If you're thinking about innovation for your organization or company, you have to understand Gen Z - which Ari Lightman of the Heinz College at Carnegie Mellon indicated are those young digital natives who were born in 1995 - the same year Netscape went public.
Lightman and his colleague Chris Labash gave a day-long workshop on innovation at E2Innovate in Santa Clara today, bringing perspectives on the major disruptors, trends and frameworks for innovation. Gen Z are adepts with interactive and social communities at a younger age than Gen Y (born in the late '80s).
Generation Z - gaming engagement comes naturally
We might think of the baby boomers as a population bulge, but right now 45% of the world's population is under the age of 25. Gen Z, Lightman says, are inherently gamers (in the U.S., over 90% of kids under 18 play online games and 80% of the time spent in games is 'failing' - experimenting, re-trys, re-boots. But as they overcome barriers, collaborate in joint experiences gamers experience the positive emotions of joy, relief, creativity, excitement and contentment and want those experiences in their work.
From an increasingly younger age. Gen Z has learned not just how to access information, but to exercise an ability to find and access applications that let them manage and manuveur their own experience, and do their own lightweight programming.
Culture trumps strategy
Perhaps the most compelling remark from Lightman was that culture trumps strategy, and as the incoming generation arrives they need to fine an environment where they can be fully engaged. The overall lack of engagement in the workforce is startling - Lightman cited a 2010 Gallup poll that indicated that 49% of U.S. workers were not engaged, 18% were actively unengaged (at a loss of $300B annually) - leaving only 33% of employee fully engaged.
But Gen Z doesn't stick around -- according to Lightman, he queried a financial services company recently about new college recruit retention rates - 60% of them left the company. With Gen Z, he said, they will either innovate around you or leave, and either way the company loses insight and measurement of an emerging workforce.
Empowerment, adapation, productivity
Whether it's Gen Z or older, highly enabled employees, what this means for organizations and companies is that they're empowered across a spectrum of abilities, with a capacity for self-directed engagement that is highly interactive and social. According to Lightman, workers are able to understand the overall work dynamic without as much signal interference from hierarchical, middle management filtering, their direct understanding of strategy is heightened. and their ability to adapt and respond enhanced. The result? An increase in productivity - the number of optimal projects that any one person can work on successfully at any one time is being pushed out from 1 to 2 projects to 2-3 projects.
As companies think about innovation and a culture that supports it, workers orient themselves into teams, communities and tribes. With tribes, he indicates, you have innovation baked into the group - a social structure that includes roles, tasks and self-identification mechanisms -- but somewhat orthogonal to hierarchical organizations.
How do companies in the U.S. fair with respect to innovation? Chris Labash cited a Boston Consulting study that noted that 72% of U.S. companies indicated they want to invest more in innovation, but 46% thought that it would be the rapidly developing economies (RDE's) that would be the most innovative (i.e, India, Brazil). Labash also noted that only 13% of IT investments go to innovation, with the rest going to existing programs and infrastructure.
Lurkers are lessening
For Labash, a key question is can innovation be social (and I think, can it be anything else?). He noted the oft-cited metric that online communities and engagement has been shown to be 90% 'lurkers', 9% contributors and 1% active creators, but a recent survey in the U.K. showed a shift to 23% lurkers, 60% contributors and 17% creators. Quite a shift.
Labash teaches an 'i+t' (innovative and technology course) at Carnegie Mellon and articulates five phases of innovation -- imagination, creation, consideration, integration and participation. As one moves through an innovation process, Labash noted that creation is really about opening up possibilities. Western models of progress and innovaton have often been focused on looking for the right answer.
He suggested looking at models of how children conduct parallel play - for instance a group of children doing chalk drawings on a playground. They each work on their own drawing, and then begin to adapt and make connections to one another's drawings. Labash offered the techniques of joint whiteboarding in a similar vein. Other techniques include the 25 x y process, an extension of Taiichi Ohno's 5 x y process for Toyota, and storyboarding processes (one that helps creative people stay organized).
In the best of situations, innovation is flow, says Labash, and that flow of innovation should come from both inside and outside the organization (as the Proctor and Gamble model) - but in both cases, that flow needs to have a focal point on the customer
Arriving at innovative ideas is one part of the equation, and it's important to bring those ideas to fruition by aligning with the organization, having the right team lead and ream composition, making sure organizational trade-offs are vetted, influencers and champions are aligned and poised to engage at the right moments. And for your customers, it's about making sure that you're bringing innovations to market that provide relative advantages to what they are currently using, not too complex and easily integrated with their current consumer practices and choices.