Generational Diversity and the Next Big Thing


by David Wright


The transition from the twentieth to the twenty-first century has been incredible. The emergence and integration of developing technologies into our day-to-day lives work lives and personal spaces has changed the potential of our species. It’s been a powerful renaissance, with mankind continuously redefining what the future can and should be.

In the last twenty years, we’ve experienced a communication and technology explosion that’s woven itself so deeply into our social fabric, it’s part of who we are. At the forefront of the current communication and technology explosion are the creators and consumers—us. The consumerization of technology has disrupted our view of the world and our place in it. We want cheaper solutions that offer infinite choice and integrate seamlessly into our ever-changing lifestyles. We want faster, better, and easier.

Scratching the Surface of the Future

The future is shaped by the past, and as today was yesterday’s tomorrow, we pretty much know what we are now. We don’t know, however, what we may become. Some brilliant minds look ahead to the far future, describing the doors that will open at the dawn of the posthuman age, when we’ve decommissioned natural selection and cured death itself.

The far future, however, emerges from now. It emerges from desires and choices, decisions and ambition; it’s shaped by determination and decisiveness. Some of the most unbelievable leaps forward are the easiest to dismiss as science fiction, but the reality is, the future is now, and so is the technology. Seeing new technology emerge is like scratching the surface of the future.

Yesterday Was Good, Tomorrow Will Be Better

As futurist Ray Kurzweil has explained, the human brain evolved in a world that was linear and local. Today, however, we live in a world that is exponential and global, a place where those small linear steps have given way to giant leaps of rapid and indirect solution potential that reverberate around the world in no time at all. To visualize this distinction, wonder junkie Jason Silva says, think about taking thirty linear steps: one, two, three, four, five, etc. After thirty linear steps, you’d be thirty paces away from where you started. Taking thirty exponential steps, however, looks like, one, two, four, eight, sixteen, etc. By step thirty-one, you’d be over one billion steps from where you started.

Let’s think about that in the context of humanity’s relationship to technology. Moore’s Law states that processing power in computing technology is destined to double exponentially every two years. This explains how technology like your smartphone is smaller, cheaper, and more powerful than the enormous “supercomputers” of yesterday. The fact that you can slip a device that forty years ago would have been the size of small house, into your pocket, is Moore’s Law in action.

As part of this increasing rate of change, the technological and digital convergence has also seen previously separate technologies share resources, interact, and combine to create new and disruptive change. So, what does all that mean for our interaction and integration with technology? What effect is the rapid evolution of technology having on its caveman creator?

Y the Generation?

Technology is advancing at a rate not experienced by any previous generation—the next big thing is practically a daily occurrence. You’ve only to glance at media coverage of the devices, gadgets, and concepts on the market today to appreciate how far we’ve come and how fast we’ve gotten here. What things didn’t exist twenty years ago? What jobs didn’t exist twenty years ago? What words didn’t exist twenty years ago? We can extend this line of inquiry forward, too: What things, jobs, or words will exist in twenty years that don’t exist today?

Although there are no precise dates, children born between 1980 and 2000 are variously referred to as Generation Y, the Echo Boomers, the Internet Generation, Net Gen, the iGeneration, the Digital Generation, and, most often, the Millennials. They’re unique in that they’ve never known a world without personal computers or the Internet.

Millennials started entering the workplace in the early 2000s. As with all generations, they exhibit certain characteristics and respond to certain motivations (all well documented elsewhere). The fact that Millennials are different from the generations that came before is nothing new. Generational divides have been around as long as humans have. What makes today’s divide unique, however, is technology’s influence in the workplace.

The exponential pace of change means that Millennials, in just one generation, are experiencing the world as a vastly different digital environment than those who were born just a few years before. Just two years of exponential technology change is challenging to keep up with in just one generation. Multiply this effect across earlier generations still in the workplace and the by-product of Moore Law is the creation of a generational technology divide. This divide can prevent businesses from functioning effectively, creating a culture of technology apathy, disassociation, and dysfunction, instead of a culture of collaboration, connection, and success.

