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Futurist discusses Millennials, disintermediation at NAW meeting

On Feb. 1, David Houle, a futurist with a broadcast TV background who wrote http://www.theshiftage.com/”>The Shift Age (published in 2006), spoke to distributors of varied products at the annual meeting of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors in Washington D.C.

Houle told the audience that we’re moving into a new age in human history. The agricultural age began 10,000 years ago, the industrial age some 300 years ago, and the information age has lasted 30 years. Now, we’re in a new period called “The Shift Age.” The Shift Age doesn’t refer to work or factory shifts, instead it refers to a time in which change is nonstop and continues to accelerate.

Houle also spoke about the Millennials. He said that Millennials were born into a life with two sides—real life and the digital reality. Others, such as Baby Boomers, are what Houle called immigrants in the digital world.

Millennials are different from what the Baby Boom generation might expect, and not only in their comfort with high-tech, Houle added. He said to watch teenagers when they get together—they are a “high touch” group. Houle warns that this “high touch” quality leaks into the workplace, meaning the Boomers’ promise of an annual review leaves the Millennial employee unhappy, The Millenial employee wants feedback on how he did today.

All the news isn’t bad for older people. Houle said, “Intellectual property is the wealth of the shift age.”

Houle also touched on how smartphones will change retailing. This is part of a trend that sees “place” become less and less important. Retail stores, Houle said, are about to come upon major change. It’s hard to charge someone 20% more for a given product when that person can buy it—while in the store—on a smartphone.

The same thing is true for middlemen, according to Houle. “Disintermediation,” he said, was coming for distributors. The choices executives of such companies face: Go for the lowest price. If you don’t want to do that, Houle contended, “…you have to add value.”

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