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Why The Gray Need The Green

Yesterday I introduced the idea of the new color barrier in business: the Green versus the Gray. In short, the Green are young professionals who although short on work experience and positional influence, intuitively understand the way business has changed because it’s changed while they’ve been growing up. They have a distinct advantage because they’ve only known the world to be one way.

The Gray, on the other hand, have decades of experience and sit in the decision making seats for most organizations. They have vast insight and knowledge of their respective industries but may be struggling to come to terms with the vast changes in their businesses because of a changing culture of customer expectations, technology, customer expectations and communication methods.

The Gray Need The Green

The thing is, the Gray need the Green. If they can get that they are 90% of the way there.

Today’s Green bring something to the table that the Green of previous generations didn’t necessarily have: an inherent understanding of how people are connected and why that changes the way your business should do business. They have high standards for product quality, truth in advertising, good service, great experiences, real corporate values, vibrant corporate culture and have no problem with the idea that if you mess any one of those up you could severely hurt your brand.

That’s the very essence of “everything is marketing now” too. For the Green, everything means everything. They want to love their work, love the things their company does and make a good living in the process. That might sound overly idealistic but it’s what they’re coming to the table with. It’s also why many tech startups cater to this very thing. They know it puts them ahead of the companies who haven’t figured this out yet.

Fight The Feeling Of Futility

In order to keep the Green engaged will require understanding the way they think and the expectations (realistic or not) that they bring with them from day one. One common frustration I hear from my Green friends is that they make suggestions and recommendations and are regularly shot down without a good explanation. That is a terrible way to manage anyone, but the Green will be particularly annoyed by it. Once they feel like their work is futile they’re going to have one foot out the door.

Do you ever wonder if your Green employees like working for your company? Here’s a test: how many of them have recommended a friend for a job at your company? How many hires have you made in the last year because some of your Green recommended them? If the most connected generation in the history of the world isn’t connecting their friends to your company, you may know all you need to know about what they really think.

How The Gray Lead

The best way to keep your Green from feeling like their work is futile is to guide them. Even if they have a wacky idea it’s a teachable moment. That’s where some of the good Gray wisdom should be kicking in. When the Gray become mentors of the Green, the Green will undoubtedly rub off a bit on the Gray and it will help everyone.

The Gray need the Green more than they may think. The future of their companies depends up on it but it’s going to require getting uncomfortable. It’s going to mean that the Green may move up the ladder quicker than would have ever been considered with the Gray were working up the ranks. There is so much for the Gray to learn from the Green but it will take a willing desire and probably a dash of humility. It will be worth it.

The bottom line is that while everything is marketing now, the Green already get it. For them, everything is marketing. That’s the only world they’ve known. The “now” part is for you…the Gray. That’s why you need the Green.

Tomorrow’s post will be the other side of this coin: why the Green need the Gray.

Photo credit: “War on Reality 1” by Steven Mileham

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The Next Color Barrier In Business: Green Versus Gray

I see a problem ahead for many companies. The bigger they are, the more likely they have this problem. They have a color barrier and they probably don’t even know it: the Green versus the Gray.

Who’s Green? Who’s Gray?

Before I get into the problem, let’s define these colors for the purpose of this post:

The Green: Young professionals somewhere between their early 20s and mid 30s. They’ve probably bounced around in a few jobs so they don’t yet have a vast amount of business experience and they may have even less experience in their current industry. They are, however, digital natives and intuitively understand many of the foundational elements that have changed business communications and marketing today.

The Gray: Experienced professionals around 50 years old and up. They have several decades of work experience and have likely been in their current industry for the majority of their career. They have worked their way up to positions of authority in middle and upper management but they’re unsettled by the way business has changed in recent years. At best they want to understand and embrace the changes. At worst, they want to ignore them and act like their industry isn’t changing as much as it probably is.

The Problem

So here’s the deal, I have been talking to more companies about the idea that everything is marketing now, and what I continue to see is that when I discuss the concept there are two very different reactions. The Green’s reaction is something like, “well, yeah, of course.” The Gray’s reaction is more like, “Ok, this is interesting, but I’m not sure we can/will/want to do this.”

And there’s the gap. The people who have the power to make the changes (the Gray) don’t typically understand (or aren’t willing to consider) how much the world of business has changed. If everything is marketing now, the implications are so far reaching into all aspects of business that it’s uncomfortable for most leaders who have been doing things the same way for a long time. 

In the meantime, the Green are seeing opportunities for their companies to change and adapt and they want to be part of that. They see potential all over the place because they grew up seeing things differently in a time when so much has changed. In fact, it was probably their youth and perspective that got them the job in the first place. But then it got real. They tried to make a suggestion and were rebuffed with a “we don’t do that around here” kind of response. Or they stuck their neck out with a new idea and realized that new ideas are only accepted if they seem safe, plausible and not too distant deviations from business as usual.

The problem here is that both sides need each other. The Green need the Gray. The Gray need the Green. If a business is going to embrace the idea that everything is marketing now, it’s going to take both groups to pull it off.

