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ChannelCon 2014: Make room for millennials, innovation

At the State of the Industry and keynote sessions at ChannelCon 2014, CompTIA's Todd Thibodeaux urged attendees to get millennials on their teams because they’re on customers' teams, and author Lisa Bodell gave practical tips for rethinking business.

Today's State of the Industry and keynote sessions at CompTIA's ChannelCon 2014 conference in Phoenix was all about change. From discussions about the certainty of a multigenerational workforce to how companies need to rethink their approach to change, onsite and online attendees alike got an inspired wake-up call at this opening session of the day.

CompTIA President and CEO Todd Thibodeaux homed in on millennials -- also known as the millennial generation or Generation Y -- as individuals in the channel who are represented by born-in-the-cloud companies, innovative service providers, those who are on the front lines of many channel company sales and marketing efforts, and those participating in, and in a short period of time expected to be leaders of, the IT industry.

In fact, Thibodeaux noted that millennials are currently 80 million strong in the U.S. and in 10 years, will represent 75% of the overall workforce.

Millennials are changing the DNA of the industry, he said. "They changed how we use technology, how we view technology and that it can be this real blended part of your life and part of your business," Thibodeaux said.

This generation represents the people that channel companies are hiring and they're also customers, the ones starting new businesses. "And they're going to demand an increasing large set of things from you, such as connectivity, cloud, social media, etc.," Thibodeaux said. "So if you don't have these people on your team, you may not know what these customers are talking about," he added.

If you don't have [millennials] on your team, you may not know what … customers are talking about.

Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO, CompTIA

Generation Y workers are changing the channel. They grew up with disposable devices; their loyalty to your brand has to be earned or it will go away quickly; they expect apps that work in their world experience; training has to be anywhere, anytime; and they represent a different kind of geek.

"They're not hardware geeks but they're geeks in usability, user interface, getting things from different places and putting it in one place -- content, information -- and we have to learn to appreciate this," Thibodeaux said.

For the channel, the millennial generation is a change agent for delivering a better experience. Gartner calls them "digital natives."

When asked, Thibodeaux said, the millennials respond that they are looking for a transfer of knowledge from one generation to another. "The reverse is also true. Many companies have millennials within their decision making ranks to stay relevant and create a fantastic customer experience," the speaker said.

Thibodeaux announced that CompTIA is creating a Millennial Advisory Council.

Following Thibodeaux on the ChannelCon stage, founder and CEO of Futurethink Lisa Bodell, who is also author of "Kill the Company: End the Status Quo, Start an Innovation Revolution," addressed reaching one's potential through change, which, she said, applies to companies as well as people.

In her keynote she talked about how to embrace change and look at what holds you back. Mostly, she targeted moving beyond the status quo, how to think differently and do differently. "In order to learn something new you have to do something new," she said.

At a time when channel companies are told to transform or die, Bodell's message resonated with the audience. However, she also noted that for some companies, "proactive obsolescence" -- or planning for a future where core business deliverables fall away to an entirely new concept – makes more sense. She offered up the example of an auto manufacturer that will transform itself to a "mobility services" company in anticipation of a future where most of the population lives in cities and does not own cars.  

For those seeking a few tools for change, Bodell offered simple tools such as reversing your assumptions, wherein business execs offer up alternative assumptions to come up with truly innovative business offerings; the "kill a stupid rule" concept; and the "within, adjacent, beyond" concept, which challenges businesses to reimagine their partnerships.

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How important is it to have millennials in your executive ranks?
I think it's important for any business to have representation from a wide range of experiences (including different ages and different cultures) to be able to understand and address different needs. I'm not sure it needs to happen at the executive level, but they certainly should have a voice in the conversation.