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TORONTO—Sheryl Connelly is a futurist with Ford Motor Company, but 15 years ago, when she and her sister visited a fortune teller, she felt uncomfortable.
“It wasn’t like I actually believed—it was supposed to be fun. But when [the fortune teller] turned up the fourth and final card, and it was the death card, I saw it as an ominous sign of things to come. All these years later, I am alive and well. But I had the feeling I had done something wrong—good, bad or indifferent, I don’t want to know what the future holds.”
Connelly provided the keynote address at this year’s Hotel Association of Canada conference, held at the Eaton Chelsea hotel on Feb. 12.
Connelly said that any strategy is based on assumptions about the future. Her job is to slow down the conversation to take note of the deep-rooted assumptions. For example, one assumption is that young people want cars, but they just can’t afford them. The reality might well be that a car is not a relevant status symbol—whereas cell phones are relevant. “Young people would rather lose their wallets than their cell phones,” she said.
And if you asked people in Henry Ford’s time what they needed, they would have said, “Faster horses.”
Connelly’s approach to her job as a futurist is to identify such deep-rooted values and challenge them.
Some of those challenges to trends are:
o Tensions between change and the sea of sameness. For example, Ford used to take five years to develop a product, but now develops 20 new products per year.
o Square. Jack Dorsey, creator of Twitter launched payments site, Square, and it did $15 billion worth of transactions a year. In its first month, it created 80,000 new jobs in the marketplace.
o 3-D printing. It will be worth $3.1 billion worldwide by 2016.
o Drones. Will they actually be dropping off packages at our door? FedEx says they are not concerned, but they continue to pour money into it.
o Old School. Seventy-four per cent of people say it’s hard to find products that are unique, while 82 per cent say vintage goods have more character.
o The Statusphere. Status symbols are shifting. While 90 per cent of Japanese people surveyed said displays of wealth are tasteless, only 56 per cent of Americans agreed.
o Multi-tasking. Science says only two per cent of people are effective multi-taskers. In an IQ test, participants lost four per cent of their IQ when high versus sober, and 10 per cent when they multi-tasked.
o The female frontier. Women in third world countries are getting more access to eduction; some countries have more single than married people. Women now outnumber men at U.S. colleges.
“It’s my job to bring this to the attention of subject matter experts at Ford,” Connelly said, as she encouraged hoteliers to bring such thoughts to bear on their own businesses.
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Thirty-year-old Curt Steinhorst entertained the HAC audience with his take on differences between the four generations in the workforce today—traditionals, boomers, gen-X and gen-Y—with an emphasis on the boomers and his own group, gen-Y.
His most important message was regarding motivators for gen-Y, also known as millennials.
o They want to be valued and challenged. And they want it from their very first day at work. Don’t stick them in a room and tell them to read the manual, and keep in mind that they are not motivated by the five-year plan.
o Sell the experience. Steinhorst told a story about a bartender who was motivated because she got to go scuba diving for free at her job.
o Gen-Y needs specific examples. For example, don’t just say that the dress code is business casual—take photos and show them what business casual is—and is not.
o Ongoing feedback. If the only feedback your gen-Y employees get is their annual review, you might as well call it an exit interview. A paycheck does not equal feedback. They want lots of quick-hit feedback. And if they get that positive feedback, then they are comfortable with ways to grow with the company.
Gen-Y as customers
Steinhorst also had a number of tips on interacting with gen-Y as customers.
o We think that we are special. We want to experience things that make us feel unique.
o Give us the local scoop. Tell us about things tourists don’t typically know about. When we have unique experiences it makes us feel important and we will share them with the world.
o Communicate in ways we use. Gen-Y aren’t interested in a product page, but are captivated by real photo of real people at your place.
“Canada is one of the coolest places in the world that we would go to. What you offer is what gen-Y wants. We’ll pay for that experience; you just have to let us know about it,” he said.