This week I’m going to be posting more on this topic. I think it’s something worth digging into.

Photo credit: “Untitled” by Adelle McCarthy

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A New Kind of Average American

Many businesses need to reach average Americans. Sure, it might be an average American with a particular interest or hobby or need, but at the end of the day you’re probably going after the average Americans. Have you given much thought to how much the average American has changed in just the last 10 years? Is there any chance your business is still going after an old average rather than the new average?

Here are seven truths about today’s average American:

  1. Today’s average American has a mobile device.
  2. Today’s average American browses the Internet on their mobile device.
  3. Today’s average American has a broadband Internet connection in their home.
  4. Today’s average American streams the audio or video they want when they want it.
  5. Today’s average American has a digital network of hundreds of people they’re connected to instantly.
  6. Today’s average American can take pictures or video everywhere they go.
  7. Today’s average American is publishing content online in the form of updates, Tweets or photos.

The average American business knows all of this but hasn’t adjusted to the realities of this new kind of average.

It’s one thing to know who your target audience is. Is another thing to have an accurate view of the way they live, act and engage. Whether you’re going after average or going after the fringe, take a moment to check yourself that you have the clearest picture possible of who they are today and not just a memory of who they used to be.

Image credit: Classic Film via Flickr for use under Creative Commons.

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Put All Your Baskets In One Egg

Undoubtedly you have been warned not to put all of your eggs in one basket. The meaning of the phrase is clear enough: avoid placing all of your opportunities in a single source. The goal then, according to this egg diversification system, is to spread those opportunities out into multiple sources so you won’t only depend upon a single source.

That sounds like a good plan but there’s a flaw with it. It assumes all eggs are good eggs. It assumes every egg is of equal value. It assumes some eggs as easy to obtain as others. There’s very little focus on the egg in this old saying. It’s time to look at the egg.

Know Your Egg
My friend Chuck has his eggs in three baskets. Sounds like a wise move, right? One basket is his primary source of income–his landscaping and lawn care business. The second basket is the money he makes as a trainer at a local gym. The third basket is the multi-level marketing business he joined a year ago.

Chuck is an excellent landscape and lawn guy. He makes 90% of his household income on that business. He’s also a good trainer. He’s passionate about his work there but brings home only about 7% of his total income from it. His remaining 3% of income comes from the multi-level marketing business which is requiring him to do things that aren’t really strengths of his.

My concern about Chuck’s situation is that while he has eggs in three diverse baskets, Chuck is really unclear about his eggs. Chuck is the egg. His strengths and passions are the egg. It’s time to flip this old saying.

You Are The Egg
Chuck knows himself well enough to know he loves being outdoors and he loves the landscaping and lawn care business. He doesn’t settle for 99%. Everything has to be 100% correct. He’s meticulous. That’s just what you want when you hire a guy like Chuck. That’s also why he’s making the majority of his income here. This is his best egg but he only has one basket in this egg. All the other baskets are completely unrelated to this egg. Chuck would be well served to forget the idea of putting his eggs in multiple baskets and instead put all his baskets in his single excellent egg. 

The idea of putting all your baskets in one egg supports the idea of diversifying your interests but also means that you know your strengths well enough that all of the baskets relate back to what you can do well. Putting all your eggs in one basket doesn’t require you to examine the quality of the basket or egg. It just advocates diversification. Putting all your baskets in one egg, however, requires that you know your egg well enough to determine which baskets actually make sense for you. 

My buddy Chuck is working exclusively with alternative fuel lawn mowers and other environmentally friendly lawn care methods. He’s the only guy in town doing that which sounds a whole lot like a future basket opportunity for his egg. Maybe he’ll turn that experience into consulting or become an advocate for it or some other thing that keeps him going deeper with that really good egg. Focusing on you’re strengths will actually make you stronger.

Play To Your Strengths
The idea of playing to your strengths isn’t new. The idea of diversifying your business interests isn’t new either. The idea of making sure your playing in your strengths while you diversify is all I’m advocating. You may see some success in the diversification of random things but why not diversify where you’re strongest so a lesson you learn working in one basket will be able to apply to your other baskets?

You Need A Friend
It’s highly likely that once you decide to do this you’re going to realize you need a friend. The funny thing about working in your strengths is that you realize you need help from other people in the areas where they’re strong and you’re not. For instance, my friend Nathan and I started Epic Frequency together several years ago. He’s the designer, developer and general creative visionary for our little company. I’m the business development, marketing and branding guy. We’re both working within our strengths and it’s working out nicely. Epic Frequency is one of several baskets in my egg and I make sure my role within the company fits my strengths.

The next time you find yourself considering a new opportunity ask yourself if the basket is good for your egg. Perhaps it’s time to evaluate something you’re already doing. Can your role within that particular venture become more egg-worthy if it’s not already? Or maybe you need to back everything up and spend some time determining your strengths in the first place. Try starting with the StrengthsFinder 2.0 test, reports and book. Spend some time charting all the things you’ve done in life that really made you feel like you were operating within a core strength of yours. The more clear you are about your egg, the better baskets you’ll choose.

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