some decent maths - and yes, he learned that in a "backward" school.

School always was, and still is, about giving kids a foundation in communication, maths and science, etc. Those things don't change, no matter how much the technology moves on. The kids who miss out on building those foundations are the ones who end up jobless.

Yes, it is true that kids these days have amazing cognitive skills, but so did we when we were that age! I'm in my 50's so that makes me part of the "now" generation of the 70s, and we were fighting the same battles back then as what the younger generation is fighting now. We thought we knew it all, too! What we didn't have then was the wisdom to use all of that knowledge wisely - and today's younger generation are no different.

The generation gap has existed since Adam became a dad, yet somehow we have all got through it and turned out ok at the other end, regardless of the prevailing technology!

jennwhinnem
jennwhinnem

Pretty much as long as I've been reading blogs people have been disparaging the next generation. And sometimes I get caught up in that Charlie-Brown-teacher-voice when talking to younger people. "Hide your Facebook profile, don't tweet it if you don't want your mom to read it..." etc.

Then I read this; http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/seven-things-a-twentysomething-cannot-do/ and I laughed so hard! Snapped me out of my fogeyism. What a great way to make of us fogeys.

Thanks Gini for pointing out that younger people are not hopeless.

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

I am not sure I agree with this @ginidietrich which is good I was getting tired of agreeing.

My premise is this has been going on for at least two centuries in various ways. Whether it was the telephone coming out, cars replacing horses, bic pens replacing quill pens, computers replacing type writers and adding machines, so much. And we all adapted and yes we had to struggle sometimes and the best rose to the top. I can imagine the argument some dad had with his son that fabric had to be made by hand as the son was assembling a loom. The dad telling his son what a failure he will be the quality will suck and he is embarassing a long line of family in the Fabric Guild.

@edwardboches I know does a lot of work with Boulder Digital Works specifically to help students come out of college more ready to work in the advertising industry. He does this part out of selfish reasons....I can imagine how many workers Mullen had to hire out of college not quite ready to contribute to their business. The difference is Edward recognizes and champion this need in the Advertising Industry.

So while I agree this is a big big deal, because it surely is different now with how technology has evolved, the real effect I see is the kids bypassing traditional businesses and starting their own at a higher pace than we have seen up til now. If we don't embrace this change and accept things they will go out on their own.

Ameena Gorton
Ameena Gorton

Every business has different needs. Why go online if you are cake shop in a tiny village stretched to the max? Social media and the internet is a a tool - it's not the be all and end all. There is something to be said about old school word of mouth and a loyal dedicated local market - it still works.

The younger market is usually more tech savvy than we are and will continue to learn, adopt and use things faster than us. Plus they don't usually have the purchase power.

Consumers haven't evolved as fast as the tools have.

NancyD68
NancyD68

My son is running rings around the rest of his class and now wants his own business! He of course wants to clean floors for only 5 bucks but he is pretty enterprising. he also wants to buy baseball cards on ebay and resell them. He scares me sometimes with how smart he is.

We were taught stuff like Home Ec and how to behave. I really need "Hoe to negotiate for better pay" that is a class I needed to take.

We need to realize that the world is changing - we change with it, or we stagnate. The choice is ours.

marianne.worley
marianne.worley

Change: Some of us embrace it, while others abhor it. The pace of change has also accelerated, so we're seeing "generations" that only span 10 or maybe 20 years. As a marketer, I take this as a challenge to take a diverse approach to communications. You have to know your target markets, and connect with them using the methods THEY choose. We have to adapt and be able to distribute content using multiple platforms. (And yes, some target markets will still want a, gasp, printed brochure!) Businesses that embrace change, instead of having it forced upon them, are always the most successful.

The education system needs to change too. When I was an undergrad, I took the "easy way out" and chose 2 semesters of Logic instead of Calculus. My friends thought I was crazy for opting out of college math. Turns out that I've never needed to use Calculus during my career, but I apply the principles of critical thinking I learned in Logic every single day.

Very interesting post, Gini!

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel

I still think kids need to learn our world's basic history, how to write, and how to solve math problems (in a reality-based context, preferably). But what I think they REALLY will need his how to interact with other people. All these tools, technologies and capabilities still, and always will, rely on human interactions, ideas and opinions o be useful. I could care less what tools they use to communicate, as long as they are polite, engaged, well-versed and prepared for the task at hand. Those things haven't changed, well, ever.

Leon
Leon

G'Day Gini,

To put it mildly, I'm just a bit older than you. And my memory is only occasionally subject to "seniors' moments.". I moved my 30 year old offline business to online three years ago. I could see that it had to be where everyone else was going.

But I gotta say that I'm not too concerned about predictions anymore. Did you know that the "paperless office" was the latest thing; in the 1980s? Back in the 1970s James Martin, an early futurologists told us that we could all do our jobs without going to the office each day. He was correct. But it hasn't stopped people going to the office.

He also said that he'd never met a politician whose vision extended beyond the next election. But we continue to expect our politicians to light a path for us.

