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It’s the hot topic and we’re all part of it – the Gen Y.

Generation Y was a topic I first touched upon a little over a year ago in early 2009, which was basically a rebellion against this extremist vision provided by ZDNet. While in hindsight it’s true in many aspects it shouldn’t be read without a crapload of salt along with it. Gen Y is a definition spurred and accelerated by technology – and as technology lags, so does Gen Y. This leads to the obvious conclusion of the diversity of the Gen Y. Their impact won’t be negligible and nor will it be a paradigm until the Gen Z come along.

In this case we’re pretty much stuck in the mix – the bridging between the generations to see exactly how the Gen Y see the world. Which may or may not be a bit like this:

(Image credit to XKCD)

It also so happened that I managed to get the opportunity to write an article about this for a multinational, which will understandably have to deal with this as a much more severe problem as it represents a greater number of people in the workforce and each country (like the Indians, Chinese and Americans) will have their sub-cultures. I then decided to share it here, yep, on the thinkMoult blog, in true Gen Y fashion. It’s quite condense (word limit, hey) and assumes the readers have had a good deal of time already looking into the issue. In other words inference and insight is a necessary evil when reading it.

Generation Y have a very different culture and follow different working practices. To put it into context exactly how great this social schism is, just the other day I read a blog post of a relatively young Gen Y – he had never sent snail mail before and was shocked to find out that a stamp cost 55 cents.

With Gen Y entering the workforce daily it’s important to not attribute lack of experience of these practices to incapability but instead to an understandable ignorance. Sooner or later we’ll have to embrace this culture and synergise it with the Generation X practices.

I have had the privilege to observe and participate in a few major and minor open-source projects. For the uninitiated, open-source has its roots in developing software that is both free to use and free to edit, but can be used generically as a way to describe any project where there are no barriers to entry. Anybody can contribute, everybody (ideally) has equal say, and there is no ownership.

Some of these larger projects can be compared to the workings of your average commercial company, except that work is only done in spare time and when people have a personal interest, much like a charity. However unlike most charities, the workforce is built up by a vast majority of Gen Y. This, of course, means that it’s a great way to see how these people think it’s best to run an organisation.

"So, how do you guys create your requirements spec, the concept documents and so on?

Oh, they just write a blog post

This Gen Y organisation is fueled by the internet. They use the internet to recruit, to train, to discuss, to collaborate, to vote, and to organise. Blog posts are how visions and ideas are communicated internally, email discussion lists are used to assign and discuss the smaller details of tasks, chatrooms and instant messaging are used for real-time updates and meetings, editable wikis are used to archive the more common workplace topics, forums are used for customer service, and marketing is all done through social networking.

There are regular “real life” meetings, too – split rather unevenly into three categories: work, marketing, and having a few beers together. However even throughout these meetings are taking place they are routinely documented by all participants in their social networking accounts and respective blogs , aggregated through a “blog planet”, which filters blog posts of all developers based on topic.

From this we should understand the Gen Y dependence on the internet – they don’t write diaries, they write blog posts. Photo albums are served through Flickr. Business is email and keeping in touch is through social networks. The importance of this doesn’t lie in how information is stored but instead on how information can be retrieved – Gen Y expect to have all resources at their disposal at all times. More importantly, they will want to have the choice on how it’s used – if they prefer a chatroom rather than a phone conference, they will express it and use it with others if possible. Trying to tell others to use a social networking system doesn’t work – nurturing a drive to share progress, regardless of the medium, is what Gen Y believe in.

The organisational structure in an open-source organisation is an initiative-driven process. Newcomers watch the communication channels for tasks they have the time and experience to deal with, and over time as they make bigger impacts they gain influence”. This influence gives access to more information and the ability to coordinate others with lower influence. When up to a certain stage a person with a high enough impact will have influence over the entire organisation and whose responsibility is now to communicate a vision and steer the projects. Social inertia prevents constant challenges of power. This system ensures quality control over the products, that all workers are specialised, and is a form of on-the-job training. This causes the Gen Y to have an emotional attachment to the work at hand. It’s important to tap into this as they are all too willing to express it, as long as the environment is conducive.

As much internal information is made as transparent as possible. Anybody is able to edit wikis/online resources, participate in live chatrooms regardless of position but instead due to self-interest, and throw in their comments on social networks. People don’t believe in competition but instead in synergy. This keeps infighting between departments at a minimum and introduces a self-service feel towards getting things done. This likens the mentality of work to a self-service checkout system in a supermarket instead of a cashier, to use an analogy – people attending a self-service checkout have an internal drive to check themselves out as fast and efficiently as possible, but will always do it correctly due to the CCTV above – workers are presented with information and freedom and it is everybody’s responsibility to watch over everybody else.

