The Next Generation

Happy and healthy new year to you and your family. And, congratulations to the Oregon Ducks for their victory in the Fiesta Bowl last night.

I spent a great deal of time last week on vacation reading about the Millennials (often called Generation Y – roughly those born between 1982-2002) and their interests and needs. It may come as a surprise to you that at 100 million strong they are the single largest generational cohort in American history, even outsizing the Baby Boomers.

Millennials are not just larger in numbers than Boomers, but better educated, more demanding, more technologically savvy, more empowered and “wired to win at the game of life.” They are impacting the business and cultural worlds. In fact, they are the next major cohort of Jewish communal participants and consumers. And, trust me, they will change how we think and operate.

What makes this generation so unique? I am no social researcher, but studies show two major changes. The first is the way this generation was parented. Family today, for many, no longer has a hierarchical structure with authoritarian parents. They are more like best friends, life coaches, or as MTV refers to them, "peer-ents."

The second major shift is technology. The "I want it on demand," push a button, everything for free mentality is alive and well. 

Nick Shore of MTV Research writes about the five questions businesses (and I will add our Jewish community) need to think about when catering to Millennials:

1.  What will it mean when co-creation with your consumer becomes part of your business/organizational model? A generation raised on "children should be seen and heard" simply will not be a passive consumer/participant of anything. They will demand a voice in or stake in everything that you do -- from the products and services to the way it is sold and marketed, to the social responsibility policies of the organization itself. Millennials have been raised to expect a community of information sharing with constant feedback loops, and tend to get frustrated and overly critical when they are not asked for their ideas and input. Is the Jewish community listening, involving and asking enough from this cohort?

2.   What will it mean to make your product ten times smarter than it is today? In all the research at MTV on Millennials, the word heard most often was "smart" (closely followed by "random," "awkward," "awesome," and "love"). This generation is often told by their parents that smart is everything – in fact, 57% of the generation consider themselves smarter than their parents.

The study states, “When you investigate the concepts of smartness further with the generation, some of the nuances that emerge give fascinating insights into their collective psyche. For something to be "smart" it has to, for example, entertain me, remember what I do and anticipate my needs, do "everything" for me, have built-in complexity and layers of meaning, be as smart as me!” What will Jewish organizations have to do to be “smarter?”

3.   What will it mean to be in a "two player game" with your consumer? Millennials have a natural predisposition to view situations in terms of the metaphor of a game. Take the workplace -- "what are the rules of this world, what are the levels, how do I get to the 10th one as quickly as possible, is there a shortcut, a secret entrance, a magic potion?"

Asked about "worldview" based on the following phrases, the intergenerational differences are apparent. Millennials (53%) want to “game the system” (Boomers at 26%) while Boomers (59%) want to “protest the system” (Millennials at 13%).

How will our Jewish community create and enhance a sense of "play" on the part of this generation, a sense of depth and levels, a sense of engagement, and ultimately a sense of material and emotional victory?

4.   What will it mean to our community to operate in “on-going versions” rather than a final product? This generation wants to express themselves in ever-changing ways and utilize technology to do that. In fact, they have an insatiable appetite for newness. “If something does not version, it quickly becomes boring. This has always been the consumer need that drives every company's innovations engine, but the necessary speed for change must get faster as this generation comes on line as buyers.” Change must happen before the interest levels start to fade and new stimuli are required. Is the Jewish community and all it offers upgrading itself often enough and quickly enough to satisfy these individuals?

5.   What will it mean when there is no such thing as an un-connected product? Everything we are learning about this generation points to a need to be constantly connected and never feeling "alone.” MTV’s research showed “how the automobile, so squarely a symbol of freedom and independence for prior generations, has become in danger of being perceived as a ‘disconnection device’ for Millennials. ‘Trapped’ inside the hermetically sealed vehicle, ‘alone,’ and supposedly unable to text and check your status update, the feeling of the open road becomes the very antithesis of freedom, more like isolation.”

Unconnected organizations and products feel static. What do people’s Jewish experiences feel like?

In the case of the Millennials, there are a hundred million young people looking forward to bold, as-yet-unimagined products and services that will someday await them. So heads-up, Jewish Portland, we have to be prepared for the Millennial generation. Are we ready? Are we imagining? Are we willing to meet their needs, AND the different needs of older generations?

As Captain Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation always said – “Make it so.”

Shabbat shalom.



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