Learning from Youth
This is not to suggest that a premium shouldn’t be placed on the knowledge of organizations and the management experience of top executives. Nor is it to say that digital natives — business neophytes, almost by definition — would be better at running a company than seasoned leaders. It’s simply to argue that technology is altering the face of organizations in more ways than just by improving productivity, and smart managers would do well to pay attention to what this technologically savvy generation has to offer. By overlooking or underestimating digital natives, older executives are sending a message to some of the most talented people in the work force that they are not appreciated or supported. Recently, a senior Coca-Cola executive recalled what happened at another Fortune 500 company he worked for when a young engineer from MIT, brimming with enthusiasm, was hired. Threatened by the young recruit’s skills and eagerness, some managers made his life at the office uncomfortable. In short order, the recruit quit.
|Digital natives are using technology to transform institutions from Microsoft to the U.S. military.|
Why stop there? Executives could consult with digital natives about new ways of connecting with their customers. The old idea of “go see the customers and look them in the eye” may no longer work in fast-moving industries that are populated increasingly by people accustomed to building and maintaining their relationships online and using software tools 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 (in ways managers can’t control) how to make their own work lives, not their companies, better.
Marc Prensky (firstname.lastname@example.org) consults to business, education, and military organizations on generational change, technology, and learning. He 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). Mr. Prensky created and introduced video game–based training tools as a senior human resources executive at Bankers Trust Company in the 1990s.