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Everything Bad

Every so often a book comes out and creates a buzz. In the blink of an eye, talk shows, commentaries and editorial pages are filled with critiques or fawning interviews of the latest and hottest author. By and large, I've tried to keep HT's pages clear of the hype. Business philosophies come and go, and well-run organizations seldom come from lessons learned from the pages of a paperback book.

Still, when I heard an interview with Stephen Johnson, the author of "Everything Bad Is Good For You," I have to admit I was intrigued. Here's a concept that I could sink my teeth into, I thought.

Of course, the book is not so much about business, but rather focused on pop culture. In essence, Johnson asserts that many of the basic arguments against pop culture are based on broad assumptions that have little to do with reality.

Johnson argues that basic elements of pop culture, whether it is music, television or video games are in fact positives. Take video games. As he points out, many of today's video games place players in complex worlds (seedy and violent ones perhaps), which require problem solving and a variety of skills to master. More often than not, games are played in social settings and are a far cry from the static games that many critics decry.

Television offers another example. Is it actually bad for you? Some studies have suggested that when controlled for socio-economic factors, there is no evidence that watching television is actually bad for children (though I can't for the life of me come up with a single argument for the continued existence "American Idol" or "Fear Factor"). On the other hand, researchers recently concluded that the old wives tale is true: you can catch a cold from being cold and wet.

The larger lesson that Johnson illustrates has two significant takeaways for the hospitality industry. First, broad assumptions need to be critically challenged; and secondly, a new generation of guests are arriving that may differ from earlier generations in significant ways. Not surprisingly, it is precisely because of this new generation that earlier assumptions must be challenged.

Many long-held assumptions about operating a restaurant or hotel may in fact be based on old data. The very meaning of service is most certainly different for the so-called Gen-X and Gen-Y guest that has been raised on ATMs, e-commerce and TIVO. It is no surprise that new hotel brands like Aloft and NYLO among others are emerging that take on new designs, new approaches that offer provocative new models for challenging the old ways of thinking. KnowFat (see "Knowledge Is Power," p. 50) and the entire fast-casual segment offer a similarly interesting new restaurant/retail model.

It should hardly come as a surprise that I believe that technology will play a critical role in these new concepts and in the appeal to the next generation of hotel guests. The hospitality company that does not adapt to a more tech-savvy guest will be left far behind. That at least is one assumption I am willing to bank on.

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