5×5: Tapping the XBox Generation

by | Friday, November 1st, 2013

RE:INVENTION’s team reviews a recent news article or research study every Friday, then provides analysis and insights from the perspective of each of our team members. We’ve named this weekly blog feature, 5×5.

UP THIS WEEK: TAPPING THE XBOX GENERATION

Recent research conducted by Accenture across G20 countries suggests that a majority of young entrepreneurs under 40 years old want to collaborate with established businesses and work with other companies in the business ecosystem. At a time when global economic growth is slowing and volatile, collaborating with the Xbox generation — harnessing their entrepreneurial spirit — may foster innovation in large corporations. In the words of Matt Reilly, Accenture’s Senior Managing Director, “It is important for established companies to find new ways of embracing and supporting today’s millennials — not only to benefit them but to influence the types of projects they take on.”

This Week’s Reference Articles:

THIS WEEK’S QUESTION

How and why should established companies collaborate with the Xbox generation to foster innovation?

OUR TEAM’S RESPONSES

Joe Barrus (“The Technologist”)

There are 2 reasons why companies should be looking hard at the Millennial Generation, especially the younger ones, to drive innovation and growth from both the demand and supply side of the equation:

  1. They represent the future consumer and as they continue to come into age, they will shape what future demand will look like.  While this is true for any transition across generations, the Millennial have some significant fundamental differences than previous generations
  2. These fundamental differences also define a different kind of workforce; one where new individual competencies can enable corporate capabilities that will be required to survive in a rapidly changing marketplace

What are these fundamental differences?  The article hints at it when they use the term “co-dependency.”  The Millennial generation has grown up in an era with technological capabilities of a magnitude of difference than with previous generations.  As the rate of technological change accelerates, this will continue to be true for future generational shifts.

The Millennial Generation has grown up with Social Media and mobile tools that have allowed them to remain connected with others sharing even menial experiences.  While this has often been vocally denounced by many in the older generations (what generation does not denounce change in younger generations!), it nevertheless has created a generation with unique competencies.  The Millennial Generation have grown up with the concept that decision making is a shared activity enabled by all the devices they currently use for communication and entertainment.  This generation is uniquely conditioned for extreme collaboration.  They know how to crowd source as the crowd!

In addition, this generation has been given an unending set of tools that enable self-driven change.  With open sourced software and open APIs on consumer platforms, this generation has also become conditioned to drive incremental improvement.   While a self-driven improvement may seemingly be driven by the need to meet unmet personal demand, one has to remember that these consumers are no longer truly individual consumers.  They are highly connected and so an individual’s assessment of need may indeed reflect hidden demand in a larger population at its most early emergence.   This same connectedness also supports viral awareness of these solutions creating a natural capability for groundbreaking and ground swelling change!

I personally think that with the rate of change continuing to accelerate, bottom up, incremental change driven and controlled by the consumer will replace the current model of top down macro change driven by back office analysts as the norm.  The Millennial Generation is just the generation to do this!

Kirsten Osolind (“Change Catalyst”)

Millennials are the first always-connected generation; technology is second nature to them. By age 21, the average American now has spent more than 10,000 hours playing video games (that’s akin to 5 years full-time employment). Eventually, these millennials will be in charge of creating and manufacturing products and services for themselves and future generations.

How can established companies collaborate with the Xbox (Millennial) generation to foster innovation? Hire them to help run new initiatives or skunkworks operations and develop their skills for future executive leadership.

A Few Tips:

1. Give them REAL responsibility (keep them challenged) – Millennials are almost always up for a challenge and they like change. They thrive when they feel they have a sense of ownership. Invite them to come up with new ways to streamline processes and to exercise creativity. Assign them projects with concrete targets then set them free — give them the flexibility to run with it.

2. Mentor them – Invest in them, and you’ll get the best out of them. Millennials grew up with strong role models and they will stay with companies where they feel they have access to mentors and opportunities for career growth.

3. Acknowledge their accomplishments – Instant feedback and rewards go a long way with millennials. This is, afterall, the “even the losers get trophies” generation.

4. Ask them questions, then LISTEN to their answers – Social media has empowered millenials with unfettered ability to express themselves. They want to have a voice and they expect dialogue. Need a fresh perspective? Ask them how they would do things differently.

5. Let them loose on technology – Millennials have grown up with laptops, mobile phones, Xbox and iPADS. They are equally fearless  about video conferencing, in-office chat and enterprise social networking, and consumer tech gadgets. Since they embrace disruption and new tech faster than the rest of us, let them be one of your company’s SMEs. Encourage them to identify and share new tech tools to boost corporate collaboration and enhance IT policy. They may very well empower your corporation to greater success.

An example of an established company collaborating with the Xbox generation to foster innovation? PepsiCo. PepsiCo’s “Conn3ct” program connects executive sponsors with Millennial mentees.

