retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

DALLAS - It’s hard to imagine a toy that is simpler than a yo-yo. Basically you have a length of string loosely attached to the axle between two discs. Yet, thanks to physics that I don’t understand, you can do wonderful things with a yo-yo.

Apparently you can also do great things to a yo-yo. A decade back, when my kids were younger, technology changed the yo-yo. Called something like “the brain” the yo-yo gained intelligence that would allow it to gauge when the spinning discs were slowing and magically the yo-yo would rise back up the string.

Raising children these days is a lesson in ever advancing technology and humility. I easily remember when my kids’ proficiency at video games dwarfed mine. (They were very young.) More importantly, I remember them getting the latest in graphing calculators that allowed them to take mathematics to places I couldn’t comprehend.

It’s easy for us to say the younger generation has it easy and I often did. I’d explain how I worked with a slide rule and, in retrospect, I probably sounded like an old crank. Plus, I was wrong. Sure, they have tools that were unimaginable a generation - heck, even a decade ago - but those tools have also come with challenges. Today’s young adults have the ability and challenge to raise their game to an entirely different level. Simply put, it’s a difficult new world.

I’m getting a taste of that this week at the food marketing Institute (FMI) Future Connect conference, a project geared at building skills for the next generation of leaders in the food industry. (If you haven’t seen this full disclosure before, let me say it again: I have a huge bias on this issue. I helped FMI conceive and plan the entire meeting and I’m currently in Dallas helping FMI run it.)

Management’s challenge as we move into the next decade - amazingly, the second decade of the 21st century - is much like mathematics with a graphing calculator: it is a mix of the old and the new. The old is pretty straight forward and as challenging as ever. Tomorrow’s leaders, much like today’s and yesterday’s, have to master a range of skills as managers. They have to learn to hire, to train and to mentor. They need to master feedback, communication and decision making. And, of course, they need to learn flexibility to make their skills constantly fit the changing needs of the market, the competition, the workforce and the times.

That’s just the beginning. As students traverse the Future Connect agenda they are also learning about the emerging skills that promise to challenge them daily into the future.

For instance, they have to learn to master the new forms of communication to both employees and customers. Ad Age reported recently on the growing power of independent tweets and blogs to influence the success and failure of movies to a larger extent than traditional reviews. No doubt every business and every manager will learn this truth too. It’s now on the agenda.

They’ll have to learn to master the intricacies of complex issues such as food safety, nutrition and the changing value equation. They’ll need to understand the shifting tastes and fashions of every day to make sure their business is current, relevant and important. And they’ll need to master issues many of us today cannot even conceive of, much as we couldn’t have predicted so much in the past.

It’s a challenge that’s not for the weak. Lucky for me, I get to travel to many meetings at many companies, where I’m getting to see the beginning of a generational shift. Though it bothers me that I recently had an audience more conversant with Miley Cyrus than Led Zeppelin, the truth is that shift is overdue.

Hopefully as these new leaders come along, we Baby Boomers can teach them about management skills and they can help us understand the new tools. Together we’ll do better.

And maybe I’ll finally get this stupid yo-yo to work.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at .
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