It’s been about a year since we met our friends in the P-Cube. If you’re new to my little ecosystem, these are the folks in the Corporate Procurement department who spend their days in fabric-covered boxes watching hope die in a cloud of entropic cube-farm anxiety. Also they buy stuff from people like us and we ignore them in favour of their Corporate Overlords at our peril. Here is the link to helpful hints for selling to P-Cubers.
This post is about the future, for I have peered out over the edge of our foxhole and I have seen the next generation of the P-Cube. And even if you rename it Strategic Sourcing or some other nonsense, the people currently there will die or get promoted to Finance (which may be the same thing) and we’ll need to send some fresh meat in to take over. I have met the meat and these people are going to change the way businesses buy things.
About a month ago I spent half a day with the good people of The Learning Partnership at their symposium on social media in public education. For reasons known only to them, I was invited to provide commentary, which meant I had to actually pay attention instead of working on a new BrickBreaker high score. And I’m glad I did pay attention because I have glimpsed the future and it is pretty darn interesting.
In addition to the usual academics and teachers, this symposium included students. Which, now that I think about it, are almost always absent at other education events, suggesting they are forging one hell of a note or nobody thinks to invite them.
Now I have a couple of teenagers at home and privately think of them as grunting, fridge-emptying text-messaging, laundry-generating trolls who have unfriended me (de-friended? What is the participle here?) on Facebook. Alarmingly, the only insight I really have into their lives and culture comes from asking my friends to ask their kids to friend my kids and report back on stuff like how they are doing in school, do they have enough socks and when can I expect to see some change from the pizza money I forked over last Tuesday. So I was a little afraid of what I might learn in the presentations by these students on how they use digital and social media.
These are the kids born in the 1990s. The oldest are about to graduate from university; the youngest are either horrified or delighted to have recently found their first armpit hair. Demographers call them Millennials and do them the disservice of lumping them in with the kids born in the 1980s. I think they deserve their own consonant and I nominate the Letter G. Which rhymes with G and that stands for Google.
The students who presented used the G-word probably every other sentence. They use Gmail when someone is lame enough to require an email account. They share files on Google Docs, they navigate on Google Maps, they snoop on Google Earth, they doodle on SketchUp, they blog on Blogger, and so on and so on. If Google made a vacuum cleaner; my family room wouldn’t require fumigation every six months.
And why Google? Is it the primary colours in the logo that remind them of their Fisher-Price days? Nope. It’s just that it’s free, accessible, easy to use and lets them get on with the vital business of discussing absolutely everything with everyone all the time. Here’s an example:
A few summers ago I was forced to hire a Spawn of Corporate Overlord summer student. She was very sweet and arrived with few discernible skills but did acknowledge that she had used Excel once before to manage her clothing allowance. So we stuck her in a cube and used child labour for two months to enter and analyze a bunch of lead data.
Each day she arrived, turned on the computer, loaded Messenger, Facebook, Twitter and Skype, turned on her iPod, plugged in her phone and stared glumly at the eight hours of unfairness before her. Did anyone train her to make the pivot tables? Who showed her how to auto-fill the cells below? How did she figure out how to make a drop-down list? Not us. We don’t have the slightest idea how to do those things. Perhaps she was sneaking down to visit the Keebler Elves in Accounts Payable? (Engraved on the gate above their fortress;”just because they’re payable, doesn’t mean they’re paid.”).
None of the above: she had simply texted, tweeted, posted and otherwise publicly moaned about the task in front of her and her vast network came rushing in with the solution and a bunch of free coaching on how to get stuff done. Freaking brilliant. Fling the (confidential) data onto Google Docs and get your friend’s, brother’s, nanny’s hairdresser’s soccer coach to fix your circular reference, pivot the data, make some charts and update your playlist.
Holy sh*t. What does that mean? It means, my friends, that Generation G is going to check everything you say and promise with everyone, everywhere, all the time. If you drop the ball, pad the estimate, pooch the SLA, confuse features with the upgrade path, you are busted. Not just by Princess Daisy or whatever she calls herself on Call of Duty (there’s a lot of free time in the future), but by her entire network.
Forget whiny tweets to your Customer Abuse department. This girl will write a daily blog about all of her vendors and post the contract draft in the cloud for commentary long before she sends it to Legal. She will tweet about the sick PowerPoint template you used in your pitch and she will share her photos of the team offsite at the waste transfer station (sorry, even in the future, Procurement is a crappy place to work). She will be in ten years what she is now: transparent, trusting, collaborative, unafraid of ambiguity, searingly honest and conscious of her duty to protect her company from scumbags like us.
Her skillset will be curating hundreds of pieces of input and distilling out of that a clear picture of what is good and what is sub-optimal (this is a generation that gets a trophy just for showing up, so they’re a bit too kind to tell you you’re rubbish). She will be adept at scanning pages, following QR codes, flushing propaganda and asking complete strangers for a detailed assessment of their experience with your product. She will be equally adept at providing such an assessment for other strangers about your product. It just wouldn’t be polite to do otherwise.
There’s still time to send about half of them to their rooms and take away the car keys from the other half, but I think our time is better spent getting ready for these Millennials in procurement by teaching our sales teams about the Internet, cleaning up our product information, finding resources to track and engage them and, most of all, doing what we promise and being nice about it.