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Digital Native, Catalyst Creators Not Knowledge Killers

Companies who are scared of millenials should really be embracing them

19May

Digital natives, generation x, millenials, they are all different names for essentially the same generation. This is the generation that grew up with the internet, who have had access to a computer for as long as they can remember and who learnt about the internet as they went, without classes to show them how to Google something.

As more or less anybody between 15-35, this generation is no longer just something that people are increasingly seeing within their companies, they are making up a large proportion of it.

Companies have become almost paranoid about the idea of digital natives coming in, seeing them as nerds who know nothing about the real world having grown up living vicariously through their computers. They cannot therefore interact on a personal level, even talking on the phone terrifies them. The only way they can communicate is through email or social media.

There is also an innate fear amongst the baby boomer generation, that the work they have done and the skills they have learnt cannot be passed on to the new generation because they learn in a different way. We are seeing that around 10,000 people per day are reaching retirement age and it is the skills of these people that companies believe will be lost.

However, I would argue that neither of these points are true.

Millenials do not learn in a different way to those in the generation above them, they learn in the same way, by taking in information, understanding it and using it. They have simply found better ways to do it.

Even some of the more high-tech ways of learning have not been adopted because digital natives know how they want to learn and will do it in the best possible way for them. Take MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as a prime example, it was mainly baby boomers who thought they would be a revolution in education, but in reality most saw drop out rates at close to 93%. Instead the digital generation knew how they wanted to be taught and how they wanted to have the best possible chance of success, which in terms of university, was in front of a lecturer in a lecture theatre. They may supplement this through using online resources, but it is adding to what was already available to the generation above.

This is the first generation who have had almost the entirety of human knowledge available to them at the click of a button. Google indexes 30 trillion web pages and as a result anybody over 20 has probably read more than the greatest Greek philosophers did in their entire lives, it is also on a far wider range of topics, from the intricacies of quantum physics to how a dog can find its way home. They know how to learn and more importantly, they know how to find what they need to know.

To claim that most people within this generation are also anti-social and not used to being able to interact with people on a face-to-face basis is also unfair as they may be digitally engaged, but this has not been in the same way that the early adopters of the internet and video games were stereotyped in the 80s and 90s. The fact is that it has become a case of using social media to not replace genuine social situation, it has instead enhanced them and added to this social element.

The problems that companies may have is simply that they have not adapted to make the most of the potential benefits that these digital natives can bring to their organizations. If they are worried about their older employees being able to transfer their learning to the younger generation then it will be the fault of the organization and the older employees, not of the younger generation.

We have seen that those who do not adapt to this change fail, and those who make the most of the changes are clearly gaining an advantage. Look at some of the companies created by millenials, Facebook, Twitter, Uber, Tesla etc, they are not looking at the ways that the older employees have been doing things, they have disrupted models to make multi-billion dollar companies.

So perhaps these digital natives will not sit down in a classroom for a week and listen to the older employee tell them everything they have learnt. Perhaps instead they will take 2 days to look at how it is being done in thousands of other areas and create a totally new and better system for your company to use, taking in the information passed on to them and then improving on it from their knowledge of how to find this information. 

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