Each generation wants new symbols, new people, new names. They want to divorce themselves from their predecessors. – Jim Morrison
Our fathers had their dreams; we have ours; the generation that follows will have its own. Without dreams and phantoms man cannot exist. – Olive Schreiner
There is a reason why generations are labeled. In aggregate, the greatest generation is distinct from the baby-boomers who are distinct from the Gen Xer’s, the Gen Yer’s and the post-millennials. This is due to the ongoing, recursive dynamic interaction between the human driven realms of what is possible and what is wanted. This dynamic cycle propels a trajectory in which the expectations and experiences of younger and older creators and adopters are profoundly different. Each generation’s wants are different than their predecessors as are each generation’s possibilities. While the needs and desires of parents and grandparents influence their children and grandchildren, new generations have different perspectives and expectations both as creators and as adopters, as workers and as consumers.
A ‘generation’ is defined by a point in time at which enough change has accrued so as to mark a threshold. The fact is that change is happening continuously and affects all of us. We all change our behaviors as workers and consumers as our environment and interactions change. But we change in different ways and at different speeds. The changes are not superficial. They represent a collective trajectory at the cultural and societal level and individual trajectories at the behavioral and motivational level. Seeing beyond superficial changes to the underlying dynamic is of significant benefit to the innovator.
The New Dynamic
New offerings and business models, spurred on by technological advances, create new experiences which, in turn, drive behaviors, and ultimately the motivations of their adopters, in an accelerating feedback loop. In addition, as new artifacts are introduced, the environment within which we work, play and seek leisure changes, in both positive and negative ways for individuals and communities. The complexity of the system is exacerbated by the fact that what is positive and what is negative is different for different individuals and groups and it changes over time. The technological forces of unbounded access to information and freedom of behavior that are welcome by many, cause discomfort, backlash and even violence in other cultural environments. Nevertheless, the direction and pace of these changes seems to be inexorable.
There are many who study and write[i],[ii] about generational differences and the new and emerging worlds of workers[iii] and consumers[iv]. In general, these studies and lists focus on how environmental, behavioral and motivational differences are evolving and changing. Out of the literally hundreds of generational, collective and individual attributes and changes that can be found in reports, articles and books, it is often difficult to extract the essential dynamics that affect the way innovation is done. The following list is an attempt to get at the underlying dynamics that affect innovation. The observed and speculated forces, trends and future states that relate to the coming generation can be examined from both an individual and a collective perspective as they relate to the creator (inventor, designer, tinkerer, builder etc.) and the adopter (consumer, customer, user, member etc.). These are the dynamics the future innovator must understand, influence and respond to through the innovations they introduce.
- Post-millennial milieu – Much of what is listed today as future drivers, forces and trends refers to the rapidly changing environment within which we experience life. Technology creates new possibilities which, in turn, change our capabilities to sense, connect, communicate and act. A generation grows up with ubiquitous and global connectivity, total information transparency, and intelligent machines. This changes the very nature of demand and how it evolves. Being constantly connected with your communities changes the very nature of influence. Demand becomes polarized between communities and uniform within them. Changes in demand are more fluid and volatile with waves of adoption and abandonment coursing through connected communities. The speed, volume, granularity and relevance of information is the backdrop for our changing behaviors and motivations.
- Oscillation – The movement between work, play, and leisure[v] is becoming more fluid with the boundaries that used to distinguish these ‘modes’ of attention dissolving. It used to be that the place and activity for each of these states was well defined and people moved between them purposefully at low frequency. Today, the switch from work to play to leisure happens at any time and it is happening more frequently and asynchronously. Some of this is due to the fact that the traditional correspondence between ‘place’ and ‘mode’ (you do work in the workplace, you do play at home) is less and less relevant. Because of this natural oscillation between states, individuals work, play and leisure motivations become more entwined and mutually influential.
- Attention Units (ATUs) – Attention units[vi] are the most precious resource any individual has because it is only when attention is applied, even sub-consciously, partially and indirectly, to something that experience and behavior can be influenced and changed. The partitioning and allocation of ATUs is becoming more fined grained. The switching of ATUs is becoming faster (multi-tasking means switching quickly between tasks so that it looks like you are doing many tasks at once but at any one time, your attention is only on one task). The allocation of ATUs across multiple, simultaneous activities is being enabled by technology and we are adapting to this capability at an astounding rate – especially the post-millennials.