Join and Conquer

Generations pass every twenty years or so, but the digital divide widens about every six months. And IT operates at the intersection—the worst place in the business to be. Think about how generations were (and still are) divided on the use of social media inside and outside the workplace. Or how the adoption of technologies like Google Glass opened users up to ridicule, persecution, and even segregation.

The fact is that businesses will adopt technologies that offer them opportunities to be more efficient, make more money, enhance their brand identities, and deliver better customer experiences. Digital platforms are shifting power from the organization to the consumer and employee, breaking down divisions between the personal and the professional. Countering the negative effects of exponential technology change is a strategic consideration all businesses should be working towards, both internally with employees and externally with the clients they support.

Living and working with digital technology is rapidly becoming the norm. So, overcoming apathy, connecting the disconnected, and inspiring the disengaged need to be part of your strategy. Here are some things to think about.

Embrace Communication, Share a Great Experience

Bring people together informally to talk about the new digital reality and what it means to them as individuals. Many people may feel inadequate about their lack of digital or emerging technology knowledge. The more opportunities you create for dialogue, the better. It’s good for Millennials to be exposed to other generations.

Support Your Employees’ and Customers’ Needs and Expectations

As digital platforms shift power from the organization to the customer and employee, your customers will expected to be connected in an unprecedented way and your employees will expect to be able to work anywhere, with anyone, on any device, at any time, and at any pace. How can you make this happen?

Engage with Your Customers

Understanding your customers today will prepare you to understanding their support requirements in the future. Now is the time to solicit customer, stakeholder, and employee feedback on how they see future technologies entering their mainstream daily lives. Such engagement empowers people to believe.

Be Creative, Explore Stuff, and Grow

Be curious; be insatiable. Understand the difference between what others can teach you and what you can teach yourself. Be an evangelist: do your emerging technology homework, and talk up the trends you encounter. Empower people to investigate and share their findings with others.

Anticipate change: think about and be prepared for significant change and the rapid adoption of customer-driven technological advances. As BYOX and the adoption of wearable technologies gather steam, many organizations risk losing control of their networks, their devices, and the bandwidth needed to function. What policies, processes, and procedures do you currently have in place to manage this, if any? And how future-proof are they?

Demystify and Look Forward

The sheer volume and variety in the digital world can be overwhelming. Offering classes and training to all generations in the workplace is a great way to connect generations. Pair established generations up with Millennial mentors. Many people are shy about admitting to their lack of digital skills; once they’re taught the basics, you’re on the road to connecting people.

Who and what will the next-generation service desk analyst be? What type of person will you need to support your future customers? What skills will they need? What knowledge will they need? Where will you find them? How will they fit it with your existing team? How do you grow the right talent from within?

Create a Shared Experience

Think about ways to create a central, shared, and personalized experience that brings people together; something user-friendly that everyone can be a part of, a place that engages and inspires.

Be True to Your Strategy, Mission, and Values

As with all business considerations, one size doesn’t fit all. What is your organization’s long-term vision and strategic plan? What is its road map? What are the key milestones for achieving success? Where does its future lie? How can you use technology to create its true value proposition? Understanding all of this will enable you to understand what and how future technologies can be used to help your organization innovate and achieve its vision.

Tailor your generational bridge-building to suit the specific needs of your organization. Take an inventory of where things stand and develop a plan that’s in line with your organization’s strategy and goals.

Be Flexible

Some very talented people have no interest in spending endless hours on the computer. Sing their praises! Yes, they need the basic skills to connect them to the organizational nervous system and optimize their performance, but beyond that they can be Luddites. It’s important to understand that every talented person is different. There’s massive societal pressure these days to conform, to be plugged in online all the time. A lot of amazing people would rather spend their free time on other pursuits.

Here are some wider trends to understand and consider when thinking about the generational technology divide, the adoption of emerging technologies, and how those technologies will be supported.

