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Mok O'Keeffe

The Innovation Beehive


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Co-creation:capturing the knowledge of millennials


The M word – millennials. Or snowflakes as they have most recently been called. I’ve been reading a lot about this generation recently and I don’t know about you, however I’m getting a little bored of the negativity surrounding them. Articles stating things such as their inability to communicate, lack of focus, wish to live not work. They’ve taken a fair amount of bashing since first entering our workplaces.

Of course, there are downsides and challenges with this generation; there were in each of the generations before them (who remembers the debate around whether boomers would be able to adapt? Or whether Gen Xer’s had senior level presence?). But, millennials, in my experience, offer something which no generation before them has been able to truly grasp. And it’s this thing which makes them the perfect partner in an innovation culture; helping organisations to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace.

They are creators.

The creation generation

According to IBM, 60% are engaged in the process of creating and sharing content meaning the vast majority of this generation participate in, create, and share content.

Marketers grasped onto this several years ago. Brand campaigns now revolve around getting the millennial generation to share their experiences, with digital as the channel. I’m sure you’ve seen the iPhone adverts in the train stations ‘Shot on an iPhone’ where consumers are encouraged to send in their photos. Or Talk Talk’s sponsorship of the X Factor where you can send a video singing along to a song for a chance to win big. By doing so, brands have a rich source of real-time information as to what this group are interested in, what engages them, their needs and desires – allowing them to adapt their product or service offer to reflect.

Though sadly, using co-creation as a tool for driving innovation in the workplace has been a little slower off the mark. However, with two-thirds of CEO’s believing their business wouldn’t survive without innovation, this has got to change.

The best innovation programmes strongly utilise co-creation; inviting ideas into the mix from those on the front-line.  And with research group, Millennial Marketing, finding that one in four millennials wish to be involved in co-creation, what better place than to start with this generation.

The Millennial Mix

One of the significant upsides of co-creating with millennials is that they possess the abilities to make a near perfect culture for innovation. Now, I am by no means saying that other generations cannot innovate effectively (and actually some of the best ideas I’ve seen through our work come from those with a little more life experience under their belt) however, this generation, naturally has a combination of the traits we often see in successful innovation cultures and, as such, make them a rich source of innovation capability if you are able to harness in the right way. For example:

  • Need for purpose: brands stand out when they have a purpose. Facebook is about ‘connecting people’. Dove is all for ‘real beauty’. Millennials have a real desire to identify and connect to a purpose, whether that’s their own or the business they work for. Tap into this by co-creating your purpose with your millennials. Help them communicate what you stand for in a way which is more than just profit. In a way which resonates with customers on a human and authentic level.
  • Hyper-connectivity: the hyper-connected world of millennials is often seen as superficial. We disagree. We see this as super stimulated; absorbing stimulus from all sorts of channels, situations and individuals. They know how to spot something worth paying attention to. Use this ability to help you work out how you can stand out from the white noise. How you can stop someone scrolling past your job advert, for example, and instead engage their attention.
  • Fresh eyes: seeing things through a different lens is essential in the innovation process. Millennials, by virtue of their age, don’t know all the ‘rules’ or hold prejudices based on previous experiences. Take advantage of these fresh eyes to test your assumptions and help you look at your old challenges in a new way. Allow them to be more radical than your conservative self could ever be. Though remember creativity loves constraint, so put a framework around this to get the best results. One of our favourite examples of this is Lloyds Banking Group. Each year, in partnership with the Innovation Beehive, they bring together their graduate population to hack a business challenge. All attendees are given idea generation training in advance (after all, how do you expect someone to come up with the idea if they don’t know how), additional training on the day and then set a challenge to ideate on. Ideas are presented to a panel of leaders from inside and out of the business, with sponsorship awards given to the best ideas allowing those teams to take them from idea to implementation.
  • Untapped knowledge: C-Suite executives tend to be baby boomers or Gen X. But millennials, thanks to their hyper-connectivity, know things about the world that most senior people in the company have no idea about. This is why ex-Cisco CEO John Chambers would surround his office with the younger generation; helping him to “think exponentially like a teenager.” Businesses can tap into this knowledge by putting opportunities in place to share. Reverse mentoring is a great way to do this, where both the mentor and mentee benefit. Another way is through content creation. Mcdonalds are a perfect example of this in action. Wanting to myth-bust what it was like to work for the business, they recruited UK Youtuber, Jack Maynard, to spend a day in store and vlog his experiences. You can see the brilliant result here.

A final word…

There is a lot we can learn from millennials and the business that is able to tap into their knowledge and insight through co-creation will have significant strategic advantage. As L&D professionals, it is time to stop thinking about always passing ‘down’ knowledge. A true learning organisation will be one where there is symbiotic learning and collaboration across the generations. Who amongst the learning community is willing to tear up traditional notions of knowledge transfer?

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Mok O'Keeffe


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