- Drive – What motivates people as creators and adopters evolves over time as the nature of our relationships and communities changes. Dan Pink, in his book Drive[vii], has listed the factors of autonomy, mastery and purpose as being today’s most relevant motivational factors. Whether this is true or not, and it certainly is highly variable across populations and cultures, the fact is that what ‘drives’ people to act and perform changes over time and needs to be understood by innovators. These three factors have always been there, but today having them has gone from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must have’
- Cultural imperatives – While ‘drive’ refers to individual motivations, cultural imperatives represent the collective aspirations behind purpose. Macro forces change culture and when culture changes, values change. Four realms of cultural influence[viii] are the government, global ecosystem, civil society, and companies. Individuals act as consumers, environmentalists, citizens, and community members all at once. Our technology not only enables this, it encourages the simultaneous participation in these cultural realms. We cannot help but be influenced by the collective minds of each of these entities.
- Communities and Tribes – Some communities demand ethical and sustainable offerings and are socially active. Others focus on hedonistic pursuits. Both will drive companies to adapt. Some communities become ‘tribes’ that attract the like-minded and enforce belief. These tribes rapidly adopt, and just as rapidly abandon new offerings. A person belongs to many communities and only a few tribes. The strength of connection and influence is what distinguishes between the two. The collective motivations and behaviors of communities and tribes is increasingly affected by technological forces and must be understood and influenced by the innovator.
These dynamics change the nature of demand. Not just demand for the things that are bought and consumed but also demand for the things that affect the nature of work, play and leisure. These demand changes reverberate throughout the value network from the customer and consumer to the channels, the suppliers and partners of an organization. Demand becomes more abstract and fluid. It is affected by aspirations, identity and connectedness more than by features and benefits. Clayton Christensen’s performance dimension[ix] is now only one factor in the equation of disruption, perhaps not even the most important one.
The Person at the Center
The person at the center of creation and adoption manages their individual and collective selves through their actions and behaviors. The individual and the collective selves are more entwined than ever. We are able to express our most fundamental individuality in both the physical and virtual world like never before. At the same time, we connect and become members of communities and tribes with increasing frequency, often even without our explicit knowledge. You are, after all, a member of a community of others who buy similar things as you on Amazon and are influenced by their behavior in what is recommended to you.
Another dimension that is increasingly becoming more entwined is that of ourselves as creators and adopters. Creation no longer just takes place at work, adoption no longer just takes place outside of work. Our work, play and leisure lives have increasingly fuzzy boundaries. Whether this is a good or bad trend is debatable, but the fact that it is often irresistible for us to respond to a work e-mail while on vacation reflects the reality of the new normal.
As these individual and collective motivations express themselves, as the creator and adopter behaviors become increasingly entwined, the innovator’s ability to accommodate these aspects of being will become increasingly important. The skills of the innovator must change in the face of this evolution[x]. It is incumbent on the innovator to understand and not only adapt to this new environment but to influence its evolution as well.
[i] Florida, R.; The Rise of the Creative Class; Basic Books; First Trade Paper Edition edition; January 2014
[ii] Hoffman, R., Casnocha, B.,Yeh, C.; The Alliance; Harvard Business Review Press; July 2014
[iii] LaBarre,Polly; The Future Of Work Is Already Here; SAP Innovation blog; July 2014
[iv] Forum for the Future; Consumer Futures 2020; 2014
[v] Lanham, R; The Economics of Attention; University Of Chicago Press; October 200,
[vi] Davenport, T., Beck, J; The Attention Economy; Harvard Business Review Press; September 2002
[vii] Pink, D.; Drive; Riverhead Books; April 2011
[viii] Laforge, Tom; Global Director of Human and Cultural Insights The Coca-Cola Company; Presentation at Foresight and Trends 2013
[ix] Christensen, Clayton; The Innovator’s Dilemma; Harvard Business Review Press; Reprint edition; November 2013
[x] Schmitt, L; An Innovator’s Skill Set; Blog post; 2013