Sean Park Portrait
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Articles tagged 'digital generation'

Evolutionarily ill-adapted.

Reuters reports:

Research conducted by the blog looked at Fortune’s 2009 list of the top 100 CEOs to determine how many were using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Wikipedia, or had a blog — and found they were mostly absent from the rapidly growing social media community.

The study found only two CEOs had Twitter accounts and 81 percent of CEOs did not have a personal Facebook page.

Only 13 CEOs had profiles on the professional networking site LinkedIn. Three CEOs stood out with more than 80 connections but they were all from technology companies — Michael Dell from computer maker Dell Inc., Gregory Spierkel from technology products distributor Ingram Micro Inc., and John Chambers from Cisco Systems Ltd.

Not one Fortune 100 CEO had a blog. (my emphasis)

“It’s shocking that the top CEOs can appear to be so disconnected from the way their own customers are communicating. They’re giving the impression that they’re disconnected, disengaged and disinterested,” said Sharon Barclay, editor at who runs executive PR firm Blue Trumpet Group.

The important thing isn’t whether they are blogging or not – it’s not for everyone – or that Facebook is critical for their job or their company. The important thing is that no knowledge – and (too) often outright hostility – to social media, the real-time web, etc. means that their understanding of the world in which they operate is frighteningly lacking. This has been a problem for time eternal for leaders of large organisations and is not specific to the advent of social media per se, but I would suggest that this time it is even more unfortunate than usual. One the speed of change and the deep structural paradigm shift that our society and economies are experiencing is more profound than normal ‘linear’ change. Secondly, their ability to ‘do something about it’ is real. In the past, I would of had much more sympathy for the corporate or political leader who said – “ok fair enough I’m a bit out of touch up here in my ivory citadel but what can I do about it”. Today that doesn’t wash. Or to a much much lesser extent.

So why are these leaders seemingly so ignorant and on the face of it disdainful of this new paradigm? Partly I’m sure it’s because they are really busy and have a never ending call on their attention: the urgent pushes out the important. This happens to all of us. More disappointingly – and here I can only speculate, I don’t know any of these 100 CEOs – I suspect that for many it is driven by fear. Not fear in a cowardly sense, but fear of looking dumb. Most people are afraid of this, and I’m sure toiling under the spotlight associated with running a Fortune 100 company only exacerbates this. These smart, ambitious, driven men and women must feel some annoyance after having spent 20 or 30 years climbing the corporate ladder to reach the pinnacle, only to find the rules of the game changed.

Here’s a suggestion. The Boards’ of these companies should ask there CEO’s to take a 1-2 month sabbatical to immerse themselves in the 21st web, preferably supported by a mentor or coach. When they came back they still might not blog. Or tweet. Or have a Facebook page. And that might be ok. But I’m certain they would have a much better understanding of why they don’t and what tools they might actually want to adopt. But most importantly they would have a better understanding of the world in which their company operates. First hand knowledge; not “Oh yeah my kid was telling me about that and tried to get me signed up. Damn teenagers!”

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No Country for Old Men

My friend Alex wrote a great post on how the current UK government just doesn’t get it. And it’s not about policy per se – upon which intelligent people can disagree – but more fundamentally on how the whole socio-economic-institutional paradigm is shifting, massively, below their feet. And there’s not a damn thing they can do about it. And therein lies the rub. The fact that they are powerless to change this despite commanding the heights of power does not compute.

To be fair, they aren’t alone – the instincts of many (most) politicians is to try to stuff the genie back in the bottle. Just look at the surreal-if-it-wasn’t-real going ons in France as just one example. The same is true of many Fortune 1000 business leaders.

And when I look at this through a demographic prism – as I am wont to do 😉 – I see a distinct pattern. I suspect that a propensity to cling to the historical norms of power and control is a cultural pathology that is particularly acute in the Baby Boom generation. This is partly a coincidence of timing – ie the power paradigm is changing on their watch – and exacerbated by their generational self-image: they are not old and reactionary, they are not “the man”. They are the vibrant transformational free-spirited children of the 60s and 70s, they are the ones that “get it”. Sixty is the new thirty right? But they worked hard to climb up the greasy pole of success, to make it to the corner office, to the top of the hierarchy. And it was bloody hard work. And they deserve to now be able to wield the levers of power as their predecessors did for generations beforehand. Besides as a more enlightened generation they would do this with even more wisdom. So it is unsurprising that they are not bloody happy to see the rules change. They are in charge. They set the rules. It’s their turn. It’s only fair.

Spot the odd one out.

Gordon Brown: 58. Peter Mandelson: 55. Michael Martin: 63. Barrack Obama: 47.

