What’s in a generalization?

Those architects of BritPop, Blur, once recorded an album entitled ‘Modern Life is Rubbish’. It is not a sentiment I support. In fact when it comes to modern living and working my glass is most certainly three quarters full. To me technology, so often criticised as taking society to the abyss, has an empowering quality. It enables greater efficiency, productivity and creativity – all of which are core requirements of the modern office worker, and therefore the modern office.

But I do concede that modern life is complex and confusing. The speed of change, the sheer scale of innovation and the alienating qualities of the latest big thing can be bewildering. And for those, such as I, who seek to analyse the impacts of societal and technological change on real estate markets, it poses a real problem.

It is a problem of perspective and it will be the theme of a client presentation I will be giving alongside my US counterpart, Ben Breslau, in San Francisco this week. For the reality is that, in trying to bring simplicity to the interpretation of complex themes, analysts have created generalizations that are unwieldy as they are popular.

Take just one example – the demographic group widely known as the Millenials. When it comes to the future of the office, this tech savvy, creative class is said to be all conquering. Corporate occupiers that do not cede to the wants of this group are set to lose out in the war for talent. Developers and investors that do not create real estate solutions that accommodate these wants will invariably under-perform. Compelling stuff, no?

But is it reality? Ben and I will be arguing that such generalizations have produced urban myths that need to be rebalanced. To be clear, we are not denying the existence or importance of the Millenials. Rather, we are trying to put them in much needed perspective. It is a perspective that:

  • Acknowledges clear difference and diversity within the grouping
  • Accepts that like any other generation, events in individual life-cycles serve to change wants and needs; and
  • Recognizes that there are other significant demographic groupings that will have similar, perhaps more extreme, implications for the workforce and the workplace.

It should be a fun event. We hope to get our clients thinking clearly about how they should respond to modern life.