The Gen Y workforce is incredibly diverse, technologically competent, tied towards a social and transparent environment, but most importantly highly sensitive to ethics. Misalignment of personal goals and company beliefs serves to repel Gen Y workers. They are loud-mouthed at times and will not hesitate to make their views known – with the power of social networking news travels fast and maintaining a reputation for a comfortable workforce environment where views are accommodated is vital. They are unafraid to switch and will do so. In open-source organisations a sign where this isn’t happening is seen where elitism and schisms in the community emerge. The Gen Y focus is always on the future and the possibilities for job development is what keeps them interested.

Technology has served as an accelerator to the generation gap. While the Gen X and the baby boomers have had time to adapt it’s perfectly understandable that the Gen Y are currently a mystery to the upper echelons. With this drastic difference in mentality we should see ignorance with potential where others see incapability – then cross-fertilise through generations as necessary.

For those that made it to the end without sleeping I’d like to recommend to take a peek at Jason Dorsey aka "The Gen Y Guy", who’s cashing in on this hot topic (view the little video bottom right "Jason in action")

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iPad, what about you?

Now I really couldn’t resist. Really – and if you haven’t heard of it yet I guess Apple needs to get more fanboys, or at least ones who talk more. The iPad was released yesterday, and is the embodiment of magical Apple orgasm. Here’s a picture. Apple loves pictures.

Apple iPad

Yep, it’s simply one big iPod/iPhone with a bad accent.

I preach the economics of technology. Simply put I am mostly ridiculed for that theory by anybody who’s glimpsed at economics and doesn’t know much about technology. On the other hand it turns out that everybody I’ve talked to who does keep a close eye on the tech industry agrees almost instantly that yes, the success of products in the technology market are due to developer interest, and only developer interest in the long-run. Now I remain a firm believer of this myself and have been trying to find exceptions to this rule. One that was suggested was the Apple iPod, which as we all know was a runaway success. However seeing that lately the traditional iPods have started to phase out in favour of iPod Touches (where all the developer interest is) this example simply reaffirms my theory. The other fine suggestion was an interesting one, too – computer games. These, I believe, have a much longer period until developer interest deals the final blow – and in some cases are completely consumer-determined. These are an anomaly. I challenge people to find others.

But but but – for the rest the theory will apply. So why don’t we look at the iPad from the perspective of a producer-determined success?

If anything, Apple hit the jackpot. It’s not a secret that developers have been looking forward until the time we had a sensible tablet platform to work wonders on. When Apple decided to allow iPhone apps to run on it natively unchanged, not only does this mean that developers don’t need to bother about learning a brand new system (simplifying things a bit here), it also means that porting over applications are quick and easy. 140,000 applications immediately available to a consumer? I’ll take that, thank you very much.

I’m not too knowledgable about Apple products but I do know that iPhones can be “jailbroken” – a way of breaking your deal with Apple to enjoy a bit more freedom. If this iPad can be jailbroken to run third-party applications that don’t have the Jobs seal of approval and bypass other random restrictions I’m sure will exist, that’ll blow developer interest sky-high.

One thing many people seem to confuse developer interest with is that they think the degree of developer freedom is proportional to the interest received. No, this is not true. Developer interest arises and shifts prone to as many factors and more as consumers. If a developer thinks consumers will like it, regardless if they do or don’t, they will devote time to the product. So despite the face analysis that the iPad has 140,000 developers already upfront (on the assumption that there is on average 1 developer per app) we can’t ignore the other main factors.

In the beginning I mentioned that developers have been looking forward until we had a sensible tablet platform – so when I say other main factors, this is the one I’m talking about. Once they get over the fact that it’s quite simply a fat iPod Touch looks-wise, we’ll have to question whether or not the time is ripe for a tablet platform to come or if this is just going to be classed as another failed attempt to make a tablet successful and the “perfect” tablet is yet to come. What determines how other developers see this is how well Apple has upgraded the in-house apps to take advantage of the bigger screen.

Well folks, as you can see even though we’ve not once considered the consumer’s point of view it doesn’t get us much closer to guessing how successful it’ll be. No – the economics of technology should not be shunned to a corner and disrespected but instead embraced as a new way to look at success in technology.

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The economics of technology

The long-term success of a company is caused by its people. The long-term success of a product is caused by the producers. Consumers are not the cause of success, they are a symptom of success.

That was the ideaology I got into a debate with my friend the other day. I was pro and he was con – mainly citing how the age-old laws of economics don’t simply break down in an industry and should be the be-all and end-all. I still disagree and have always believed there was something very fundamentally wrong with the whole science of economics. Before I continue I will have to admit that I’m not a fan of economics – you cannot put people on a graph. Even if you were dealing with statistically large enough numbers of people to create an average behavior we must still look to the very core of our behavior – why we do what we do.

