‘Put vinegar or onion under your scarf for tear gas.’
As protesters in Tahrir Square in Egypt faced off against pro-government forces, they drew a lesson from their counterparts in Tunisia: “Put vinegar or onion under your scarf for tear gas.”
You’d have to be living under a rock not to have taken note of what’s been happening in the Middle East over the last month. And it ain’t over yet. A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a piece on the revolution in Egypt in my personal blog post, “Millennials Rising.” It got me thinking.
But what does this have to do with printing, and why should I care?
Well, I tell you what it’s not about. It’s not about the price oil, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood...and it sure isn’t about terrorism, no matter what Glen Beck or Rush Limbaugh says. It’s about the “kids.”
And news flash...we have kids here,too.
What we saw over there was the incredible execution of a game plan to overthrow regimes that had been in power for over three decades. And they did it peacefully. The only violence committed in either Tunisia or Egypt was committed by those in power, not the demonstrators.
These young people used social media—Facebook, blogs and Twitter—to communicate with each other and they followed a textbook. A textbook literally written years ago by a Harvard professor here in this country, Gene Sharp. And disparate players from all over the world worked together with military precision.
I don’t think this generation—Generation Y, the Millennials—hates their elders. On the contrary, these young people are closer to them than we were at their age. It’s the truth. But for some reason, their elders don’t seem to take them seriously.
“All they do is play video games and sit on Facebook.” It’s no different here in this country. And the ruling class of our industry—printing—probably sees things the same way.
I don’t think you'll lose your firm to a coup by “20 somethings,” but, then again, maybe you will...if you don’t pay attention to this group.
The printing industry we built is hanging on for dear life, while the industry they built—social media—is on the way to being the “next great frontier.” Recent speculation puts the valuation of Facebook at $50 billion, Twitter at $10 billion and Groupon at $6 billion. And all three of these companies were started and are privately held by this good for nothing, “video game generation.” Find me a printing group worth $10 billion, let alone 50.
Gen Y isn’t going to need to take over anything here; well, not anything but your clients. Because in a couple of years, if it isn’t happening already, most of the clients will be their peers. These will be people who they have as friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter. And what are you going to have...your Rolodex.
In the five short years since I quit recruiting, my database for the most part has become a ghost of what it once was. Most of my contacts retired or just got burnt out and left the industry. I’m sure a lot of yours have too.
If the Millennials want to, they’ll stay in the printing industry. They will, if they find it relevant. If not, they won’t. And with them will go their friends and followers—the new clients.
But you don’t have to go of the way of Mubarak and Egypt, or Ali and Tunisia. And all it takes is for you to listen to and respect this next wave. Don’t treat this generation like you do your teenage children. Your priorities are not theirs. The future of your firm will rely on how this group can identity with you and your company.
As I expounded on in my last piece, Millennials are more concerned about others and the world than our generation is. If they don’t see you and your firm as being socially responsible, they will turn on you with the wrath of God. If you belittle their gaming culture or protest their socialization tendencies, they’ll do the same.
Remember, your potential competition is not the same as it was 20 years ago. It doesn't take millions of dollars to start a business. A spare bedroom, a couple of iMacs, that operator on your second shift—and now you have your biggest nightmare. And there will be nothing you can do about it. Chances are they know more about technology than you do.
Why not use this knowledge, this resource. Would you let a perfectly good, new press just sit there because you like the old one you’ve always used? What’s the difference?
What sort of reaction would you get if you went into the plant tomorrow and called a meeting regarding this topic:
“What can we do to make OUR company appeal to young people and attract younger buyers. We don’t want to be old anymore.”
I guarantee you’d be enlightened. I also guarantee the word would get out that you had the coolest company to work for. You could be the Google or Apple of the printing industry. And with that reputation would come the best talent and the best ideas. And with that, profit would follow.
Or maybe Mubarak has a spare room in Sharm-el-Sheikh. You can talk about the good old days.