June 19, 2014

The Next and Next Generations of Leaders Are More Makers Than Consumers

Sometime in the fall of 2030, one of our children may win the National Book Award, or perhaps a Pulitzer, for nonfiction, or fiction about this decade, technology and its impacts on a number of systems.

The title of the book might be:

  1. Cranes and Praying Mantis
  2. I Am My Own Brand
  3. No Third Rails, All third Parties And The Future of Us

These three themes were prevalent during a middle school poetry slam I attended in Providence last month. Thirty young men and women shared what they and their peers voted were the most powerful works of each of the authors. Everyone built a body of work over the semester-long workshop series. Everyone wrote about identity at one point. Everyone shared something deeper about themselves than perhaps ever in their 12 or 13 year young lives.

That’s right. Last year tweens, first year teens, middle-year middle schoolers. Those ages when hormones, emotions and attitudes can be out of control. Those aha moments when they realize that, yes, in fact they do know something their parents do not and they are thrilled about it. Those moments, too, when the planet foists upon them small burdens that ride-alone like pilot fish, the things they know now that their parents have for some time, or forgot long ago.

These kids were wise. And inspiring. And telling the truth.

So how does this tie to the book titles?

  1. Citations of technology were rare. And yet, this is the most connected age ever in the history of humanity. So digitally connected are some of these young people that they are called ‘digital natives’. Okay. Sure. Maybe. And an elder sibling or parent obsessing over their smartphones are called praying mantis or cranes. Check out what screen obsessed people look on the street …The tweens poured out their hearts with control and conviction. They did not talk about their social, mobile or digital lives. They questioned the value of it, and why we would want to be alone with a screen and not with them in a room. Technology mis-used was an escape door, a trap door; not a window to the world.
  2. Associations with hip young brands were nearly absent. The one time that a popular consumer brand made it into the night, it was in a derisive way. The reference framed how insufficient even the best loved brand was when the attention of a parent was missing. Yes, these children are as savvy a ‘consumer’ category as the world has ever known. They know the limits of brands better than many marketing professionals.They raged against one machine or another, or implored us, eachother for intimacy. There were no material references. No baubles. No shiny objects. No new toys, but deep longing for values and value.
  3. References to commonly accepted groups, terms, labels so often applied as efficient shorthand, or ‘inside’ information about their demographic; ‘buyer personas’; they too were absent. Or harshly derided. Or winsomely described as woefully inadequate.They did their best work defining themselves. Nothing was off limits. Race was neither the trump card nor irrelevant. Politics, income and religion were not ‘taboo’ – bad form at ‘polite’ dinner parties. They were a mix truths to be honored, half-truths to be sorted, or lies to be confronted.

These young people sounded, thought, believed nothing like what some in tech, marketing, finance, media, education have others convinced they want, and we need to deliver.

They sounded nothing like the personas and the profiles produced by the most sophisticated marketing technology. They fit nowhere neatly among the standard political, social, economic labels. They presented nothing so limited and small as the choices too many markets are presenting them with about how to define themselves.

One young man, whose family is from Syria, dared us not to look upon his uncles suspiciously; indicted us for our apathy at the plight of innocents in his homeland; demanded that we look in the mirror before we doom his family to neat, unfair little boxes. He sees our confusion, but does not abandon us despite feeling we abandoned him. That young man was teaching.

One young woman sweetly and gently wielded a rapier against sophistry in our cultural norm ‘family’. She exposed the superficiality, the banality, the stupidity really, of painting a mental picture of a family using only visual cues. As if sisters must all have the same color skin, shape eyes, texture hair. The girls is a sage.

Another young man, accomplishments falling off his sleeves, availed us of our limited assumptions about him and his motivations. He opened up to the room his daily communing with fresh air, warm soil, bubbling waters. His trust that the nature of things will always be there to guide him – as long as he honors and protects nature, and family, himself. The boy could be an elder.

What does this have to do with Makers (see Sander Arts from ATMEL) IoT (see Rob van Kranenberg from Council) Or INEX? Everything. The Night of Words from these young people at this little school re-affirmed our approach to IoT: That IoT must be much more than an ad platform for brands, or another productivity-by-getting-humans-out-of-the-loop tool, or the next frontier in the hyper-concentration of one form of capital or another.

IoT is for emerging classes makers as much or more than traditional demographics of consumers. IoT is not for sucking up time, it is for creating it.

IoT is worth elevating through a new killer app: Profitable Sustainability. IoT is worth considering as a tool to drive meaningful gains beyond shareholder wealth. IoT will enable a broader collection of well-intentioned people to participate in all forms of capital re-formation.

Somehow, I think the students who shared their voices at Night of Words would like INEX’s three maxims for IoT development:

  1. Faces more than screens.
  2. People above machines.
  3. Grand challenges before small conveniences

I bet they too would agree that the instrumentation of the physical world — IoT — must be about people.

If these young people are calling more and more shots each and every day in one part of the planet or another, we best meet them where they are, and help them get where they want to be.

Solving real problems. For lots of people. Face to face.

June 19, 2014