The last three months have been a real eye opener when it comes to business networking. By business networking, I mean the time tested process of connecting with other business people to share ideas, build credibility, promote your products or services and give/receive referrals.
When we re-launched Armor Personnel as Armor People Link, our focus was on leveraging the latest in web communication tools like blogs, Twitter, Linkedin and Facebook. With my background in technology and the internet, this approach was a no brainer; and without being immodest I can say we’ve had a fair degree of success. One of our blog posts was picked up nationally by the Canadian Human Resource Reporter, we launched a very effective Twitter initiative with HRPA in Toronto which resulted in 500 to 600 tweets a day around the hash tag #HRPA2010, and we were named Small Business of the Month by the Brampton Board of Trade. Each of these accomplishments were either directly or indirectly the result of our online business networking efforts. Most importantly each of these efforts has translated into new business from either existing or new clients.
My eye opener came when I began to engage more traditional business networking channels. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m still a strong believer in face-to-face contact and the power of listening and connecting with another human being. I’m also not disparaging these institutions; clearly they add great value to our business community and have played an important role in the success of many businesses. None-the-less there was something almost quaint about these experiences that made them feel outdated and some what anemic, shadows of their once heady days of glory.
Perhaps a bit of a of a dramatic over statement from someone who’s use to working at net speed, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was watching a classic movie with too much dialog and not enough action. The image of a wicker basket being passed around as participants dropped in little papers with referrals or notes of thanks seemed to be an eternity. In the time it took for that basket to go around the room I could have followed, reviewed and connected with ten or more people on Twitter or Linkedin. Each of which might bring 200 or more direct connections and potentially 100,000 plus connections through two degrees of separation. Now I’m not saying that those connections are as strong as a direct referral from a close member of a small group, but they are immediate and additive thus extending my reach far beyond the smaller more intimate group. I can also make these connections twenty four hours a day, seven days a week; creating an always on resource that can, if managed properly, produce new opportunities.
So who needs these quaint institutions that move so slowly. We do, I do. How can I say that after my obvious biased rant above? Because, I see a greater opportunity if we can over come one great hurdle. What hurdle? Well that’s a little more complicated. In short, we face a serious digital divide which is holding back growth, stagnating young entrepreneurs and in general making us less competitive. We really do have two economies in our country right now. The older economy and I don’t mean older industries, such as mining, forestry and manufacturing, I mean Baby Boomers; and the younger economy, Echo Boomers or those aged 18 to 34 who grew up or mostly grew up with computers and the internet. This divide is most strikingly demonstrated at these venerable institutions, it is rare if ever that you’ll see anyone under 34 at these events.
This is the problem we face. For the Echo Boomers the world is a chaotic network of ever changing connections, messages and opportunities. Fueled by social networks and executed at the speed of light. They have little patience for process and procedure. Boomers are the industry leaders, structured, in control and process oriented. They worked there way up in well defined hierarchies paid their dues and earned their success. They view the casual linking, self promotion and openly voyeuristic nature of the Echo Boomers as indulgent, self-serving and arrogant. Tweeting out the key points of your presentation to a league of followers is rude to the Boomer but coveted by their children. In short, we have two massive generations facing one another, one emerging the other holding on to power, neither speaking the same language in a very fundamental way. Both generations need to learn how to communicate and much to the disappointment of many Boomers it’s not the Echo Boomers that are going to have to change.
So why are these quaint institutions important to me and to you? Because they need to do what they’ve always done, that is bring people together to pass on wisdom, embrace change and in doing so invigorate our economy. The digital divide is not going to heal itself, and Echo Boomers are not going to “grow up and fly straight”. They are grown up and heading straight up the corporate ladder. Nothing is going to stop them. So Boomers you have two choices, one you can ignore this emerging generation and hang on until the balance of power snaps from your grasp or you can embrace change and move to narrow the divide before us. To do that you need to shake up these venerable quaint institutions bring in youthful blood and seed some control. You may in the end be surprised at how productive this new generation can be and likewise they may be surprised by the wisdom and knowledge that a few years under your belt can impart.
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