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February 14th, 2009 by john andrews

See a Need, Fill a Need, 2009 Edition

An older gentleman arrived at Starbucks the other day for a meeting with a 40-something tech entrepreneur. The younger man was obviously prepared to graciously host a meeting with his elder investor. The older man walked with a cane, wore thick glasses, and needed some assistance before landing safely into a Starbucks comfy chair.

Look at all the young people with computers“, the older man forcefully exhaled, as if to make sure we all heard his pronouncement. I imagined he was quite a force in some business community somewhere in the past. He was That Kind of Guy. He purposefully made firm eye contact with me when I glanced his way, and I am pretty sure he winked as well. “Classic, Grandpa“, I thought to myself. I formed a silent “rock on” with my right hand under the table.

Everything’s computers“, he continued preaching to his junior partner. “Wonderful things. I don’t know how we did without them before. I’m on mine every day. Essential! Essential if you want to make it today“.

I put my headphones on, surfed to Pandora and clicked the “Trip Hoppin’ Radio” channel. I like Thorn Yorke, Saru, Bitter:Sweet and their ilk as work music these days. I turned up the volume. I assumed Junior was working on some online catalog database or perhaps an interactive pipe filter specification tool for field use in the refining industry, or some such software innovation I didn’t need to hear about. None of my business.

But He didn’t leave me alone. At one pont Junior left for the restroom, and Grandpa decided it was His privilege to shout loudly in my direction, despite my headphones and my intended-to-be-obvious happy listener head nodding.

Good to see everyone working. All the computers, everyone’s busy. No leanin’ on the shovel. That’s what we need right now. Good to see“, he offered.

Keep in mind I’m not 20-something or even thirty something. I’m about the same age as Junior. I dress down and nondescript; last year’s Costco fashions. Perhaps that made me less threatening to Grandpa Buffet, because He wanted to chat. I obliged.

Yeah“, I muttered, and I looked about the room. I could see many of the laptop screens Grandpa had seen. Only when I looked at them, I saw Twitter, Facebook, several MySpace screens, and one LinkedIn page (Starbucks interviews are sooo obvious). Yet another Facebooker in the far corner. Oh wait, a designer working in Illustrator. That’s work… oh, no… it’s a MySpace background. Oh well, I thought to myself.
It’s the next big thing“, I said to the gentleman. “We’re all connected now, all around the world.

I didn’t have the heart to tell him that in this case, we were all in fact globally-connected slackers, spending our time on Social Media. I wasn’t sure he’d be able to handle the truth. I certainly didn’t want to risk upsetting him… he’d surely make a scene if he knew that:

  • The average computer in the room was worth about $1200, some costing upwards of $3,000. More than Grandpa put down on his first house, which I am sure he’d be happy to tell me is now worth millions.
  • Most of the people he noticed had been there for hours, if not all day. They were regulars.
  • Of the visible slackers, all but 2 had headphones on, and most of those headphones had white wires. That’s an additional several hundred dollars at each table.
  • We all have cell phones, many of them iphones and smart phones. I had two with me that day.
  • Virtually every screen in sight was opened to a social media web site that sucked in productivity and contributed absolutely zero to the national economy.

Young people are the key to the future. They understand this stuff“, he declared. I suspected from his tone that this was leaning more towards me being “old like him” rather than one of the “young people”, so I was THRILLED when Junior returned to regain Grandpa’s attention. I restored Pandora to my ears.

While many of the social media slackers at Starbucks that day were students, several were obviously outside workers on the road, one was a pharmaceutical rep, one was a hiring manager for a college painting company, and one was a rep for an MLM program. I learned later one other was a missionary (the for-profit kind we have so many of these days). Despite the variety, they had several things in common:

  • they disappointed Grandpa in the productivity department, wasting valuable human resources (often other people’s human resources) while looking busy
  • they had a strong need to connect to other human beings, to be themselves yet known as somebody in the world
  • they were willing to spend a lot of effort and take a lot of risk just so they could participate. They placed a high value on inclusion.

See a Need, Fill a Need” is something I would expect Grandpa to have said, had I asked him for business advice. Yes, indeed.

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