As of 2013, 60% of the global population is under the age of 30 and responsible for $1.2 trillion in consumer spending each year. They are catalysts for change, action and consumerism. As leaders, we need to know how to communicate with them.
Last week, technologists, heads of global brands and futurists gathered to discuss the future of business at PTTOW in Los Angeles. From community to collaboration, connected consumer experiences to causality and CSR – big words, with big meanings, starting with the letter “c” – took center stage in conversations among some of the leading minds in business.
“The ways to change ghettos from being ghettos is turn our kids into technologists, and to teach them to code.” -will.i.am, Recording Artist and Technologist
Collisions, Community and Co-Learning
We know that effective leadership in a modern enterprise starts with ourselves and shifting the way in which we act within the world because other often follow our examples. Now we’ve got to move change into our organizations and that begins with our internal process and systems.
According to Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, that starts by accelerating serendipity, in order to achieve a massive Return on Luck (ROL). With $350 million being invested in The Downtown Project in Las Vegas, he’s doing just that.
When Zappos decided to move their headquarters to downtown Las Vegas, they surveyed the square footage required per person. At just over 300 square feet per person and multiple entrances at their current Henderson facilities, employees may not experience random, chance encounters with those they know within the company. Hsieh believes this prevents critical experiences that are at the heart of sparking new ideas, systems, programs and processes. So they planned for one entrance to the building in order to encourage the acceleration of “serendipitous meetings.”
In the new headquarters, Zappos is adding doggy day care, a pub reminiscent of Nike’s in Portland, and they’ll also be reducing the square footage per employee to just under 100 square feet to enhance this phenomenon.
“A great brand is a story that never stops unfolding.” – Tony Hsieh, CEO, Zappos
Since Nevada possesses the lowest literacy rates in all of the 50 United States, the Downtown Project is tackling illiteracy and better education programs by incorporating creativity and neuroscience into their educational processes. The ultimate goal for education under the Downtown Project is to serve kids in preschool through 12th Grade.
The future of successful business enterprises is to become an integral part of the local communities and geographic regions they’re based in. And that goes beyond tax incentives and economic impact to the impact of the lives of those that surround them.
We Need to Build Communities Correctly
We’ve talked about community since the beginning of social media. Some of the most influential people in the digital social space – Brian Solis, Gary Vaynerchuck, Chris Brogan and Amber Nashlund – are living examples of leaders with a community large following around a core topic in business.
However, as the social web has matured, and social networks such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn have achieved staggering user bases, the idea of community has lost its original value and meaning. We now have audiences; people that follow us, passively listening to what we’re broadcasting. Community was originally about dialogues between individuals, and we need to get that back.
Gina Bianchini, the founder of Ning, and now Mightybell, the technological platform that is powering Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In community, is telling leaders how to put the “C” back in community in order to drive meaningful conversations.
“Creating communities is about encouraging, facilitating and finding creative reasons for people to talk to each other, not to you. When people talk to each other in the context of the interests and passions your brand celebrates, and better yet, the things people do in the context of your brand, that is where long-term engagement becomes possible. It is where the community becomes something magical,” says Bianchini.
“I believe that the goal of communities is not huge numbers for huge numbers sake, but to help bring the largest number of people closer together with existing friends as well as to help them make new friends around the things they care about most.” - Gina Bianchini, CEO, Mightybell
So how do we develop a quality community which fuels constructive conversation? Bianchini provided three points:
Think about your community as the means of encouraging people to talk to each other or do things together. It’s not about celebrating a joint love of a big brand, but rather the experiences, conversations and close relationships that a brand encourages people to have with each other.
Define success as the number of circles of people who are doing things together, not the massive number of likes or follows you have.
Figure out how your brand can help people bring their friends closer or meet new people and develop new friendships around a shared love.
When we understand this, we’ll be replacing our definitions of success as passive clicks with something that brings people closer to other people through conversations and activities.
Connective Customer Experiences
As we become catalysts for change and community warriors, we’re also having to think about how we connect with our customers’ experiences in our physical and digital worlds. And in order to connect them to our community efforts, with the aim of creating a better world, business enterprises will have to invest significant dollars.
“As a business that operates in radically different categories, we are and must be guided by relevance. We need to find ways to create experience and value in physical places that are different than digital. We can’t think of our stores as places to buy, we must think of them as distribution centers,” says Jeff Jones, CMO of Target. “And in them, we have to use technology to connect to the physical and digital worlds. Stores are information centers, and physical locations yield themselves well to this. And discovery and experience within them matter.”
We’ve got to ask our customers and key stakeholders one simple question: “How can I best serve you in this moment?” That question is part of the foundation in which you can build connective experiences. Technologies and software systems that power them are merely tools to meet those needs, expressed or unexpressed.
“If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.” – Sebastian Copeland, Environmentalist & Explorer
The Future Lies in Changing It
As Levi’s Jim Curleigh says, “Everything with a ‘C’ is changing. Corporations, climate, community, currency… The future doesn’t lie in predicting it, it lies in shaping and changing it.” Trends and forecasting are essentially irrelevant. The future is what we make it, not what someone say it is.
So how are those of us in leadership roles going to become the catalysts of tomorrow, shaping a bright future that everyone deserves to live in?