Age at start of mobile phone/internet mass adoption (1995)

Gordon Brown: 44. Peter Mandelson: 41. Michael Martin: 49. Barrack Obama: 33.

Clearly this is a generalization. Not everyone over 50, not every baby boomer is at odds with the changing world. In fact there are a fair number (many of whom we have to thank for building the technological foundations of this new age) who are leaders – in their actions and thought – in this transformation. However – and this is completely anecdotal and a personal view – I suspect that they are rarely found and disproportionately under-represented in the halls of traditional power.

It’s time for a change. But it won’t be easy. And given increasing life expectancies these guys are going to be around and healthy for another 20 or 30 years so nature isn’t going to help because we don’t have that long. The funny thing is I think if they overcame their fears and actually “let go” many of these leaders would find it incredibly liberating and empowering at the same time. Interesting times indeed.

(Call it.)

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Managing in the 21st century: not just about the kids.

About a month ago, management guru Gary Hamel posted “a list of 12 work-relevant characteristics of online life” that he felt that tomorrow’s employees would use as benchmarks to judge which companies “got it”. It’s a great list but I would go further and say that it’s not just about attracting the Digital Generation (or the Facebook Generation or Generation Y or M or whatever else you want to call today’s teens and twenty-somethings), it’s about attracting smart, connected, ambitious and energetic professionals of any age, but especially thirty and forty-somethings that are old and wise enough to have no illusions about the reality of working in a typical Fortune 500 company and have valuable “last century” skills but young enough to be able to want to reinvent their relationship to work and their employer.

1. All ideas compete on an equal footing.
On the Web, every idea has the chance to gain a following—or not, and no one has the power to kill off a subversive idea or squelch an embarrassing debate. Ideas gain traction based on their perceived merits, rather than on the political power of their sponsors.

2. Contribution counts for more than credentials.
When you post a video to YouTube, no one asks you if you went to film school. When you write a blog, no one cares whether you have a journalism degree. Position, title, and academic degrees—none of the usual status differentiators carry much weight online. On the Web, what counts is not your resume, but what you can contribute.

3. Hierarchies are natural, not prescribed.
In any Web forum there are some individuals who command more respect and attention than others—and have more influence as a consequence. Critically, though, these individuals haven’t been appointed by some superior authority. Instead, their clout reflects the freely given approbation of their peers. On the Web, authority trickles up, not down.

4. Leaders serve rather than preside.
On the Web, every leader is a servant leader; no one has the power to command or sanction. Credible arguments, demonstrated expertise and selfless behavior are the only levers for getting things done through other people. Forget this online, and your followers will soon abandon you.

5. Tasks are chosen, not assigned.
The Web is an opt-in economy. Whether contributing to a blog, working on an open source project, or sharing advice in a forum, people choose to work on the things that interest them. Everyone is an independent contractor, and everyone scratches their own itch.

6. Groups are self-defining and -organizing.
On the Web, you get to choose your compatriots. In any online community, you have the freedom to link up with some individuals and ignore the rest, to share deeply with some folks and not at all with others. Just as no one can assign you a boring task, no can force you to work with dim-witted colleagues.

7. Resources get attracted, not allocated.
In large organizations, resources get allocated top-down, in a politicized, Soviet-style budget wrangle. On the Web, human effort flows towards ideas and projects that are attractive (and fun), and away from those that aren’t. In this sense, the Web is a market economy where millions of individuals get to decide, moment by moment, how to spend the precious currency of their time and attention.

8. Power comes from sharing information, not hoarding it.
The Web is also a gift economy. To gain influence and status, you have to give away your expertise and content. And you must do it quickly; if you don’t, someone else will beat you to the punch—and garner the credit that might have been yours. Online, there are a lot of incentives to share, and few incentives to hoard.

9. Opinions compound and decisions are peer-reviewed.
On the Internet, truly smart ideas rapidly gain a following no matter how disruptive they may be. The Web is a near-perfect medium for aggregating the wisdom of the crowd—whether in formally organized opinion markets or in casual discussion groups. And once aggregated, the voice of the masses can be used as a battering ram to challenge the entrenched interests of institutions in the offline world.

10. Users can veto most policy decisions.
As many Internet moguls have learned to their sorrow, online users are opinionated and vociferous—and will quickly attack any decision or policy change that seems contrary to the community’s interests. The only way to keep users loyal is to give them a substantial say in key decisions. You may have built the community, but the users really own it.

11. Intrinsic rewards matter most.
The web is a testament to the power of intrinsic rewards. Think of all the articles contributed to Wikipedia, all the open source software created, all the advice freely given—add up the hours of volunteer time and it’s obvious that human beings will give generously of themselves when they’re given the chance to contribute to something they actually care about. Money’s great, but so is recognition and the joy of accomplishment.

