UW E-Business Consortium at a Glance

Two weeks ago I attend the one-day conference “Best Practices and Emerging Technologies” put on by the UW E-Business Consortium. I have attended this annual event for several years and enjoy the fact that it cuts across technology, customer service, marketing and supply chain disciplines.

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It was a treat to hear two inspiring keynote sessions, one from a London-based futurist and the other from lead engineer for the Mars Rover Curiosity.

A key takeaway from the conference was the continuing and varied influence of millennials on business. Here are a few points that stayed with me:

  • McDonald’s corp opened offices in downtown Chicago, Silicon Valley and India for the sole purpose of attracting the young talent they needed to move information technology, marketing and related functions into the digital world. At that point, they changed from a very traditional dress policy to no dress policy.
  • As discussed in an earlier post, your smartphone home screen is your new inbox. I am increasingly finding others contacting me via multiple channels (LinkedIn messages, text messages, Skype, Yammer, Slack, Spark, etc.) and with invitations to connect on social media (Twitter and others).
  • Presentation styles have evolved to a TedEx-like standard (tell me a short and concise story). One outcome is that sometimes the younger speakers are often better than those more steeped in the traditional style of yesterday.
  • Both speaker and attendee attire at business meetings has shifted away from the old norm of business wear or business casual. The new norm is to wear to a conference whatever style you wear to work, whether that is company logo wear (think Harley Davidson), fancy jeans/shirts/stylish jackets, golf club wear or traditional business attire. Anything goes…regardless of age or rank.

Another interesting topic was the role of emotion and empathy as part of the product experience. Companies that can understand, appreciate and create an emotional connection with their target audience will win in the marketplace. Making an emotional connection to your user applies whether you are clicking on your phone, at an event, or at a business meeting. Additional resources:

I’m already looking forward to next year.


Millennials’ Consumer Behavior

legs-407196_640My early 20s consumer behavior was mall-based at large national retailers, such as Gap, American Eagle, Barnes & Noble, Best Buy and others. Our generation didn’t have large quantities of belongings, mostly just basics like bookcases, stereo systems, hand-me-down furniture, desks and the like. Moving to school or changing apartments was accomplished in an afternoon with group of friends and their trucks, fortified with beer and pizza. Simple times.

Now, we have easy access to a ridiculous array of items 24/7/365. We’re all aware how Amazon has evolved from a bookselling to basically a cyber über-mall, but have you heard of or used the delivery services PostMates or InstaCart? What about transportation options like Zipcar or Lyft?

On a recent trip to Portland, Oregon, I went shopping for a few hours with my college-aged daughter. This experience confirmed an observation I’ve had over the past few months: we now have a very powerful generation of consumers who are ramping up their aggregate purchasing power. Their shopping choices are influenced by online research and access to current styles and trends in addition to real-time friends’ opinions via social media (no trip to a dressing room is complete without feedback from a friend via Snapchat).

Beyond these influences, I picked up on a theme that I am calling, “What Really Matters to me?” The answer can fit one of three categories:

  • Edited. What are the essential items that I use and enjoy? This may include a water bottle, coffee travel mug, essential electronic device and headphones or perhaps a special find from travel (scarf/shawl, sweater or photo).
  • Curated. Given all of the options, what high quality items do I feel passionate about to the point I am willing to pay more for them than for other products in the same category? What do these express about who I am? Think Longchamp bags, Tiffany jewelry, Ray-Ban sunglasses, Beats headphones and other premium items.
  • Signature. What items speak to who I am and the image I want to portray? It could be flannel shirts, hats or self-designed t-shirts. Multiple bracelets. A disposition towards specific footwear (Toms, Chuck Taylors or boots). Perhaps these items make a statement about your politics or sense of humor or favorite sport, band or hobby.

Everyone owns products from Target, Old Navy, and other mass retailers. What I’m getting at here is there is room (and growth) in the marketplace for stores and their products that are typically high design and high functionality—and these tend to fall in the Edited, Curated or Signature bucket.

Feeling like you need to add some Edited, Curated or Signature items to your collection? Check out these tempting sources:

  • Madewell—casual and cool clothes (a J. Crew brand)
  • Timbuk2—messenger bags from a San Fran start-up founded by a bike messenger
  • Canoe—beauty meets function in everyday items
  • Snow Peak—outdoor lifestyle goods
  • Bridge & Burn— functional, west-coast clothing, home goods and accessories
  • Urbanears—affordable, high performance headphones

The ultimate example is Sid Mashburn—I think he was born with style. Going well beyond clothes and shopping, it’s an experience.

Learn more about Millennial consumers:


They’re Here

It’s difficult to overstate the impact of millennials in the workplace. An interesting tension has developed as they have become the largest working generation, but their power is tempered by the fact that many organizations are led by their baby boomer predecessors. In roughly ten years, however, millenials will be taking the helm in droves. How differences in work styles, lifestyles and values are respected (or not respected) will shape the future of business.

startup-593341_640If you’ve ever found yourself questioning the work ethic of millenials or simply not understanding how and why they do what they do, take a gander at Why Millennials Understand the Future of Work Better Than Anyone Else. Maybe you’ll come to appreciate that, “…millennials are perfectly positioned to create the sustainable independent work economy that we—and they—need.”

If you haven’t done so already, getting up to speed on the nature and traits of millennial employees should be a priority for any leader. The payoff will be not only be easing the transition, but also maximizing the talents of this unique group.