A while back I told people why you do what you do – in a nutshell, every action you take is the action that you believe will cause yourself the most happiness, given the conscious or subconscious knowledge you have at the time. If being sad will make you happy – be sad! If you purposely choose to hurt yourself to prove me wrong, it is the satisfaction you gain from proving me wrong that gives you that happiness. If you sacrifice yourself for the benefit of others, it is because you prioritise the happiness of others, and following your belief will make you happy. If you choose to stab yourself, it’s because you believe stabbing yourself is the best thing you could possibly do (otherwise you would’ve have done it). This creates the question on whether or not “which” happiness is the best, but that’s a highly subjective question and thus we must leave delusion to a topic of its own. For this reason instead of referring to it as happiness I would refer to it as the “best”, to remove confusion as to the actual definition of happiness.

When applying this mentality to a society, it still doesn’t change one bit – and will never change no matter how large the sample. When looking at this from an economic perspective, for example in the labour market, we understand that people choose jobs because of this very same trait – and will not leave the job until the benefits of leaving are greater than the benefits of staying. For the factor of production enterprise, we understand that they take the risks and shape the market from what they believe is best. Capital and land are simply instruments of the former two and are therefore only tools that will accelerate the choices of the former two. When looking from the demand-side of things, we see that consumers purchase what they believe is the best to purchase – and it is empirically evident that their purchases will affect the choices of labour and enterprise.

However what I propose is that this influence is very much a short-term effect. If somebody invents a product, that product will exist as long as there is developer interest in the product. The greater the developer interest, the higher potential success of the product. In the long-term, seeing as all factors of production are variable we see that there will always be developer interest in the product as long as one person believes it is the best thing to do at some point to develop the product.

Developer interest is what causes the product to evolve. The product can evolve in either a market-orientated view or a product-orientated view. The market-orientated view is when the actions of labour and enterprise are being influenced by consumers, whereas the product-orientated view is based solely on the producer’s own beliefs. For a product to be successful in the long-term it has to undergo innovation – without this it will be pushed out through the process of creative destruction. Innovation by definition, no matter what its orientation must be producer-originated – and fundamentally the producer will produce what they believe is best. If other developers believe in the same, they will contribute and offer support, causing the product to grow, continue to innovate, and ultimately succeed in the long-run. Why? Because the very reason consumers will buy the good or service is due to this growth and innovation.

The conventional view is that this is a circular process – that consumers influence developer interest and developer interest influence consumers. However I believe otherwise – that producers have the final say in the long-run, but more importantly, in the very-very short-run. The reason is that there two root causes of what might seem to be a circular process, society and money.

  • Money is seen as the primary medium through which consumers can influence enterprise and labour. However in the very short-run money is almost completely disregarded in people’s decisions. Ideas will be chosen on the basis of their substance, not their potential earnings. In the long-run, money is as unpredictable as any other factor and it’s inflow is actually determined by the original short-run ideas.
  • Society is when the decision is based on the reactions of others. When dealing with an idea owned by a single entity, such as in innovation, society plays an almost negligible role in determining the realisation of the idea, even though it may play a role in either impeding or accelerating its progress.

From this we see that the circle is merely a single line of processes. What consumers buy depends on what producers make. How much a consumer will buy in the short run depends on the magnitude of developer interest. In the medium-term consumers will determine what happens to the product but the product will only survive in the long-run if developer interest is maintained.

A quick look at today’s market shows that this “long-run” period is indeed extremely long – almost synonymous with the business cycle. This inability to survive in the long-run is understood, yet disregarded as it is too far into the future to infer any meaningful derivations. This is very true – for most industries. However for the technology industry simply because it is at the forefront of progress this business cycle has been shrinking at an alarming pace, meaning that understanding how ultimately goods and services are producer-determined becomes very important. The implication is that trying to influence consumer-related symptoms, such as advertising, prices, quantitative or qualitative restrictions should be given second priority to trying to influence the mindset of producers.

To illustrate how this mindset is currently not understood I will ask a simple question. You work for a company. Let’s say your manager comes up to you and tells you to create a computer program of your liking. You scratch your own itch, so to say, and develop a product. A few weeks later your manager comes back with the production department manager and takes a look at your product. Both of the managers say “I really like that! I think it’s going to be a huge success!”. Now is the manager a producer or a consumer? If you said producer, you are wrong – they are both consumers. They have the ability to consume the good, but not to develop the good. It is important not to confuse the accelerating properties of capital and land with the developing properties of labour and enterprise. For this reason the success is not likely until other potential developers recognise merit in your work.

