Late last week, I gave a guest lecture at Nottingham University to a group of undergraduates studying marketing. They were 2nd years, and my hostess was quick to let me know that I shouldn't expect them to behave in the ways I'd been used to in large corporate meetings. I wasn't, for example, to expect rapt attention, punctuality, or any kind of animation from the audience.
Since I am used to this behaviour anyway from bankers at various industry events, I reassured her that this would be of no concern to me whatsoever. Anyway, as the 400 or so students filed in, it took me back to my own years sitting in lecture halls, wondering just how much longer I would have to put up with some boring person talking about stuff I didn't care about, instead of letting me go straight to the student bar where the real work was going on.
Surprisingly, these students were engaged and interested.
But let me tell you one thing that was very different about them: they never laughed at my jokes.
Now, I am pretty confident these were funny jokes. I know this because several members of the university faculty were there as well. And they were laughing.
But not the students. When I spoke about idiot-repelling force fields that surround new self service innovations, ensuring a complete lack of use at introduction, they didn't crack a smile. When I tried to explain the difference between incremental and breakthrough innovation, by pretending to be Boeing 737 on stage with wingtips, they barely looked up. And, finally, when I was talking about new customer experience, using Vatican Airways as an example (an airline that has a prayer on the headrest for every passenger) I asked offhandedly what the chances of such a plane crashing might be. All I got was a yawn.
What do I deduce from this?
Gen-Y – those born after 1980 – have quite a different reaction to stimuli than other segments. My experience – with old people laughing, and young ones ignoring – is illuminating. It means that if you want to reach this new generation, you can't just do what you did before, perhaps with some minor age-related tweaking.
It means you have to do something completely different. And finding that thing will likely require putting Gen-Y in positions of authority, with full ability to create their own products and define their own experiences. You don't give a caveman a computer and hope you get software. Neither is it reasonable to expect a non-Gen-Yer to create stuff of interest to Gen-Y.
Of course this leads to the penultimate question: how many institutions are going to hand over the authority define and create products and experiences to someone in their early twenties with practically no banking experience?
The answer, of course, is very, very few.