The Digital Natives, and You

What it means when people who grew up with technology in their hands become the heart of a work force — and what it means if managers don’t understand them.

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Courtesy of NASA/Sean Smith.

Sometimes an intellectual understanding of change is not the same as a visceral one. Managers all know that information sharing and collaboration are potent paths to innovation, but do they feel it? Especially as new generations of employees arrive, generations that were “born and raised with technology in their hands,” do managers really understand “the huge sea change in how the young work force is wired,” and what it means?

Jim Fister, a longtime strategy futurist at Intel Corp., doesn’t think so. “For most of us, looking down from the top, information sharing can be a complicated phenomenon. It used to be you didn’t share information with your classmates at school. I think the word for it back then was ‘cheating.’”


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Fister argues that managers underestimate just how uncomplicated the “digital natives” find it to collaborate.

“I spend a lot of time with high school students, trying to encourage them to get into technology because I’m just afraid of the dearth of technology interest in the U.S.,” Fister says. “When I look at those high school students, I see everything done collaboratively, socially. They’re all working together in groups. Get a bunch of kids together for a robotics challenge and just watch the really cool things that happen. It’s astounding. I dare you to go out to a local high school and see the way kids operate. You’ll also see how their methods accomplish a global task.

“It used to be you didn’t share information with your classmates at school. I think the word for it back then was ‘cheating.’” – Jim Fister

“Inside corporate walls we all talk about teamwork, but realistically, when we came in, we were all given our individual projects, and then we would kind of roll them up into a team task and achieve success. But employees coming in now are naturals at sharing information and collaborating. They can’t picture another way. And they’re doing it in ways that those of us who were trained along individual lines just don’t understand.


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Comment (1)
Very pursuasive! Maybe you are perfectly right for kids in the U.S. But one can scarcely find the 'digital natives' in Korea. Korea boasts of her fancy telecom Infra and Koreans use the Internet very much though. High school students seldom collaborate for anything and even college students are not much eager to collaborate for their school projects. Competition is still preferred to collaboration. By the way, who do you think is the exception, U.S. or Korea?