11 Nov There’s something about exotic coffee that we need to take seriously
Hands up! Guilty. I have sniggered and mocked, sneered and covertly ridiculed. Those men (mainly), proud of being independent thinkers, defying fashion to express their individuality while all looking more or less exactly the same as each other. With their neatly coiffured beards, their jeans and their lumberjack shirts, I’m referring to the hipsters. They’re rough and ready, outdoorsy and in bare brick working spaces they sup Thai Arabica coffee from Chiang Mai. They’re an easy target. The mockery is cheap and I for one feel a little guilty for joining in and I’m disappointed in myself that it has taken me so long to realise that, despite the slightly comic attributes of this tribe, they herald a very new world that has been creeping up on us for years.
I’m in a tribe. Mine is the tribe of business professionals that don’t wear a tie. The tribe that bought into Apple and Moleskin and professional social media. I don’t like to admit I’m in a tribe. I insist I make my own decisions and I don’t follow trends. I’d prefer to think that it’s just coincidence that many others think and do the same as me. In many respects, I’m no different from a hipster. So who am I to mock and judge? Sorry hipsters.
But what of this new world that the hipster portends and do we need to take notice? Yes, we do need to take notice because it will affect many aspects of life and business in a big way.
The common attributes of the hipster are difficult to pin down exactly. There are many different opinions of what a hipster is and hipsters themselves hate the term. It’s derogatory and implies that they are a group of fashion followers with more style than substance. But the hipster isn’t just about dress and appearance – there’s more to it. For the hipster, provenance is important. Knowing where your coffee is from, how it got to you, where it was roasted and how sustainable its cultivation is – it’s all part of the product. The ingredients in your craft beer need to be understood before you can fully appreciate it. The back story is relevant. So is authenticity. Eating “real” food from a converted van in the street is hip. It’s somehow more worthy to eat food made from locally sourced organically grown ingredients than it is to tuck in to a supermarket sandwich.
Squareroot is a hip business based in East London. It sells seasonal soda. Delivering drinks like rhubarb and cinchona soda on a 1920s delivery tricycles called Elsie, they are archetypical hipster business. It would be easy to poke fun or accuse them of pretentiousness. If I didn’t give it a milliseconds thought, I too might sneer. But when I do take a moment, there is nothing about Squareroot that I don’t like. A small enterprising group of people creating real drinks that don’t cost the earth. I’d much rather drink fresh soda made from seasonal ingredients manufactured locally and delivered on tricycle than swig a concoction of sugar and questionable chemicals put in a bottle in huge factory half way across the world. What is there to sneer about?
Squareroot is quirky, unconventional – perhaps even eccentric – but it is also a manifestation of what I see as a very important and very positive trend – the same trend that is behind the future of money – bitcoin. They defy convention and, importantly, they are driven by millennials. And the millennials are a very special demographic.
To fully understand why the millennials are important, you can’t be one. Just like you have to be outside the tribe to identify people who are in it, you need to be a little older to see why millennials are a bit special.
Millennials have never experienced a world without the internet. They don’t know what it’s like to rely on a neighbour to make a phone call. Streaming audio and video and instant access to information has made the world fundamentally different from the world of my formative years. This background, this upbringing, gives the millennials challenges when they start work because they are suddenly thrust into yesterday. They are faced with business processes that are unfamiliar inefficient and archaic. There’s usually more power in their mobile phone than there is in the desktop computer they’re asked to use. Ask a millennial to send a fax and it would not be unusual if they asked what a fax is. They struggle with it. Even email. If you think email is modern, ask a millennial. They see email as a way of communicating with old people. They don’t want to take a backward step and revert to yesterday’s world. Yes, email is yesterday’s technology.
But it’s not just about technology. Organic produce has, in my lifetime been something between a hippy obsession and a middle class indulgence. But to people who have never knew a world in which organic wasn’t an option, why would they want to opt for anything else. Because organic is a good thing. And why contribute to global warming by doing anything other than recycle and buy local. For the older generation who might remember the “processed” in processed food being sold as a benefit and “factory made” or “untouched by human hand” being seen as positive attributes, organic and sustainability are quirky nice-to-haves. For millennials, the benefits of organic and sustainability are self-evident.
Today when we talk about implementing enterprise technology, we often refer to “change management” – how best to manage the transition from old world business practices to new world technology driven practices. To a millennial, that’s nonsense. While the old guard perceive resistance to change and struggle to see how to overcome the shackles of convention, the new generation are more like “Just do it – it’s not rocket science. And if you won’t do it I will.”
This is the spirit of bitcoin. Why do we need banks? They messed up, they rip us off. We don’t need them. What’s not to like about an independent currency? This is unconventional thinking for sure – revolutionary even – but if it means making the world a better place for more people – bring it on. What are we waiting for?
To those older cynics who contribute little more than a patronising sneer to the evolution of culture who see hipsters and their hip innovations as a fad, you have some surprises in store. The millennials won’t be a minority for much longer. What you see as outlandish, impertinent technologies like Blockchain and bitcoin – it’s actually the future. Hippy ideas of sustainability, authenticity and provenance are here to stay and I applaud it.
Pete Loughlin can be found on twitter @peteloughlin