Thursday, November 09, 2006

E-Mail is So Yesterday, and Other Tales of Youth

When Yahoo was in negotiation to buy Facebook for hundreds of millions of dollars, 22-year old Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg could not confirm attendance at one important 8 a.m. conference call because he would be asleep at that hour. Another time, after spending a few hours with Yahoo people at a critical meeting, he abruptly got up to leave because he said he had to pick up his girlfriend at the airport.

Most grizzled businesspeople would conclude that Zuckerberg is a flake, a psycho, or snotty punk, but I think he, like many people his age, simply see the world differently and operate accordingly. If he’s launched a company like Facebook at just 22, he’s clearly not a bum. A colleague tells me that the hardest adjustment for his 21 year old son, who had just gotten his first full-time “adult” job writing code for a software company, was that he “had” to be at work at a designated hour. After months, he still hasn’t fully adjusted. He (and Zuckerberg) often work late into the night, so why would a company expect them to wake up early and show up for work early in the morning at the same time, every day? And if Zuckerberg is working maniacally on a 7/24 basis, why wouldn’t he want to grab the fleeting opportunity to see his incoming girlfriend for a day or two? I’m not “condoning” his behavior. But I am acknowledging that these are interesting questions.

Along these lines, I read an interesting article by Associated Press writer Martha Irvine, who began her piece with: “E-mail is so last millennium.” Turns out that “young people (18-25) see e-mail as a good way to reach an elder—a parent, teacher, or a boss.” But otherwise, they’d rather communicate via Instant Messaging (I.M.), digital chat sites, and interactive internet communities like Facebook and MySpace.

Just for the heck of it, I asked my oldest kid—all of 11 years old-- if he ever uses e-mail. “Only if I have to send an attachment,” he replied, “or when I write you.” Ouch. He confirmed that he leans towards I.M. and was both surprised and disappointed to learn that I was aware of Facebook and MySpace.

My meandering thoughts lead to one conclusion: If “elder” businesspeople are to attract the next generation of customers (and keep in mind that these 18-25 year old “kids” have more than $200 billion in spending power)-- and if they want to attract the next generation of best and brightest employees, they’d better prepare for the fact that these youths are wearing glasses with a somewhat different prescription.

The new generation of “young adults” has these characteristics:

• Diverse (one in three is not Caucasian)
• Fast-paced
• Multi-taskers
• Entertainment-driven from numerous sources, often simultaneously.
• Tech-savvy (For ancient 45 year olds, technology is a great add-on to their lives; for 20 year olds, it’s in their DNA)
• Global perspective
• Self-assured
• Accustomed to immediate feedback
• Skeptical; they have a high b.s. meter
• In business, they’re driven more by meaning and causes rather than by conformity to organizational rank and rules. In the former condition, they’re capable of prodigious work at all hours. In the latter condition, they’re capable of surprising passivity and unabashed bolting to another company.

If you’re an over- 30 geriatric and you deal with the next generational wave of adults the same way you deal with people your age or higher, you probably are doing so at your own peril.


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