Monday, December 30, 2013

December 2013 Observations - Kids say the darnedest things!

As so often happens, this month's column idea came together through a good bit of serendipity. I always have a “hopper” full of potential “Observations” subjects, but more often than not the confluence of several random tidbits gets me intrigued, and I go down a path I would not have been able to anticipate days or weeks before in putting together my monthly musings.

This month’s subject is hinted at by the title (more on that at the end), but came about from a variety of stimuli. An important one was the The Wall Street Journal and a mid-December story in their "Work and Family" section, “What Kids Notice at the Office. It changes by age—and is rarely what parents think” .
And while nothing specific about the article by Sue Shellenbarger was relevant to my normal printing and imaging subjects, it awakened my “looking at things through a different set of eyes” point-of-view. Especially with the holidays upon us, including my own good fortune of spending much of the time with my young grandchildren, sharing in the festivities and excitement and imagining how they are taking it all in, maybe it's a natural time to be thinking  more generally about kids and the upcoming generation.

It even made me go back to memories nearly twenty years old, and the still-enduring “visioning” project I wrote about here two years ago (see “November Observations: The Lasting Power of a Good Strategy…Or Two!”). In the course of that months-long cross-functional team exercise, and in one of our more breakthrough endeavors, our group interviewed middle-schoolers via focus group format, probing on their views towards printed material of many forms, and how those views might different from that of their elders.

I also recalled watching my own young offspring, during that same era, interact with the office machines I would bring home from work (mostly LaserJets and ScanJets – go figure!). Overall, they delighted in “breaking the rules”, at least some of the time, as I recalled them trying to feed tiny Post-it stock into the manual page feeder of one of the printers (not so successfully, I might add), and (more successfully) making 3D scans of their action figures on the glass of the designed-for-2D page scanners.

But the confluence was not yet complete. At the Business Imaging Expo, in Las Vegas, also in mid-December, I was fortunate to attend an excellent review of Ricoh’s marketing research into Millennials’ (aka Gen Y) overall attitudes and the “numerous changes taking place today as a result of generational gaps and differences”, according their press release leading up to the event, as presented by noted industry visionary and Ricoh’s America Corporation VP of Strategic Marketing, Terrie Campbell. Ricoh then followed with another release, covering both Campbell’s conference topics and others, as part of their “2014 Predictions”, that makes for very interesting reading, especially here at the turn of the year and, for many at least, a time for reflection.

Much has been made of these generational differences, and the print and imaging industry has so often focused in on paper usage, and the veracity of the idea that Gen Y generally avoids print in favor of the electronic. Everyone, from retired HP printer chief Vyomesh Joshi, who a few years back worriedly admitted that his own daughters didn’t print, to a fellow industry analyst who argued with me that his own kids print more than he himself does, seems to have entered the debate. A study from 2011 by TRU, a division of TNS Research Global, and reported by Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Print-in-the-Mix website ( declares mixed findings on this exact subject - which actually shouldn’t be surprising.

In kudos to Campbell and Ricoh, they are looking beyond the simplistic “do they really print less” question, to the overall attitudes and preferences of those Millennials (born between 1980 and 1995, now aged from their late teens to their early thirties, and those same “kids” my team interviewed in 1993 as middle schoolers).  This goes right along with Ricoh’s emphasis on “change management” as the higher-level pursuit that has guided their Managed Document Services efforts of the past few years. So it will be interesting to continue to follow their pursuit of business opportunities availed by the shifting generations.

We still seem to enjoy "kids saying the darnedest things" on TV

But before closing, a little more, as promised, on the title of this post. It is a reference to a segment of the same name from a 50s/60s TV talk show (but even before they were called talk shows, I think), where a folksy host would interview children and see what amusing answers they would come up with when responding to rather "grown -up" questions. And that theme has continued to the current day on TV with the popular AT&T commercials (see illustration)! But despite the amusement factor, my recollections here have ended up on the little more serious side, of "what can we learn from younger people", and how might those burgeoning thoughts be translated into projections of changes to come based on shifting needs and values?

Happy New Year! 

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