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Digital Natives vs. Digital Immigrants

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Today I had the pleasure of speaking with the President of Mosaic People Development, Vanessa Judelman about a hot topic: the divide between people who grew up with computers (digital natives) vs. those who did not (digital immigrants). Interestingly enough, Vanessa is working on a film about this topic – and I was lucky enough to participate in the conversation!

Mom says it best. 

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the person in my family that grandma (who is now on Facebook), grandpa, mom, dad and even brother have gone to when they have questions about digital. Perhaps this comes from a long history of toying with my Dad’s business computer growing up – and being personally responsible for its many crashes. I learned a lot through trial and error, and always seemed to pick up knowledge with each computer crash. I honestly can’t imagine what it would have been like to grow up with no PC in the home. Technology is ingrained in my generation’s identity, and because of this: it’s apparent that there’s a perceived divide between my generation, and the ones before me.

The question is: Is this perceived divide a reality? Working in a digital environment, I’m constantly surrounded by people who are technologically savvy. Yes, there are moments when my elder coworkers aren’t always aware of some of the current technology advances – but the door swings both ways. I’m part of a generation that has a need for speed – and a knack for multi-tasking, but we’re taught patience and quality by those who have come before us. I don’t think that there is a divide: but a fantastic opportunity for personal growth and development. We’re all human – and can leverage all skill sets with effective communication and understanding. The divide becomes more of an asset – as we now have an opportunity to learn from each other. There’s a great article posted by the Financial Post that I saw today, and I want to share with you the highlights of identifying how to embrace Gen Y.

Bend Most entrepreneurs are proud to change as their customers evolve; now they must shift gears as their workforce changes. If you don’t meet Gen Y at least halfway, you’ll miss out on the best and brightest of a generation.

GenY is impressed only by competence They don’t care about titles or traditional authority. “They want leaders who are inspiring, genuine and authentic,” Montalbano says. “They need to understand the ‘why’ in everything they do.”

Learn to collaborate, not dictate Employers tend to create a central strategy and then push it down through the organization. Gen Y-ers crave structure, but they want a say in creating it. “Get them involved in the business of the business,” Graff advises. Instead of telling employees what to do, break them into teams to develop their own solutions.

Help Gen Y succeed Gen X may be individualists, but Gen Y want to succeed within the organization. Encourage ambition, Graff and Montalbano say, by offering regular coaching and mentoring, training and cross-training, and formal succession plans. In Gen X, Montalbano says, “We all wanted mentoring and coaching, but we didn’t get it. Gen Y says that’s not acceptable: ‘I need to know exactly where I stand so I can move to the next level’. ”

Live your values For Boomers, it was all about the work. For Gen Y, it’s the meaning of their work. Who are they helping? What values does their employer represent, beyond making money? “With Gen Y, the reward is meaningful work,” Montalbano says. “They will work hard, they will work 24/7, if what they are doing is meaningful.”

Encourage collective work Millennials are loyal — but not to their employer. Raised on preschool, team sports and multiplayer online games, Gen Y are loyal to their groups. “Their peers are the most important part of their job,” Graff says. “They’ve been brought up with others; working by themselves is near death.” Involve more employees in the hiring process, he says: When peers pick their co-workers, an organization becomes “stickier.”

Focus on balance Boomers worked all-out to get ahead; Gen X introduced the concept of work-life balance. Gen Y makes it mandatory. “They are not living to work, they are working to live,” Graff says. Adds Montalbano: “They will not negotiate their extracurricular activities for work.”


Reality is: I’ll always be excited to work with the generations before me, and those below. Collaboration is one of the key factors to success, and success is something achieved by every generation in one form or another.  Plus, it’s kind of amazing that my Grandma is on Facebook. What are your thoughts? Do you think that there is a divide between generations?

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