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May 18, 2009

Curmudgeonliness: Unfortunately, there's not an app for that.

NOTE: Before you read the following post, please watch the above video, which you've likely seen already, but hey -- one more time couldn't hurt, right?

Watch it? Good. Let's begin:

Yesterday at breakfast, my mom the accountant started in on one of her "I saw the funniest commercial yesterday" stories that she uses to give me unsolicited (the best kind) advice on how I should be doing my job. I typically enjoy these conversations, mostly because they make me feel smarter than her, but also because she unintentionally give me little bits of insight that I like to stash away in the recesses of my brain for use at a later time -- like, say, in blog posts.

Anyway, our latest conversation was particularly intriguing. Here's how it went:

MOM: "I saw the funniest commercial yesterday."

ME: [In my "I'm utterly-disinterested-in-what-you're-about-to-say-but-I'll-listen-'cause-you're-my-mom" tone] "Really? What was it?"

MOM: This new Apple ad [Much like seemingly all ad people, my mom loves Apple ads] about programs.

ME: Programs?

MOM: Yeah -- you know, "we've got a program for that."

ME: App.

MOM: ?

ME: We've got an APP for that. What do you like about it, because it's obviously not the copy...

MOM: They just make the them sound really useful. Hey what time is the Royals game tonight? [My mother's brain can be very erratic]

ME: [Looks on Sportacular iPhone app] Six o'clock. Well, don't you think apps probably ARE useful? Just showing off a few examples isn't all that innovative...

MOM: Well, I thought it was pretty cool. Hey, I think your dad wants to go to that game tonight. I wonder if I can get tickets?

ME: [Checks TicketsDirect app] Yes, you can. I just ordered them. Third base line. Pick 'em up at will-call.

MOM: Oh, good. I was worried it was sold out.

ME: Not yet. Probably will be later today, though. And about those apps, do you wanna try any out? I've got my iPhone right here, and there's a recipe book app I bet you'd adore.

MOM: No. That stuff's for you kids. I wouldn't know what to do with it. [Looking at the check, which she refuses to let me pay] Hey, what's 18% of $26.54?

ME [In my head]: I would show you, but calculators are for us kids. You wouldn't know what to do with one.

ME [In reality]: *Sigh* [Opens Tipulator App] $4.78.

That's right, folks. My mom is fully capable of auditing a multi-national corporation, but she really believes that the App store is beyond her realm of comprehension. The best part? Not even a TV commercial THAT SHE TOLD ME MAKES IT LOOK USEFUL or her son using it to solve everyday problems right in front of her can change her attitude. I would say something about old dogs and new tricks, but my mother is a nice upstanding lady, thank you very much, and would likely take offense to being compared to an aged canine.

What I will say, though, is that I wonder if this kind of thinking is exactly why it's often difficult to sell a client on something new and different. Because even if they know it will likely be effective at solving a problem and creative enough to get noticed, they still won't buy off on it because that stuff's "for you kids" and not whatever brand it is they happen to be managing. All of this leaves me wondering three things:

1. How do we convince the current generation of decision makers to change that curmudgeonly way of thinking?

2. Will the next generation of decision makers -- the millenials -- think the same way, or will their upbringing in the digital era leave them more open to change and new ideas?

3. How did my mother the accountant not know what 18% of $26.54 was?

If you've got the answers to these questions, or even just a half-baked theory or two, please help a brotha out and share with the rest of us.


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Thanks for the post. Perhaps this will help. Seth Godin once wrote that there are generally there are two types of people:

1. Those who don’t know and can be taught (through information, education and training);

2. Those who don’t want to know and cannot be taught (although you can try with networking, facilitation and peer pressure).


I know another designer who like myself, was in the business back in the "paste-up days". She has migrated to using a Mac for producing ads, but is stuck with Adobe Creative Suite 2. Won't upgrade.

"I'm comfortable where things are right now."

She seems to actively fight any attempts at going further, or upgrading anything. The big surprise will be one day when her older software won't be acceptable to service bureaus & printers.

"Learning is not compulsory, but neither is survival."
– W. Edwards Deming, US business advisor & quality control advocate (1900-1993)

Theres never an app for thigns one really needs.

That was a great read. I can not agree more. My hope is that the next generation is wiser and more informed in most things. Though, history and my own youthful missteps might lead me to another conclusion. Thank you again and I enjoy your twitter posts.

Before answering your questions, some context:

There has been some very interesting work over the last decade with regard to how our brains work that, I believe, sheds some light on this.

Call it what you will - habit, being stubborn, close-mindedness - is all a function of our brains doing what they do best. They simplify the world by establishing and hard-wiring patterns that fit within the sum of our lifetime of experiences. Every single human goes through this as they age. At some point even the millenials will be complaining about "those damn kids" not respecting this or that.

The good news is all this research is also pointing out this does not need to occur, that with a little work everyone (even the aged) can rewire their brains and develop the new perspectives and thinking required for new ideas. So to answer your questions:

1. How do we convince the current generation of decision makers to change that curmudgeonly way of thinking?

I believe it's by a combination of results and thoughtful discussion. I've discovered if you can find a small project upon which to apply your ideas, showing the positive results goes a long way. But I have found it's also very important to be prepared to discuss the theory underneath your ideas. "Here's why it's important that we do this...."

2. Will the next generation of decision makers -- the millenials -- think the same way, or will their upbringing in the digital era leave them more open to change and new ideas?

The next generation, absent conscious effort, will face the exact same situation with a younger generation. Their ideas will be different from today's decision-makers for sure, but at some point their ideas will be seen as outdated. The key will be for all generations to focus on continuous learning, cognitive agility and most importantly not judging.

3. How did my mother the accountant not know what 18% of $26.54 was?

I believe it's compartmentalized memory. For example Johnny Carson often couldn't remember the guests from a show he'd just taped. It's based on the fact that you, versus the you that works, are not identical.

My two-cents.

1. My parents' generation is quite impossible to be convinced; not even my generation, born in the sixties, finds it easy to get in touch with technology.

2. And the next generation needs to be taught the old way, because nobody needs to tell them what the apps are. But they do need to learn lots of humanistic stuff; they have to read more, and to write more.

3. Your mother already knew it all (you getting the tickets and the tip amount).

Great reflections! Greetings from Spain.

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