Today, I spoke with Mr. Don Tapscott, who is best known as the author of Wikinomics, the international bestselling web 2.0 book. His new book is called Grown up Digital, and I caught up with Don to further investigate how my generation is changing the world as we know it. You might remember that we released an entire issue around this in Personal Branding Magazine, called “Millennials: Changing The Way We Do Business.” Prepare to learn all about Gen-Y from millions of dollars of research! For millennials, this might seem all too familiar, but for other generations, you will get a glimpse at how we operate.
Don, what does it mean to “grow up digital”?
“To be surrounded by digital media from birth.”
These kids are bathed in bits. To them, technology is like the air. Born between 1977 and 1997, these teenagers and young adults have grown up surrounded by digital devices and media. I call them the Net Generation. Around the world this generation is flooding into the workplace, marketplace, and every niche of society. These youth are bringing their demographic muscle, media smarts, purchasing power, new models of collaborating and parenting, entrepreneurship, and political power into the world.
What are the benefits and drawbacks to being raised on technology for both the millennials and other generations?
“Kids benefit from being raised in a technologically rich environment.”
A school that knows how to exploit the new technology gives its students a better education. Smart employers use the technology to make the workplace and more varied and stimulating environment. However, baby boomers who didn’t grow up with this technology can find the higher metabolism of instant messaging, wikis, blogs, and similar tools to be extremely stressful.
What are your top 3 ways that corporations can attract millennials and keep them happy?
- Re-think authority. Be a good leader (e.g., coach, mentor, facilitator, enabler), but understand that in some areas, you will be the student and the Net Gen employee will be the teacher. Net Geners need plenty of feedback, but recognition must be authentic. False praise doesn’t work.
- Rethink recruitment; initiate relationships. Don’t waste money on advertising for talent. Use social networks based on trust to influence young people about your company.
- Rethink training; engage for lifelong learning. Rather than traditional training programs that are separate from work, look to strengthen the learning component of all jobs. To achieve this, encourage employees to blog.
What are your top 3 guidelines for educators to tap the Net Gen potential?
- Don’t throw technology into the classroom and hope for good things. Focus on the change in pedagogy, not the technology. Learning 2.0 is about dramatically changing the relationship between a teacher and students in the learning process. Get that right and use technology for a student-focused, customized collaborative learning environment.
- Cut back on lecturing. You don’t have all the answers. Besides, broadcast learning doesn’t work for this generation. Start asking students questions and listen to their answers. Listen to the questions students ask, too. Let them discover the answer. Let them cocreate a learning experience with you.
- Empower students to collaborate. Encourage them to work with each other and show them how to access the world of subject-matter experts available on the Web.
How young people and the Internet are transforming democracy?
Past: Up until now, the game of politics was played this way: You, the citizen, listen to speeches, debates, and television ads. You give money. You vote. But when it’s time to govern, you are supposed to sit quietly while the real powers — the politicians, their financial supporters, and the lobbyists — make all the decisions in back rooms, often according to their own interests.
Present: But citizens are beginning to want more. Especially the young people who have grown up digital — the same kids who helped give President-elect Barack Obama his mandate — they won’t settle for the old rules, and Obama knows it.
“Their digital upbringing conditions them to expect a two-way conversation, not a lecture.”
They expect to collaborate with politicians — not just to listen to their grandstanding speeches. They want to be involved directly: to interact with them, contribute ideas, scrutinize their actions, work to catalyze initiatives not just during elections but as they govern. And they will insist on integrity from politicians– they will know very quickly if a politician says one thing and does another.
What are some ways that millennials have already changed the workplace and what do you think lies ahead in the future?
Processes that were once completely contained within the boundaries of large corporations are being broken down into bite-sized pieces and farmed out via Web 2.0 to small companies around the world. These small and young companies aren’t hampered by bureaucracies and legacy systems. The opportunities are rampant and rewards are flowing to the nimble.
We are entering a world where knowledge, power and productive capability will be more dispersed than at any time in our history—a world where value creation will be fast, fluid and persistently disruptive; a world where only the connected will survive. A power shift is underway and a tough new business rule is emerging: collaborate or perish. Those who fail to grasp this will find themselves ever more isolated—cut off from the networks that are sharing, adapting, and updating knowledge to create value.
As the Net Generation enters the workforce, they are a powerful catalyst for organizational change. To meet their demands for more learning opportunities and responsibility, instant feedback, greater work/life balance, and stronger workplace relationships, companies must alter their culture and management approaches. Companies that selectively and effectively embrace Net Gen norms perform better than those that don’t. The Net Gen culture is becoming the new culture of work, and its practices may turn out to be the key indicators of high-performing organizations in the 21st century.
It’s important to keep these young employees engaged. Despite the current economic turmoil, we’re on the brink of a major war for talent. Many companies that rely on knowledge workers already realize that the tables have turned. Twenty years ago, when college grads poured into the workforce, companies had their pick of the best and the brightest. Employees were grateful to get a job and did what they could to keep it, and the last thing on their minds was to suggest radical new ways of working and managing a company. But in the next ten years, as Baby Boomers retire, there won’t be enough Net Geners to fill up all the recently vacated management spots.
Don Tapscott is an internationally renowned authority on the strategic value and impact of information technology. He has authored or coauthored eleven widely read books on technology and business. His book—Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything—is an international bestseller, has appeared on the New York Times and BusinessWeek bestseller lists, and has been translated into 19 languages.
Don’s new book, Grown Up Digital: How the Net Generation is Changing the World, explores how the first generation to grow up with the net is redefining today’s workplace, marketplace, schools, family and government. Don is Chairman of nGenera Insight and an Adjunct Professor of Management at the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto.