There’s a constant theme in general technology coverage which bemoans changing standards of behavior.  Whether it’s kids who decide that it’s OK to bicycle down the street wearing a pair of headphones (it isn’t) to the fact that a particular generation of new technologists are starting to use social networks for an increasing number of business functions.

The subtext of these stories is always, “Those crazy kids and their crazy ideas about technology.”  It might give users of a certain age a quick hit of shared disdain, but it’s wasted energy.  The world changes, technology changes, and acceptable behavior has never been a constant.  These kids with their in-office scooters and in-meeting texting, some of them have some great ideas, and a few of them might be your next manager. As a technologist in the field, I’ve come to realize that while experience often correlates with age, ability definitely does not.   While I played a small part in the generation that brought the web to life, this next generation is bringing that internet everywhere they go and they aren’t afraid to share it.

So when a headline like “20-Somethings Find No Problem with Texting and Answering Calls in Business Meetings” appears on Slashdot, I’m not surprised.   My reaction isn’t, “Oh, there goes the world, these kids can’t even sit still for a ‘formal business meeting’.”  Instead, I’m fascinated by what it says about this generation’s attitude towards business and what it means for the vendors we cover.  As this generation starts to make purchasing decisions, how will it affect the industry.

Here are some things to think about if you are vendor trying to sell to this generation.  I’ve developed them based on my own experiences both selling to this generation and working with companies in the Bay Area that have adopted novel approaches to running the business:

They are skeptical of your language – A lot of vendors are playing a full court press of buzzword bingo.  It isn’t just that your business intelligence product allows customers to get to the right answers faster.  No, a lot of vendors are still dressing up language with extra nonsense words.

“Our Business Intelligence offering will maximize potential opportunities to leverage internal synergies to enable cross-channel knowledge sharing.”  That’s not going to work with this crowd, “We get you the right answer quickly”, will.  In fact, they don’t even want you to use the word “Business Intelligence” because they are that skeptical of language.

Your Formal Meetings are a Waste of Time – In fact the whole idea of having an office is up for question at this point.  Offices for leading internet companies resemble a busy bazaar.  The way people collaborate is also changing dramatically, instead of assembling a team of 20 highly paid employees into a room, the new meeting room is a Google Hangout or Skype.  One of the reasons 20-somethings are texting during these formal meetings is because they grew up multi-tasking in a way you didn’t.

There’s another reason they might be texting. Technology is moving much faster than existing processes can keep up with.  Organizational structures are now very fluid, and what may appear to you to be a formal business may actually just be an anachronism.  At many of the organizations I’ve worked with, the real decisions are happening on a Skype chat that you might not be invited to. Sorry.

They Decide and Act Very Quickly – One of the things that I’m constantly surprised by when working with this next generation is the speed at which decision are turned into results.  There’s a lot less waiting around for a management structure to give the green light.  In fact, a lot of companies (like GitHub for example) they’ll talk openly about how there is no management structure.  People decide what they want to work on and the self-organize.

Again, these things may sound entirely crazy to you, but there are examples that demonstrate that this works.  Would it work at a bank?  Probably not.  Do some projects need a lot of structure and planning?  Absolutely.  But, take a step back and ask yourself if you would rather have the team at GitHub or the team of government contractors that worked on I know who I would choose.

These cultural and technological changes that are driving innovation at the highest levels, they are going to bubble down into your industries.  If you are a vendor playing buzzword bingo and selling to high-level executives now, you may find that this approach starts to falter as this new generation rises in the ranks.

I’ve seen the future economic buyers for B2B and they are overwhelmingly technical individuals with limited patience for traditional marketing.  What you need to ask yourself isn’t “why are these kids texting in formal business meetings?”  You need to ask yourself, “how can I adapt to this new reality?”


Thought Leader: Tim O'Brien (16 Posts)

Tim O'Brien writes on a wide range of technical topics - everything from application development to enterprise architecture to the intersection of technology and society. His focus for Gleanster is Big Data and Data Management.