Adventures of a Breach Millennial In A World Of Business Disruption
First off, I would like to start a designation of my own. If the term Millennial is going to be thrust upon me, I reserve the right to restore some ownership of the term by referring to myself as a Breach Millennial (BM). One thing about being a Millennial is that you don't get to choose whether you are or not, classification depends upon selection of arbitrarily fluctuating dates and the assertions of a secret society of generational dignitaries. So, Breach Millennial is one who teeters between generational markers, someone like myself who is Gen X and/or Gen Y depending of who is ordaining the categorization.
As a Breach Millennialist, I have some life experiences that are more in common with Gen X than I do with Pure Millennials and one hit me rather abruptly as I sat in front of a national chain of Orange Chicken producing fast food restaurants. As a sidenote, for the purposes of this collection of ramblings, the significant distinction between a Breach Millennialist and a Pure Millenialist would be whether one can quote Top Gun...if you don't know what Top Gun is - you are a Pure Millennial. No shame in that. Not having observed or knowing Top Gun, there is shame in that.
I grew up in a small town, going to the video store was one of few universe expanding escapes from our slow paced reality. All that separated me from other worlds were several miles which friends and I could usually traverse on bicycles or as we grew older and were allowed further from the bramble, rides with friends. As I entered neared closer to the finale of my primary education experience and teetered into adulthood the portal were non existent as I had my own video store membership and my own motor vehicle.
One experience these younger generations, my own four children included, will never have reference for is the trip to the video store where you spend over an hour reading the backs of VHS tapes to decide which 5 movies you will take home for The Weekend Special. These are foundational decision metrics and formative processes that Pure Millennials will have to develop through other mean as movies for them come from a brightly colored boxes stationed outside the Golden Arches or are viewed on their non-movie-screen-sized handheld devices.
Where is this story going? Probably nowhere, but you've come this far...let's see what we can do. Back to Orange Chicken...there I was, sitting in my badass minivan, staring at a building - THAT USED TO BE A BLOCKBUSTER (did you hear tones of a Jeff Foxworthy-esque delivery there too? Probably only if you are a BM) but is now a Rice-or-Noodles assembly line and a chain dental service provider. That building used to be filled with multiple copies of varying degrees of cinematic accomplishments, now it's Beef & Broccoli with a side of halitosis.
Why did Blockbuster die? Wait, did you just say, "What's Blockbuster?" Well, young PM, that used to be where you picked up your movies. It's hard to explain but they were HUUUUGE. They died because they couldn't see the future. Redbox popped up, and at first it was a luxury because movies were $1 instead of $5 (or more). Hollywood Video disappeared even before Redbox got popular, but there was no way that Blockbuster would falter, they were too big to fail, too entrenched in the culture.
And yet it happened, an un-manned video portal with only a few copies of each move played the role of David and shot a industry transforming rock right through the Blockbuster storefront with its thousands of copies of every movie known to humanty, and exploded the bearded head of the video rental giant. Supposedly Redbox and Blockbuster met at one point to discuss merging or working together...hindsight? The video renting Philistines were shocked, but the mediums through which we receive content are constantly changing, and mammoth corporations such as Blockbuster are being disrupted by innovation.
If conventional wisdom says, "If it isn't broke, don't fix it," those that live by that philosophy better hope their retirement success isn't anchored to the sinking ship they are toiling their productive years away in. The reality is that everything around us is changing, the only constant is that the rate of change is accelerating. There is a strong possibility that Redbox will face it's Blockbuster moment far sooner than Blockbuster did, not because they aren't smart people but because of acceleration.
So what do we do, whether you think you are in a progressive field or know you are in an industry prime for disruption, we all have to keep pace with the music. There are no safe bets, but the best practice is to be engaging in leading the disruption rather than waiting for the tsunami to rip through your efforts. How do we innovate, progress and even disrupt ourselves to keep our teams moving forward?
I wish I could take full credit for the next analogy, but I was listening to the Awesome Office Podcast with guest Andres Izquieta, CEO of Four Club and he shared a story about Steve Jobs. Izquieta noted that Steve Job's favorite invention was the Sony Walkman (Pure Millennials who are still reading - Google it) which lead Jobs into creating the iPod (originally released in 2001) and completely disrupted the medium through which the public listened to music while starting a ripple through the music industry itself (another industry that was too HUUUUUGE to be disrupted). Apple made significant waves with designs, marketing, capacity and the availability of a music library at your fingertips. Because of Jobs all those Sony Walkman's were rapidly being distributed to Goodwill or the dump along with the three ring binders full of thousands of dollars worth of compact discs (sorry PM's, I know, no reference).
So, on that seventh day, Steve Jobs rested and remained satisfied in his turtle neck perch for the rest of time - right? Nope. Six years later, Apple released the iPhone which now gave you calls, text, camera and music all in one handheld device. Steve Jobs didn't wait for disruption, he disrupted himself and in so doing made his prior success (the iPod) an obsolete vessel. Think of this, disrupt yourself while people are still trying to copy your original innovation and by so doing initiate your own prior success' death.
Not all changes and disruptions are as sexy or make as far reaching of an impact, but the acceleration of the system shows no signs of slowing. If you are near retirement, you may have been smart enough to save up and ride out your days enjoying the fruits of your labors with the ones you love most. If you are starting your career, are in its prime or in the post mid-life crisis phase, you have to stay on your toes. What shall we do?
I don't have the answer but a few thoughts.
1) Think about your people - what are you doing as an organization to engage the culture, the community and the system of commerce? Do you have people on your team that are ready to face the challenges of the new economy are you empowering them to help you identify and disrupt your organization? Is your team embracing cross generational integration of ideas and collectively working to recognize and battle against entrophy?
2) Think about your processes, what are you doing as an organization that doesn't make sense? Get to work on fixing your own solvable internal problems - don't procrastinate. Small problems can become big ones when thrown in with acceleration. Not all innovations and disruptions are about massive scale or having the greatest idea of all time, there are many thriving businesses who have made a good living with serving niche markets with quality.
3) Think about your position, what is your organization doing that is making a difference in the lives of your customers and the world as a connected system? Al Gore has literally brought the global economy to our fingertips through his invention, don't miss your opportunities to be an agent of the larger picture through engagement in your local communities. It's not always bigger is better, but acceleration requires attention to cultural and marketplace shifts and meeting those challenges.
4) Think about the public that you serve, are you getting feedback from those who are invested in your brand as well as those who are not customers? Both groups can provide you with important data to determine how your products and services are being translated to those who may be willing to spend their hard earned dollars with your organization.
5) Think about the person in the mirror, what are you doing as a leader to identify, embrace and battle the challenges of the marketplace that you compete in? Are you leading by example by developing your knowledge, skills and perspectives? As I was recently challenged by our local group of Young Professionals - Get #INformed. Get #INspired. Get #INvolved.
You don't have to start wearing a turtle neck and jeans, but if you think it will help...you're wrong. Reach out and connect with other professionals, together we are stronger. If you're ever in the Eugene, Oregon area - let's get some coffee.
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