Motivating and retaining millennials really isn’t that different from engaging any employee. ALL employees want to be engaged. Good managers and leaders identify what a employee needs to be more successful and adapt their approach accordingly. Every employee is different and must be managed differently. There is no “one size fits all” approach to employee development.

Beyond hiring millennials, savvy corporations create junior advisory boards and engage millennials via crowdsolving platforms.  If you speak their language, allow them to opt-in to experiences, and create content around their interests, you can win loyal, lifetime customers.

Dennis Jarvis (“The Marketeer”)

Outside, almost counter cultural influences have long impacted the social, political and business worlds — Gandhi, MLK, Jobs, Bazos, Schultz to name a few.  Collaborating with an entrepreneurial spirit that bears little resemblance an existing organizational or institutional culture can be daunting and not easily embraced.  Established companies experiencing this aversion, when weighing the viability of engaging the XBox generation of entrepreneurs, don’t need to look very far for reasons why.

The Beatles had their beginning in 1960 in Liverpool, England.  At the time, their brand of music was often viewed as anathema by the music industry.  After all, they were outsiders and considered to be a flash in the pan.  What happened was just the opposite.  The Beatles became a force that forever changed the music industry, including (as noted by Tom Daniel writing for ListVerse in 2012):  music videos, concept albums, self-contained record label (Apple), breakthrough studio techniques, stadium concert venues, establishing FM radio in the U.S., live global television broadcasts, and even lyrics printed on the album cover.  The music industry today (artists, labels, associations, concert venues and sponsors, MTV, etc.) is based in large part on what this group of counter cultural outsiders from Liverpool forced upon it.

While not exclusively focused on recruiting outsiders, Lockheed-Martin’s Skunk Works® has demonstrated for 70 years just how to drive innovation on the basis of outside thinking.  Skunk Works, which is the company’s Advanced Development Program, separates forward thinking engineers from the daily business to focus on the creation of transformational aviation technology.  Skunk Works has produced the first fighter jet, the U2, and Stealth fighter designs, among many others.

The RAND Corporation is a non-profit organization that was first charged with providing research and analysis to the U.S. Armed Forces.  Today, it is funded by the government and private endowments, and conducts research, analysis and modeling on a range of non-defense policy initiatives.  RAND’s Frederick S. Pardee Graduate School illustrates an example of how a non-profit attracts outside influences to its global policy think tank.  Its Graduate School offers fellowships to outsiders to collaborate with RAND team members on policy research.

So, why would an established company even consider extending an invitation for collaboration to XBox entrepreneurs?  For me, why not?  As with other generations before it, the XBoxers will break the mold of current thinking — with you (as might be the case with Lockheed or RAND) or without you (The Beatles).  In my own experience, it has been the new way of looking at problems by outsiders that often produces the insights needed to reach the next frontier.  In this collaboration, it is essential that the new energy and creativity of the XBoxers not be bridled by forcing and existing culture on them.  Rather, I believe the Skunk Works and RAND models represent viable paths to engage this generation of entrepreneurs and allow them to flourish, with the result being significant innovation advancement.

Jorge Barba (“The Culture Guy”)

Easy, the Xbox generation works completely different than an incumbent organization. This is a generation that grew up with online gaming, and so are used to collaborating with their fellow gamers, around the world, in accomplishing goals.

Another reason is that this generation is motivated by something that is non-existent in most corporations: epicness.

Epicness in the sense of mission.  Remember, the Xbox generation talks a different language. This is a generation that talks about distributed leadership, not leadership by title. Therefore, their on the job collaboration skills are at odds with the command and control that still permeates around corporations.

It has never been easier for corporations to reach out and work with startups led by the next generation of entrepreneurs. There are all types of events and hackathons, from Startup Weekends, Lean Startup Machine, happening that corporations can get involved with. This is the easiest way to get the ball rolling and learn how the Xbox generation leads, collaborates and gets work done.

Kane (“K-9 Intern”)

I’m part of the Xbox generation. Ok – I’m only one year old – so theoretically I may be the generation that comes AFTER the Xbox generation. Have they named that generation yet? Speaking for myself — and only for myself because every hot dog is different — I am motivated by treats. Peanut butter treats. Chocolate chip cookies. Table scraps. Food of any form, really. I like games too, especially Fantastic Pets, Kinectimals, and old school “ball in the hall.”

THE FINAL WORD

It is clear that harvesting the entrepreneurial sprit of the Xbox generation will become a main driver of innovation and competitiveness for large corporations, especially as the Xboxers become both the consumer and supplier bases. The startup culture that drives the Xbox generation relies on small teams empowering themselves through diversity and design thinking. Companies that refuse to embrace this next generation of leaders and their desired entrepreneurial work environments will fall behind their competitors and, ultimately, fail.

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