In Australia, also in the 1980s, there was a major movement against teaching grammar and spelling in schools because "technology would make it unnecessary." Reality is , the higher the tech, the higher the literacy.

Frankly, I dunno why so many people try to predict the future given that scientists still cannot predict earthquakes and avalanches after a century of trying. I've survived the predicted disappearance of the motor car, the 3D revolution in entertainment-that's occurred twice in my lifetime and once before-the total demise of movies and the complete disintegration of the "nuclear family."

As your resident curmudgeon, may I suggest that you try to be as switched on as you can be businesswise. But don't become overconcerned with the 21st Century soothsayers.

Remember two things in particular; the internet is not the future; it's now.And the first 3D movie was made in the 1920s

And of course, make sure you have fun

Regards

Leon

Tinu
Tinu

It's so easy to make assumptions that we don't even know we're making. Like "my subscriber isn't reading my site on their cell phone." But you know, my grandmother in Africa is 86 and she has a Blackberry. My niece turns 17 this year and I haven't seen her without her phone in years. So the rationale that ''my customers are on the web/phone/Google/social media/ xyz live function" can be countered with. "Exactly - and that's why you're in trouble now."

Maybe your customers aren't on the web because they're someone else's customers now.

T60Productions
T60Productions

Good stuff Gini... love your last line!

--Tony Gnau

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

Gini, you keep crossing over into my territory! :-) It's OK, there's a lot of room here for intelligent minds speaking out on what they see clearly. We need to talk about this.

The problem you are talking about is far deeper than the online/digital world. Our educational system has gotten more rigid and less about developing critical thinking - and the kids are rebelling against it. You're talking about a gap that has hardened before they become adults in many cases. If you think you're dismayed by what you see, you should talk to the kids. They know that they are being dissed bigtime - and that they have a lot more to offer the world than anyone is recognizing.

Keep in mind that un/under-employment below age 25 is about 50% and has been for a while, too. We're losing a whole generation in more ways than one.

The next economy will be defined by people who are increasingly marginalized and seething with the understanding that they are going to pay the tab for keeping the old economy running. As they try to make their own way in the world they are rather poorly grounded in an understanding of history, economics, and the basic operation of political movements. Many of them know they were shorted and are as curious as kittens, too - their leadership will acquire the skills they need. It's a matter of time before a real revolution happens, IMHO.

TweetShannonNow
TweetShannonNow

What a great post Gini! We do need to make sure that our market and product is catered to several generations or customer demographics. We need to be ahead of the curve and delve deep in and we can not lose. Thanks for the insight!

glenn_ferrell
glenn_ferrell

I agree that the "I'll retire before I have to deal with this" excuse is pretty lame. Its variants include "My customers aren't on the internet", "I get all my referrals word of mouth", "why would I do that if I have to close all my business face-to-face", etc., There is powerful evidence to present in arguing against these positions. But it seems to many times be rebuffed.

Gabriella Sannino (@SEOcopy) believes that what this all boils down to is that they have no budget. I think she might be on the right track. Now if we ask directly whether a potential client has any budget for something, we may get a somewhat guarded answer. At the moment, I'm thinking that the right question -- after presenting overwhelming evidence (for upgrading the website, moving into social media, SEO, etc.) is "How fast would you need to break even if you invested in this ?" If you have at least some anecdotal experience with other clients, you might be back into the discussion instead of out the door.

JenFongSpeaks
JenFongSpeaks

Great article Gini. I've been writing a lot lately about how we have 4 generations in the marketplace, and how differently they communicate. What's so challenging is that the preferred communication method of one generation is one that causes extreme discomfort in another. Yet we all have to work together. In sales, especially, this is becoming a HUGE issue, and one we all need to grapple with. We can't just do what's comfortable for us if we want to be successful. We are truly at a crossroads, and you either adapt or get left behind.

anaralvarado
anaralvarado

@wordsdonewrite It's a lost art that needs to be retaught. I must admit my penmanship leaves something to be desired.

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

@Erika Napoletano This is what I was talking about earlier. The missed opportunities Gini is writing about here are part of a general inability to accept that the world has changed, is changing, and will continue to change very dramatically for many reasons we see all around us - not the least of which is the economic restructuring that will inevitably end this Depression (possibly a long time from now if we don't get our act together). What Gini discusses here is part of a much larger mindset that will clearly be very hard to get rid of - until the older generation retires and/or dies. Do we have 20 years to wait before the changes become the new world that we can see coming, even if we don't know just what it is? I don't think so. That means to me that the first thing we have to change is the Old Guard, and that's not going to be easy.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@ingrid.glenn Very good points....all of them. I think the difference today is that technology is changing much more rapidly than it did even 10 years ago. I took typing classes...on a typewriter...in high school. I didn't get an email address until I'd been in the workforce for more than two years. And I'm on the cusp of Gen X and Gen Y.

The schools are preparing kids for jobs that won't exist in 10 years: Manufacturing, journalism, and more. The point is that, while I can't do anything about what the kids are taught in school, I CAN get my business leader peers to consider thinking about using the web for business growth because their customer IS there, no matter how much they want to stick their heads in the sand about it.