12. Hackers are heroes.
Large organizations tend to make life uncomfortable for activists and rabble-rousers—however constructive they may be. In contrast, online communities frequently embrace those with strong anti-authoritarian views. On the Web, muckraking malcontents are frequently celebrated as champions of the Internet’s democratic values—particularly if they’ve managed to hack a piece of code that has been interfering with what others regard as their inalienable digital rights.

My first job (way back when) was as an analyst in an M&A department. But before a year was up and at the suggestion of the senior partner I was working for I applied for a job on the trading floor (as a bond trader.) The point my partner made was that in corporate finance, it mattered how old you were, who you knew and how much grey hair you had. (All things I was short of at the time!) On the trading floor however, not so much. There results and ideas mattered. In fact, the best thing about being a trader in the early nineties was well that many of the 12 items on the list above applied. At least for awhile.

If you work for a big bank or financial institution, score your employer – do they get more than 8/12? More than 4/12? Do they tick any of the boxes above? Answers in the comments please.

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Accelerating change.

Thanks to The Big Picture for bring this to my attention. I’ve seen other similar presentations (heck I’ve even done one or two myself…) but this one I thought was particularly well done and should convince even the most curmudgeonly sceptic that the fundamental transformation of our society and economies is something that will happen in years and not decades.

And when you watch this – and I hope you will – keep in mind that it was posted almost 18 months ago and the power laws have not gone away…the Digital Generation really is different.

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Companies that ban Facebook, etc. don’t understand people.

If you’re not a geek or early adopter or part of the digital generation and you are looking for an introduction to why social networking and virtual worlds are relevant for business, this is probably not a bad place to start. Roo Reynolds is a ‘metaverse evangelist’ for IBM. For those of you that already get it, you can probably take a pass as it is pretty basic stuff with really no new insights. Nonetheless it is a good overview and engaging presentation (although I wished he would speak a bit faster – the same content could have been delivered in 20 minutes I think.)

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Demographic barbell.

The existence of a digital demographic barbell* – generation Y/M + seniors – is something I’ve observed and have been talking about for several years. Indeed I became more confident of this thesis about 3 years ago when my parents came to visit and I saw my Dad spending an hour or so a day on the web (mainly checking weather, stocks and local (back home) news.) So I was nodding in agreement when I stumbled upon this recent article from the Spectator, ‘Wired, retired and so hip it hurts’:

On a personal level I can see evidence of a new approach to technology taking place. My parents-in-law do not consider themselves to be technophiles, but they were the first people I know who downloaded Skype. Skype, a VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) application, allows you to use your computer like a telephone and ‘talk’ through the microphone to other computers for free. Next they added a webcam as they wanted to be able to video-chat with their three young grandchildren in Paris. After quizzing my friends about their experiences with their own parents, I realised that digitally savvy grandparents are increasingly becoming the norm whereas none of us urban young professionals are using anything like webcams.

The theory goes as follows: the pre-baby boomers, retired yet healthy and engaged, have the time to learn and adopt powerful new technologies and the motivation to do so: whether to stay in touch with increasingly dispersed children and especially grandchildren, or to more actively manage their capital (increasingly important given lengthening life expectancies and more active retirements), or to organize their active travel and social agendas.

Less obvious – but I think also important – is that, having left the traditional rat-race, they have less fear, less of a chip on their shoulders than the slightly younger baby-boomers. They have nothing to lose. The baby-boomers, having spent a lifetime driving change and being ‘in charge’ and now settled in the proverbial corner office, suffer from a collective ‘not-invented-by-us’ disdain and clearly have the most to lose (if the proverbial rules of the game are changed.)

The implications of this digital generational barbell are clearly significant for many sectors of the economy. However for financial services firms its importance is impossible to overstate. And for the most part I don’t think the industry has really come to grips with this. (BBC reports: “Online banking boom for over 55s”):

The recent boom in internet banking has been greatest for people aged over 55, a report suggests, with 3.6 million of them banking online last year.

The Association of Payment Clearing Services (Apacs) said between 2001 and 2006 the number of internet bank users in this age group rose by 350%.

This compared to a 175% rise in the total number of adults banking online.

That means 17 million adults in the UK banked online last year, compared with 6.2 million in 2001.

“While younger people continue to make up the majority of online banking users, the greatest proportion of new internet bankers are the over 55s,” said Sandra Quinn, from Apacs.

Another opportunity.

*the term barbell in markets originally referred to replicating a position in a medium maturity bond using a combination of very short and very long duration securities (leading to a gain in convexity); it has however become generalized to mean any strategy that uses two extreme elements (often instead of a more traditional ‘mainstream’ element), for example investing in ETFs and Hedge Funds (instead of in a traditional long-only mutual fund.)

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