Some examples of how success has been producer-originated is in the iPhone, where the main reason consumers buy it is due to the amount of applications available on it. The Windows Mobile phones, due to the large number of applications on it, but failing because there is a lack in core developer interest (the OS has not been updated in ages). Android by Google, whose producer-embracing philosophy of so-called open-source has spun up almost 20,000 applications since its launch and is currently seeing a huge acceleration in market share. Linux – whose stubborn developers continue to progress despite the desktop market saying the complete opposite is now appearing like hot cakes in the market. Firefox and their thousands of add-ons – and its current battle with Chrome, which has exhibited innovation in browsers (and will be pushed out of the market if developer interest is lost or transferred to Chrome). Internet Explorer 6, where developer interest is finally moving away because they finally realise they don’t care about the customers when making websites that much (thank goodness). You think you use Windows because it’s good? No – it’s because it became a standard (even though back then Apple’s OS was miles ahead), which is what attracted developer interest. The list goes on.

This trend is most easily recognised in the technology industry (software, specifically) but is starting to be seen elsewhere, especially in other creative industries. A simple measure to determine the extent to which this trend has progressed in an industry is to ask an employee “why did you choose the job in the first place?” In the future this trend will start to bleed into other industries due to the increasing mobility of factors of production, increasing integration of markets into a worldwide affair, and of course the results of mass-amateurisation.

Finally as a closing note I’d like to throw in the topic of dogfooding – when producers use their own products, thus duplicating the roles of consumers as well as producers (hint: used really extensively in Google for a long time). This is a recipe for a self realising upward spiral of developer interest and consumer interest – finally creating the conventional circular process we think will always exist otherwise.

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Future of the Workplace due to Technology

One of my Sunday joys (or Saturdays, depending on which day I have free) is filtering through my RSS feeds. It’s quite like reading a newspaper, until I realised the importance of “what is the future going to be like” with the Internets and technology changing everybody’s lives? Here are a couple random thoughts that spewed out. Anybody who takes a look at this and says `too long, didn’t read` just emphasizes my point.

The Gen-Y Workplace

For people who don’t quite know what’s going on, apparently (in a really dumbed down nutshell) Gen-Y is the cool new word to identify people brought up in the world of technology – which is pretty much the whole of the current generation. These folks are armed with social networking systems, instant messaging, live video streams, podcasts and Wikipedia on their cell.

Apparently these guys will make our previous systems obsolete and bring about new ideas to the workforce, ZDNet puts these out as:

Don’t supervise.

The new way people communicate with each other is not through tight control and personal interest but through the likes of a social network such as Facebook or Twitter. They’re saying only through building a forever communicating community will an environment be created that these Gen-Y people can work in. Yes, I see the effects already: `how r u?` `nm, u?`. Face it – no wait, Facebook – we have the most utterly boring status updates in the world. `I am eating a delicious sandwich.` `I am reading a book and it’s giving me a seizure.`. Yes. Sure. We’re all meant to let them roam free and expect them to behave.

Instead of critiquing the rest of the `new ideas`, I’ll let you think for yourself, Don’t Train. Don’t Retain. Don’t ban potential security issues. Don’t recruit. Tell you what, here’s the original article.

Another side effect is that email will give way to instant messaging, laptops will give way to mobile devices, and so on. Call me traditional, but all these new age people who think they’re so intelligent with their fancy ways of doing things know relatively nothing to the old-timers giving their lectures the good old way it’s always been done and should be done.

Let’s take education for an example – there’s this thing called a SmartBoard which is basically a board that your computer screen is projected on, and you can use the board to interact with the computer. Of course, it allows you to have lots of fancy coloured pens, change your pen brush to smiley faces, and best of all, give you an excuse to show some cheap presentation you downloaded off the internet. What do they do then? These new-age teachers flick through each slide, repeating what’s already on there in slightly different words then ask you to copy it down. If you ask them a question, they say `All you need to know is on the powerpoint`. If you argue and say it isn’t, they say `Google it up.`

Long story short, these people don’t know zilch. Give me back traditional workflows and proper hierachies of command. Hell – GIVE ME BACK THE CANE. Studies show that all this exposure to digital media develops ADD (wait, you say, what’s ADD? Let me Google it up. See, you filthy people) and can cause neurological brain disorders. It’s also been proven that our exposure has weakened our knowledge-absorbing and investigation techniques. In other words, in terms of finding relevant information, the Internet will be a much more beneficial tool for adults, not us. I know some people are even too lazy to read this article. We want things spoonfed to us. Read a manual? No – just Google a tutorial or ask for instant online help. Please, I beg of you! Use your brain once in a while!

Note: any decently intelligent person would realise I never properly discussed the topic. Here’s a question for you: what do you think will become of the industries that fall victim to the hopelessly terrible way of life Gen-Y is used to? (This is because the effects are very industry specific- some industries will maintain traditional approaches)