Additional resources:


The Power of Open Data

Open data seems all well and good in theory, but it can be hard to envision practical applications. Essentially, this is making large sets of data open to the public.  One New York statistician, Ben Wellington, is making a name for himself by asking questions and finding answers through open data resources. The results are fascinating—and have had a big impact (and he wasn’t even trying).

Wellington is extremely skilled at not only crunching numbers, but also using numbers to tell stories and then using the combination of numbers and stories to affect change. In the article A Data Analyst’s Blog Is Transforming How New Yorkers See Their City, NPR gives one example of what happened when he looked at parking ticket data. Read Wellington’s account in his blog post Success: How NYC Open Data and Reddit Saved New Yorkers Over $55,000 a Year. Other popular posts from his blog I Quant NY include a look at the cleanliness at the city’s fast food restaurants and the prevalence of Starbuck’s in Manhattan. Great stuff for inquisitive minds.


The Growth of China

Sometime I am taken aback when it hits me how narrow a world view many of us have from our vantage point in the Midwest. Case in point: recent reading about growth in China was a real eye-opener as to the sheer size of their population and density. See the McKinsey & Company article All you need to know about business in China, an except from The One Hour China Book by investor Jeffrey Towson and McKinsey’s Jonathan Woetzel.

Here are a few interesting facts from the article:

  • hong-kong-318058_640China has twice the number of Internet users than the United States at roughly 50% of the penetration.
  • China has 160 cities with populations more than 1 million and 14 with more than 5 million. The U.S. has 9 cities with population greater than 1 million, and New York is the only one with more than 5 million. To be fair, if you expand the comparison to include metro areas (Combined Statistical Areas), there are 54 greater than 1 million and 12 greater than 5 million. But these are BIG areas (see map).
  • In the next 10-15 years, more Chinese will move into cities than the current U.S. population (currently around $316 million), with a total Chinese urban population approaching 1 billion people. You might wonder where all of these people will go. Rapid and high-rise construction is one answer. Can you imagine a 30-story building going up in 15 days? Watch it happen.
  • In the last 25 years, 300 million Chinese have moved out of poverty.

Weekly Download 14.16

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Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

How to assess how business-centric you really are: IT is rapidly becoming front-stage in solving business issues. This rubric is a good way to examine one’s focus.

The App I Used to Break Into My Neighbor’s Home: With an attention-grabbing headline, this article explores the nefarious use of 3D printing and kiosk technology. But aren’t physical keys on the way out?  I think that a lot more damage can be done with either password hacking or a crowbar.

It’s easy to put labels on people to describe who they are or why they act the way they do. Taking this type of shortcut often has its pitfalls; putting labels on how to manage Millennials is one example. 4 Things You Thought Were True About Managing Millennials (HBR) challenges conventional wisdom about this demographic.

Secrets of Generation Flux (Fast Company): This article summarizes many themes I have been writing about. It also cites one of my favorite authorities on this new world of work (Aaron Levie, CEO and cofounder of Box). While it is fairly long and dates to November of 2012, the information is relevant and insightful. Key quote:

“This is the great challenge of 21st-century leadership. We have grown up with certain assumptions about what works in an enterprise, what the metrics for success are, how we organize and deploy resources. The bulk of those assumptions are wrong now. The world in which we were raised and trained no longer exists. The clarity of words we use to discuss business, standbys like marketplace and competitive advantage, are being redefined and rendered almost meaningless.”

Are We as a Society Falling Apart?: Dr. Ichak Adizes has long been a favorite read. He hits the issue of the decline of mutual trust and respect head on.


Intellectual Curiosity

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Photo by Mark Baker

Intellectual curiosity may be roughly defined as a willingness to explore something based on interest, a desire to learn something new and the pursuit of answers to “why” questions. It encompasses mental stimulation and the journey of the discovery process, as well as the satisfaction that comes with knowing more than you did before.

Recently I was engaged in a business conversation about this topic. It was precipitated by a colleague’s comment, “We don’t hire people who are intellectually curious like we used to be.” To which another colleague challenged, “Aw, come on – you really believe that?”

The initiator of the conversation meant that “back in the day,” young professionals studied technical subject matter relevant to their field. Becoming an expert, having deep understanding and being able to answer questions off the top of their head would help propel their career (and it apparently did). Another colleague challenged this notion, responding, “That’s what I thought, too, and I was totally wrong. I should have become expert in selling, because being able to generate business is what would have propelled my career.” The response was, “Well, I don’t think the young people we are hiring today are intellectually curious.” 

This discussion revealed a nuance I hadn’t thought about before—that curiosity and our approach to learning and investigation may differ along generational lines. In today’s world, expertise is at our fingertips, and we have Gen X and Gen Y members newer to the labor market who have not known any other way. Vast digital libraries of information may be pulled up with just a few clicks, or via a quick tap to call on SIRI to do the search. “Just Google it” gets said many times at our dinner table, particularly when teenagers are present. So, why would you want to become a technical expert when all of this is available? Isn’t it more productive to learn how to ask the right questions, and apply brainpower to problem solving and innovation?

This brings me back around to curiosity. Recitation of facts or memorization of data was a form of curiosity that was valued in the past. Today, I believe a greater worth of a curious mind may be measured in the ability to formulate questions, navigate through the labyrinth of information that is available and embrace different perspectives generated by the answers uncovered.

More good stuff on the topic of curiosity: