retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

Pains me as it does, I constantly get reminders that I’m getting old. My cultural references simply don’t resonate with a growing percentage of the population.

Seriously, it pains me.

The other day my wife and I were dazzled at our supermarket watching our young cashier sack our reusable grocery bags with speed and accuracy. She did this even while constantly assuring me that the bags would be even in weight so that I wouldn’t get stuck carrying one monster bag. (Yes, I whine.)

And she did it flawlessly.

I explained to her that there is an annual bagging competition held at the National Grocers Association (NGA) convention, something she had never heard of. My wife assured her this was true and I added that past winners had gotten to meet and have a competition with David Letterman.

At that point, the conversation died. My wife quickly pointed out that clearly the young cashier had no idea to whom I was referring and I was only mildly helped by a neighboring cashier who yelled out, “The Late Show!” Turns out my cashier was also blissfully unaware of Stephen Colbert (who replaced Letterman in 2015).

I'm just glad I hadn't referenced Jack Paar or Steve Allen. I was grateful to have managed a small connection with a young person.

Here’s the thing. Every year there’s some college that puts out a list of things that the entering freshman class has never encountered or heard of. I always giggle at the list including things like dials or cords on phones, the Soviet Union or Johnny Carson.

But it’s also a stark reminder that the world I know isn’t the world everyone knows. The Content Guy and I had a recent conversation speculating whether either of us would know Billie Eilish or Lizzo if either of them punched one of us in the nose. We agreed that we wouldn’t. (Though Kevin noted that he'll probably end up with at least one Billie Eilish song on his laptop - she's been hired to do the theme for the new James Bond movie, No Time To Die, which comes out in early April. I'm pretty sure that this does not qualify Kevin as being anything close to current.)

None of this matters, of course, unless matters, unless you happen to be managing or are part of a team for which any of these names are mysteries. Which is entirely possible, because not many people will get all these cultural references, which means that you could say something to someone that will fall as flat as what I said at checkout lane 7.

The truth is none of us can know it all because we are who we are. That may be cause for interesting discussions here at MNB, but it is significantly more important if you need motivate people of different generations, ethnicities, background or whatever and especially if your customers are different than you, which they are.

We talk a lot here about epistemic closure and the growing inability to recognize why someone else’s opinion or worldview seems so alien and wrong to us. Obviously, we see this is politics constantly. But in business, it’s a failing we cannot ignore. We need to constantly challenge ourselves to understand the new and different because that’s where business opportunity lies or where gigantic mistakes can be avoided.

And it might save me from getting punched by Lizzo and not knowing how cool that is.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.

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