ElissaFreeman
ElissaFreeman

@HowieG @ginidietrich Even though I didn't choose Howie as one of my #BrainCrushes, I have to say I do agree with him on this very valid point. This post could have been written when the telephone was first invented ("Why would I call someone? I'll go and talk to them if I need to!") or when the ATM was being introduced ("Oh I would never use an ATM, I prefer the interaction with the teller.") Sounds ridiculous now, but innovation has NEVER been embraced at the get-go. And now? Do you know ANYONE who doesn't have a Blackberry or an iphone? (ok, maybe there are a few luddites out there...)
Plus, I've been extremely impressed with the teaching of 'tech' throughout my daughter's curriculum. In grade 4 she was marked on how she assembled a powerpoint presentation - basically powerpoint is now 'de rigeur' in the classroom. And this year? Teachers are now on line thru a special platform, where kids can ask for homework help at night. That plus the use of in-class tech (eg smart boards) are truly transforming the learning experience. We will have no choice but to keep up or be left behind...
All to say, I for one am not worried we won't embrace the next generation's know how. After all, 25 years ago, someone hired me didn't they?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@HowieG I think the difference is that technology is changing more quickly than ever before. It took 50 years for a billion viewers of the television; it took nine months for the iPod to reach that same number. Our schools, and our businesses, are focused on the old way of doing things. If I didn't speak so much, I don't think I'd have such a strong opinion on it. But I hear it time and time and time again: I'll retire before I have to do business on the web. It makes me nuts because it's just not true. It's ignorance...which I guess is bliss.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Ameena Falchetto I agree with you. My point is not that every business should be using the web (though the cake shop could do very well with some QR codes or a Facebook fan page showing off photos of their delightful creations), but that every business leader should be looking at how the younger generation can help them grow and change. Technology is what Gen Y knows...and they know it better than any of the older generations. If they can add value, even if it's just in monitoring the competition, why wouldn't we let them?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@NancyD68 I was taught how to sew. Turns out I'm terrible at it. But I never learned programming or coding, which would come in VERY handy right now, because I'm a girl. I like the idea of buying baseball cards on eBay and reselling them. That's a smart kid!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@marianne.worley "You have to know your target markets and connect with them using the methods THEY choose." A. Men.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@rustyspeidel THAT is a great point! They'll need to learn social skills we learned just by going to school and work.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Leon I don't totally disagree, but I'm also not speaking to you because you get it. Do you know how many companies, just in the States alone, don't have an online presence? It's really disappointing to me. And I tire of hearing "my customer isn't online so I'm not going to use the web." Well, guess what? Companies that are led by people like Leon are going to eat you alive.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@Tinu I'm totally stealing your last line! I'll try it out tomorrow...I'll let you know how it goes over.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@wabbitoid I totally agree with you. But what I blog about is the tiny little part of the world I can change. And it's not the online/digital world, in this case. It's leadership in the business world. I wish I could change the school systems. Unfortunately, it's bigger than me. So I'll focus where I know I can affect change.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@TweetShannonNow Exactly. Even if young professionals aren't buying right now, they definitely are influencing purchase decisions. Why not give them information where they go first to find it?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@glenn_ferrell I don't know if I agree that it's about budget. When I speak, it's to business leaders who really believe they can continue doing business the same as always and that technology hasn't changed a thing. That's fear and ignorance; not budget.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@JenFongSpeaks It's funny you say that. We have a client who built his business, and sold it, based on Career Builder and Monster ads and making phone calls. Lots and lots of phone calls. And, because that worked before (really well), he wants to replicate it. We've talked him into letting one person use LinkedIn, part-time, to show how well it can work before it's instituted across everyone. And emails? Forget about it.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

@ElissaFreeman@HowieG I don't think you can argue the school system is broken. The book is really interesting in that it talks about how the public school systems are set up to teach kids how to work in the Industrial Revolution, which um, we aren't in anymore. There isn't anything I can do about the school system. But I will tell you I'm tired of business leaders telling me their customer isn't 20 years old so they don't have to use the web yet. It's ignorant and it's lazy.

wabbitoid
wabbitoid

@ginidietrich I understand, and I stay away from school issues most of the time for the same reason - tho you should hear me on my kids' school site council. :-) But the main focus is a fair amount of what I get paid to do lately, namely organizing people. Organizing the next generation is a special challenge because authenticity is critical - and since they are equipped with excellent BS detectors I don't think anyone can get past them faking it.

I think that in both business and politics there is a lot to be gained by being direct and honest about generational change. Who knows, it may even save us both from the guillotine someday. :-)

Howie Goldfarb
Howie Goldfarb

@ginidietrich@ElissaFreeman I agree with your points especially the speed of change. In 100 years robot/humanoids will be set loose creating on their own new technologies for us and I bet when we fail to keep up they get rid of us....bring in the Terminator Intro Music 8)

But I think the question maybe is reversed? Maybe it is us old fogies the kids will leave in the dust? Vs us impeding their progress? BTW Gini PR is so 1990. You are way behind the times. Now we use the Twitter. No need for PR. Just ask any 14 year old 8)

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