Published on: August 7, 2008Now available on iTunes…
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Hi, I’m Kevin Coupe, and this is MorningNewsBeat Radio, brought to you by Webstop, your first stop for retail website design services.
Michael Sansolo’s column earlier this week about the role that technology can play in heightened communication between retailers and shoppers made me think about an exchange I had earlier this summer.
I was giving a speech in which one of the things I was talking about was generational marketing and how the industry needs to use technology smarter to be both accessible and relevant to the next generation of shoppers; this is an opinion that I share with Michael, and we talk about it a lot in speeches that we do both separately and together.
After the speech, a number of people were nice enough to come up to me to say things like they hadn’t thought about some of the issues I’d raised, and they appreciated it. That’s music to the ears of any speaker, and don’t let anyone tell you that we don't lap it up.
But then a young guy came up to me. He wasn't any older than 25 if I had to guess, and he was looking at me like I was some sort of dinosaur. “That stuff you were talking about – text messaging and blogging and podcasting – is almost obsolete,” he said, with disdain dripping from his voice. “You should see some of the stuff that people are working on now…” And then, he rattled off a bunch of technological-sounding names that were so foreign to me that he might as well have been speaking Klingon. And it wasn't just the words that I was unfamiliar with…it was the concepts, which went by me so fast that I couldn’t explain any of them to you.
This kid may have been a geek, but he was a really, really smart geek. And me, I was something from the Jurassic era…something without teeth and a very limited life expectancy.
Moments later he was gone, as were the other folks who’d come up to talk to me. And I was left alone, just a little bit humiliated.
I’ve thought about this a lot since then, and two things occur to me.
One, and this is the obvious lesson, is that he’s absolutely right. The technological stuff we think is so advanced right now is doomed to be obsolete, and almost certainly that will happen faster than anyone expects. So we have to keep up, keep moving forward, and never allow ourselves to be complacent or satisfied. Because that’s the path to irrelevance.
But the other thing that that kid made me think about was how wrong he was – because by treating me like a moron, even if I am one, he lost the opportunity for a meaningful exchange and conversation that would have at least helped to advance his ideas and attitudes at little bit. I’m wiling to learn, and a lot of people like me feel the same way. Treat me like an idiot, and the learning opportunity is lost.
However, I do want to suggest that as an industry, we have two responsibilities here. One is to hire more people like this young computer geek, because they are the ones who will drag us – sometimes kicking and screaming – into the future. Without them, we may spend more time looking backward than forward, and that’s no way to run a business.
The other responsibility, I think, is to dedicate time, energy and money to helping kids like this learn how to communicate in a civilized and clear manner. Some of it is just social skills, which he didn’t seem to have in abundance. Some of it has to do with basic leadership training…which people like this are going to need if they are to help our companies thrive in such a dramatically changing environment.
Now, I know that a lot of people didn’t get into the food business thinking that teaching kids how to talk and relate to their elders would be in their job description. That’s too bad. But like it or not, that’s what we’re going to have to do.
Because the alternative ain’t pretty.
For MorningNewsBeat Radio, I’m Kevin Coupe.
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