I was recently invited to attend The Economist's Ideas Economy event, the second conference in a series which aims to stir dialogue and uncover new ideas intended to expand and overturn established thinking "regarding innovation, human potential and more." In fact, I only arrived at such a conference after having, by chance, looked at the agenda on their website and noticed not one Black American (let alone Latina) female speaker was included within their 2 days worth of panels. Surely, I thought, one couldn't engage in such edgy activity as "overturning established thought" without including those whose perspective is so infrequently included at the table of thought-leaders?
But after a few email exchanged between myself and The Economist; Melody Barnes, Domestic Policy Advisor at The White House, magically appeared on the agenda and yours truly was even offered an invitation to attend the overall event. And while, with the exception of the frenetic pace for audience questions, The Ideas Economy was very well-produced; and Ms. Barnes did in fact speak - albeit within the confines of a one-on-one - about the challenges surrounding education and our nation's children; I couldn't help but still feel a bit unfulfilled as I left Chelsea Piers under slightly cloudy skies in New York City. Was it the fact that from the conference's panel on Millennials to that of intellectual diversity there was no integration of ideas and experience within actual panel discussion (not just a quick podium appearance) from any Black or Latino movers and shakers - male nor female - when discussing untapped human potential in the world at large.
And if so, why is this important anyway?
Far from the whiny Black chick who simply wants to see herself reflected on stage (though I might add this is not an unreasonable request), I am actually concerned about the larger context of what the omission of (in the midst of the majority of male panel members validating their fellow boys club members on that day's panels while simultaneously promoting their latest book and trotting out their educational credentials as if all that is not included in the bios within the printed agendas) this invisible citizen represents as the United States faces a critical moment in the re-shaping its very fabric. Because for me it means that by and large, as a country we are still not getting it right. "It" being the humility and vision to actively mine ideas from various members of society, not as an after-thought or singular quick flash but rather as consistent, abundant assimilation for true value-add to economic discussion and participation.
As we watch the browning of America take place before our very eyes each month, we are approaching an extremely important tipping point for which it is critical to prepare. If the US Census Bureau is correct in its 2040 forecast, then domestically the consumer majority to be served will look and behave much differently from the current majority, and quite frankly this change is one for which most companies and organizations are ill-prepared. In fact, the force of economic weight of this demo will, with just a slight shift, determine market growth or loss in the blink of an eye whereas they were basically counted out before; a kind of Phoenix class, if you will. Further, this new opportunity will give rise to new and more nimble players who are actually of the market and this development will create interesting and unprecedented shifts in power and wealth. And as digital communication, particularly mobile and hand-held devices becomes more deeply entrenched in our lifestyle, this shift will become absolutely remarkable. This segment of the population already out-indexes in mobile monthly expenditures, usage and social media frequency; and that behavior coupled with their population growth simply sets the stage for unprecedented changes. Yet most of the current mainstream and its "thought-leaders" are completely oblivious, simply because they do not seem to consistently interact frequently nor deeply with our demographic - the Phoenix class - particularly the hipper trendsetters. Should this continue, it is certain they will continue to experience waves of shock similar to that when Arbitron demonstrated that 25% of African-Americans were on Twitter as opposed to 14% of Caucasians or even TED"s Chris Anderson utter surprise that breakdance videos encourage young copycats in various parts of the world after his discovery just recently on YouTube regarding something that those of the culture have known since the advent of DVDs and before.
But it's not just hip hop dance moves that make for the global conversation. These changes become extremely interesting as one begins to ponder the implication of a brown America representing on a global scale, particularly as it interacts with other emerging nations of color. How will our demographic view economic policies? How will it relate to social purpose given its previous "minority" status in America? And what role will mobile and hand-held devices play in the journey for global economic rights given America's diverse demos' early-adoption and wide usage of such products?
Such questions might make one see an urgent need for and benefit to savvy domestic and multi-national businesses and organizations to collaborate with this Phoenix class or risk possible irrelevance altogether. In fact, Robert Fabrikant, VP at Frog Design remarked that for him, creativity does not exist so much exclusively within an individual as it does between two entities because that which is created needs response form to bring it to life. It is this space in between, say, the creator of Twitter and the hip African American usage of it via their mobile phones where the alchemical magic actually happens. Fabrikant used the example of the Roadrunner and Coyote cartoon to illustrate his point citing that the dynamics between them actually calls for the creative interaction. Yet he noted that the Roadrunner never acknowledges the Coyote and instead, just speeds past him. But unlike the cartoon, I anticipate this disregard changing rapidly between what we currently consider the mainstream and minority. Place these coyotes and roadrunners in the dire economic circumstances we face today, and the smart ones will seek to acknowledge what they may have missed before while those previously disregarded simultaneously create new avenues for themselves from Think Tanks to start-ups.
So if the new economy is actually one of knowledge capital and relationship capital buoyed by disruptive technology, certain tribes will simply have to expand themselves and adapt like never before in order to retain any value at all within a larger narrative let alone create wealth. This Phoenix phenomenon will only grow larger and stronger. It has the chance to provide benefit on a global level to anyone who is willing to be humble, open and genuinely inclusive.