Far more prudently, before he left GE, Jack Welch had his top 1,000 managers be mentored by young GE employees, “many of whom had just joined the firm, but who nevertheless understood the new technologies better than GE’s finest,” according to The Economist. Microsoft now sees the role of its managers as “clearing obstacles from the paths” chosen by its young programmers who carry the firm’s future products in their heads.
Why stop there? Executives could consult with digital natives about new ways of connecting with their customers. The idea of “go look customers in the eye” may no longer work in fast-moving industries that are populated increasingly by people accustomed to building and maintaining relationships online and using software to assess product quality or a business’s reputation. Or managers could ask digital natives for recommendations about new products that might satisfy younger customers’ needs more directly.
If consulted, these young employees can be an enormous force for positive change and success in their companies. If ignored, they will doubtless spend their brain cycles on the job plotting how to make their own work lives, not their companies, better.
Marc Prensky (firstname.lastname@example.org), a consultant to business, education, and military organizations, is the author of Digital Game-Based Learning (McGraw-Hill, 2001), creator of the Web site www.socialimpactgames.com, and founder and CEO of Games2train (www.games2train.com).