“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 take 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, “Millennials Rising.” It got me thinking.

“But what does this have to do with printing and why do I care?

Well I tell you what it’s not about. It’s not about the price oil, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood … and 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 the disparate parts from all over the world worked together with military precision.

A don’t think this generation, Generation Y, the Millennials, hate their elders. On the contrary, they’re 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 feels the same.

I don’t think you’ll lose your firm to a coup of “twenty somethings,” but then again maybe you will … if you don’t pay attention to this group. The printing industry you built, is hanging on for dear life, while the industry they built, social media, is on the way to 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 no good “video game generation.” Find me a printing group worth $10 billion let alone fifty.

Gen Y isn’t going to need to take over anything, 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 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 and respect. 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, they 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 twenty years ago. It doesn’t take millions of dollars to start a business. An extra bedroom, a couple of iMacs, that operator on your 2nd 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. Do 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. Here’s the 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 be the Google or Apple of the printing industry. And with it would come the best talent and the best ideas. And with that would follow profit.

Or maybe Mubarak has a spare room in Sharm-el-Sheikh. You can talk about the good old days.

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~ by Clay Forsberg on February 20, 2011.

2 Responses to ““Put vinegar or onion under your scarf for tear gas””

  1. Love your challenge! I hope some print owner somewhere has a meeting like the one you described, and will report back to you the results.
    It’s Analog Vs. Digital, the battle lines have been drawn. Print companies who refuse fully embrace a 100% digital work flow are doomed.

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