  1. According to a 2014 McKinsey study, more than 60 percent of CEOs expect 15–50 percent of their earnings growth over the next five years to come from technology-enabled business innovations.
  2. Gartner predicts that wearable device shipments are predicted to reach 130 million by 2018, and the total available market for wearable devices will grow from $3-5 billion to $30–50 billion before 2020. Wearable technology is expected to outpace all other consumer electronics categories, including PCs, tablets, and smartphones. BYOD is going to evolve and get even more complex as technology continues to be integrated into our customers’ and employees’ lives; Gartner predicts that BYOD will cause the mobile workforce to double or triple in size. BYOD? More like BYOL: bring your own life. The increasingly complex demands of mobile users will drive a demand for increasing amounts of storage capacity.
  3. A recent survey revealed that an overwhelming 85 percent of public sector organizations in the UK admit to having no plan in place for managing wearable technologies entering workplace. This included 88 percent of local authorities, 85 percent of government departments, 83 percent of NHS trusts, and 76 percent of universities. The same survey revealed that almost 65 percent of public sector organizations across the UK are currently unable to differentiate between wired and wireless devices on their network.
  4. Every day, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. According to IBM, 90 percent of all of the data in the world has been created in the last two years.
  5. According to Gartner, there will be nearly 26 billion devices on the Internet of Things by 2020. According to ABI Research, more than 30 billion devices will be wirelessly connected to the Internet of Everything by 2020. Businesses will expect the evolution of IoT to make supply chains more efficient and cost-effective, but Gartner says that most enterprises and technology vendors have yet to explore the possibilities of an expanded Internet and are not operationally or organizationally ready. Digitizing the most important products, services, and assets will fall under four basic usage models: manage, monetize, operate, and extend. These models can be applied to the Internet of Things, which includes people, information, things, and places.
  6. In March 2014, Bill Gates said that ‘‘software substitution, whether it’s for drivers or waiters or nurses, [is] progressing. Technology over time will reduce demand for jobs, particularly at the lower end of skill set. Twenty years from now, labor demand for lots of skill sets will be substantially lower. I don’t think people have that in their mental model.’’ There is going to be a significant displacement of labor in the workforce by 2030. Hiring practices will change, and what you support, who you support, and how you support it/them will radically change.
  7. Creating the perfect socialized and personalized customer experience will differentiate brands and service capabilities. We will live an immersive data-driven existence where service providers know us better than we know ourselves, and technology will enable us to understand our customers and our employees a whole lot better than we do now. By 2030, we will be connected 100 percent of the time, and privacy as a concept will be dead.
  8. The workforce is changing; generational power within the workforce is shifting. Twenty years ago, people aspired to retire by sixty-five; due to economic realities, people are working beyond sixty-five, in many cases well into their seventies. However, although the global population is projected to rise to 7.6 billion in 2020, the working-age population is expected to decline in many countries; in Europe, for example, 2010 marked the first time more workers retired than joined the workforce. Experts suggests that a demographic divide will soon arise between countries with younger skilled workers and countries that face an aging, shrinking workforce, as more people exit the workforce than enter it. Experts say that while this gap is currently relatively manageable, at 200,000, it will surge to 8.3 million by 2030.

As a leader, there are a number of points you need to consider as we move into the era of the digital revolution. Where you are looking to anticipate change? Are you shaping the future, not just reacting to it? How diverse is your network? How do you grow the diversity of your network? We’ll need all the help we can to realize the benefits of the changes the next five, ten, fifteen years will bring.

This, however, is just the beginning. Generation Z—the Digital Natives— is on its way. They’re growing up in a multichannel environment, using multiple devices to complete separate activities at the same time: texting, tweeting, Facebooking, YouTubing, doing homework, taking a selfie, etc. This emerging generation is living in a world that didn’t exist just a decade ago, and it’s the only world they’ve ever known. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” We have. What we do with it is up to us.

 

David Wright is an award-winning leader, with extensive experience creating world-class customer-centric services through inspired, diverse, and engaged teams. Motivated and motivational, David’s mantra of creating excellence at every opportunity is encapsulated by two simple words: inspire and deliver.

Tag(s): workforce enablement, future of support, supportworld

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