“I am so done with innovation”

ImageCoCo in Minneapolis

Last week I went to CoCo, a co-working business in downtown Minneapolis. I had heard about CoCo via Twitter. I was anxious to check it out for myself. Apparently CoCo is thriving.

ImageClockwise: a special meeting room, CoCo founders Kyle Coolbroth and Don Ball, a fueling station

Once I walked into the CoCo open space, I could see why: low, warm light, moveable walls, and cozy wooden floors, arching ceilings from the old Grain Exchange, comfortable furniture, throw rugs, and quirky touches like street lamps and string lights. The place is an upscale student union with touches of Steelcase, Architectural Digest and Starbucks. CoCo is open without being crowded, intimate but high-tech, intense yet relaxed.

The place is a magnet for entrepreneurs and small businesses. Memberships offer desk(s) rental or setup for small groups. Members can reserve a single day or several. CoCo’s allure isn’t just its environment: it is the opportunity to meet other small businesses. Networking, whether social or business, is continual. When people push away from their desks, they grab a cup of coffee, find a sofa and chat with someone that just met. CoCo is all about collaboration.

So, where does my comment about innovation tie in? As part of an activity on Design Thinking, I had to interview random people in CoCo. My task was to approach strangers and ask them to tell me what “modern,” “family” and “innovation” meant to them. With a legal pad in hand, I asked two young people on a coffee break if they would help me. They agreed.

Both are at the start of their careers. They are friend-associates from different enterprises who look forward to the days when they can  meet at CoCo. “Cate” and “Elissa” were fashionable, cosmopolitan and soft-spoken. They gave me twenty minutes.

What did they say? What did I learn?

“Modern” meant “architecture” to them. “That’s lines and buildings” “I don’t think of myself as modern.”

“Family” is “networks” and “friends.” “I have a work family and my home family. Sometimes they merge.” “My work family grows from acquaintances I meet here and on projects.”

And “innovation?” Here Cate pushed her stylish glasses atop her head so we could see her full eye roll.” “I am so done with ‘innovation.’ It doesn’t mean anything to me.” I pressed her: “Why?” She went on: “Oh, I guess innovation is important, but it’s what I do with my friends, it’s how I make things better.” Elissa: “Innovation is for automobiles and sandwiches. It’s everywhere.”

This was epiphany for me: “innovation” has shifted. This baby boomer (me) sees “innovation” and thinks of bold  breakthroughs: moon landings, technology and artificial hearts. Innovation is an end to itself. A patent. A trophy. A triumph. Mankind marching forth. Progress.

Image

 

But not at CoCo. “Innovation” is  a means to an end. It’s what you do.

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Are Millennials A New Species?

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Damnedkids

 

From ‘Village of the Damned‘ (1960)

 

I was chatting with an associate when out of the blue he said “By the way, dealing with Millennials is exhausting. I’m worn down.” This gentleman is no indolent plodder; he’s a man with a reputation for accomplishment across companies. “Exhausted” is not the first word I would use to describe him. He pounced on an opportunity to work with a young team of entrepreneurs. A seasoned man experienced in the language of the C-suites, he could help them hone their flashy product. Yet a few months in, there were problems. Why was this guy under siege? Was there a GenY — Boomer friction? He said “yes.” Things weren’t going smoothly.

What was going on? Do Millennials require new rules of engagement? Must the rest of us go to Y-School?

We’ve been reading about the march of the generations for a long time now. The Greatest Generation, the Boomers, Generation X,  and now the Millennials, Generation Y. There are attributes unique to each of them: toe-the-line and sacrifice, (Greatest), rebellion and ego (Boomers), anomie (Gen X) and “look at me” (GenY). In the Zodiac Of The Decades, each generation is molded by world events. Technology and prosperity are important as well.

Does when you are born define who you are? The ancient Chinese thought so. Their Zodiac defines people by birth year, each with an avatar and a defined set of superior attributes. Shortcomings, too, unless you are a Dragon.

 

Thank goodness I didn’t marry a Tiger.

Got a problem with someone? Want to hook up with a Snake? Visit your nearby Chinese restaurant and find out. We chuckle at the absurdity of birth year personality, so why do we accept the concept of ‘Generation Y?’

Are the generations really that different? PewReseachCenter thinks otherwise, at least in the areas you would assume they would be. How about, say, technology and acceptance of social change?

 

 

Courtesy PewResearchCenter

Members of the Millennial generation also give generally high marks to societal changes such as the greater availability of green products and more racial and ethnic diversity. But, as was true of technological innovations, in many cases their views are not much different from those of the age groups that precede them.

Academics and marketers make their living exploiting differences between groups of people. Marketers seek “segmentation.” Sociologist pursue “demographics.” People aren’t people; they are generations.

But Boomer pundits forget a few things. If they climb into the 1980 Wayback Machine and turn themselves into 25 year-olds what would they find? Maybe Time articles like “Here They Come, the Baby Boomers. Confident and Educated,” or “Will the TV Generation Fit In The Workforce?” They would see older employees recoil when PCs came into the office. Boomers were social and free in their youth, just like the Millennials are now.

Could it be that Generations are not innately different, that differences are merely the point in life they are in at that moment? I work with younger men and women and I see myself thirty years ago. Millennials are the most independent, attention-deficit and idealistic of the generations? Oh, please.

Each human is an individual and it is as individuals that we respond to the world. I know parents who Facebook-stalk their kids. I know of Millennials who don’t like Facebook. Mom and Dad got the iPads first. And most of Generation Y doesn’t like Twitter or Google Plus.

I’ll agree Generation Y grew up with instant-on, SMS and video games. They will always be better at those things than their elders. Electronic gadgets don’t make them a different species, however. At some point, Generation Y won’t be any good at them, either.

Boomer friends, I have a thought for you: the young who walk your office halls are you. Or, maybe you were them. Did you change? We are the ones who became different; we are more cautious. Conservative. That is normal. As more older employees leave the work force, those who remain will be outnumbered.

But only if we view ourselves as ‘Boomers’ and their younger colleagues as ‘Generation Y.’