We're All Going to Be 'Digital Natives'

Date:   Thursday , May 26, 2016

Headquartered in Stamford, Gartner is a research and consultancy company that provides business-critical research data to organizations worldwide, thus enabling them efficiently manage their IT infrastructure and enhance business performance.

The concept of \'digital natives\' versus \'digital immigrants\' is increasingly problematic.Since education consultant Marc Prensky coined the term \'digital native\' in a 2001 article, the concept of digital natives and digital immigrants has moved well beyond the scope of education to become a common meme in the enterprise. Leaders in both private and public sector enterprises often speak about the need to source technology and adapt it to the needs of digital natives. They express great concern that the tools of late 20th to early 21st century collaboration are ill-suited to a workforce increasingly made up of millennials.

One of the obvious flaws in this concept is the idea that someone\'s age exclusively dictates digital technology prowess, when in fact it is significantly shaped by race, class, geography and cultural background. There is also often an assumption - one prone to be anecdotal and prejudicial - that the technology young people use for interaction outside work directly translates into expectations inside a work environment.

This is a far more compelling and inclusive way to think about technology than a dichotomous world of digital \'HAVEs\' and \'HAVE NOTs\'. It is also much more likely that this type of approach will lead to improvements in employee engagement.

IT Should Adapt; Not People

Part of the fascination with the concept of digital natives versus digital immigrants is based on a perception that it is people who need to adapt to digital technology.But the IT industry is moving into a new phase of maturity, one in which technology solutions will fail in the market if they are not immediately intuitive and operable without training or support.

Searching for the types of employee most adaptive to digital technology is a futile undertaking because digital technology will be adaptive to people. People-centric design processes, the evolution of human computer interfaces and the blurring of the digital and physical worlds will negate the need to do so.

Innovation in the age of digital business will not be driven through a subset of the workforce that management believes is endowed with technology prowess. If anything, that is likely to result in a form of banal technology advancement increasingly seen in Silicon Valley, where new solutions seldom extend beyond the limited personal experience of the highly educated, decidedly non-diverse under 30s predominantly leading the consumer startup scene.Instead, innovative, successful digital businesses will be led by those who understand how to connect workforces with rich generational, gender, racial and cultural diversity.

The Role of the CIO

There is enormous scope for CIOs in the future to orchestrate a wider array of technology in ways not currently imagined. Managed effectively, everyone becomes a digital native because all digital technology is created to be contextual, intuitively obvious and immediately beneficial.The popular concept of \'digital natives\' versus \'digital immigrants\' is not supported by evidence and increasingly problematic.

Senior leadership needs to be actively discouraged from believing that the concept of digital natives or millennials is valid for digital business or workplace planning. Instead, apply ethnographic research techniques to surface nuanced behavioral factors that are influenced by more than just age.