Digital Natives Vs Corporate BS

(Version française disponible).

One often refers to usages when talking about the advent of the collaborative web. In my opinion, this is an understatement which nurtures misunderstanding. The relationship developed by people with the collaborative web is much more of a culture with principles, values and habits.

In this respect, the Digital Natives has an equally revolutionary DNA, although less spectacular, than the boomer generation.

This Generation Y presents cultural characteristics that cause thorny problems within the organizations, in particular as far as the propagand … erm … internal communication is concerned.

Here we have to deal with knowledge workers : a post-ideological /over-educated /over-informed / born connected generation. In short : a corporate BS proof generation.

Some tips to facilitate the communication …

Knowledge workers

Even if Peter Drucker coined the term back in 1959, the Digital Natives seem to be the first generation to assimilate this concept so naturally.

The result that Drucker mentionned is completely integrated into the psyche of Digital Natives : if as Karl Marx rightly said the workers are alienated in their relationship to their job because they don’t own the means of production, it is not the case for knowledge workers : their production tool is knowledge.

Drucker goes on to explain that this is the reason why the company or organization need more the knowledge worker than the KW needs the organization. This is a radical change in the nature of the company-employee relationship.

Solutions for business communication : eliminate the assumption of subordination in the relationship with the employee to establish a balanced connection, based on mutual exchange.

Post-ideological

This is the biggest difference between this generation and the boomers.

The boomer generation will remain the one of the adolescence of the modern man. A generation that will be remembered more for consuming illegal substances and having fun naked from San Francisco to Paris while proclaiming Guy Debord than for what they actually achieved : building up la Société Du Spectacle.

(Being a nice guy I won’t even mention the Generation X, the generation I belong to and for which the “Generation no-one” would be a more appropriate name, as it remains still and quiet in the shadow of the boomers. But that’s another story.)

Digital Natives left childhood when the Berlin Wall fell and came into adulthood when the twin towers collapsed. Within ten years they witnessed in real time both the end of communism and the end of the belief that democracy + market economy = world peace.

During their studies they’ve seen Maoist China become the main ally of Uncle Sam in a rapidly globalizing world. Finally they entered the job market with the subprime crisis and they saw, live again, the market oracle himself stunned by the insatiable greed of financial business.

So we’re talking about a generation that is genetically immunized against the rhetoric, the great ideologies and the views of the mind.

It’s no surprise that they are post-ideological and fundamentally pragmatic. They only believe into things that work. The only remarkable and undeniable realization that this generation has seen developing while growing up is the Web. This is what they believe in.

Solutions for business communication : Integrity. Align actions and words. And swap pompous values (that sound plastic, as Jason Fried said) with principles that are clear and easy to implement.

Over-educated

If you look at the evolution of university graduates in the OECD over the past 20 years, you’ll see that this number has doubled. It would not be stupid to pretend that human knowledge area has at least doubled as well since the late 80s.

More importantly, with the advent of the web, the volume of information and knowledge that is instantly available has increased in an incommensurable proportion.

This has a direct consequence : the key to survival in the online world is the ability to make sense of the ocean of information available: the ability of synthesis rather than ownership of knowledge ; the ability of being a human synthetizer as David Armano puts it.

Thus, if expertise (mastering a part of knowledge) is the guarantee of job security and recognition for Generation X, it is just wasted effort for the Digital Natives. Knowledge is too vast and changing too fast to be harnessed by one individual. What matters is the ability to navigate this knowledge and to make sense. That’s a key concept discussed by David Weinberger in his essay “The Hyperlinked Organization” in Cluetrain Manifesto.

Solutions for business communication: focus communication strategy on the ability to manage change rather than on the five-year plans that everyone knows they are useless (and GenY openly say so)

Connected and over-informed

Digital Natives = who grew up in a perpetually connected world, alongside the more powerful tool ever built by humanity for sharing knowledge : the web.

A tool they manipulate better than anyone else. A consequence : they have made a habit of verifying the authenticity of any piece of information communicated to them.

For the generation in control (X, Baby Boomers) the truth lies within the company (intranet, emails, official gossips) and should be monitored. For GenY, the truth is on the web : immensely larger and obviously uncontrollable.

In the introduction of his forthcoming book on the subject, Andrew “Mr. Enterprise 2.0 “McAfee tells this story about Wikipedia. Highly doubtful as to our willingness to work peacefully to build knowledge, McAfee went to see the definition of Skinhead, a rather fertile ground to witness the application of Godwin’s Law.

And there he found the more objective, dispassionate and documented description of the word together with its political, musical, cultural, etc … connotations.

With Wikipedia as a constantly evolving bible, this generation has developed an inordinate taste for objective truth and beyond, for conversation and exchange that help to let the truth emerge.

Solutions for business communication: tell it like it is and face reality, even if it has to hurt people. Assertivity is the most effective communication technique for this generation.

Confident, assertive and unhappy

We cannot speak about this generation without mentioning the remarkable essay by Jean Twenge: Generation Me, which explains Why Today’s Young Americans are more confident, assertive, entitled and more miserable than ever.

This, mostly in the United States, is a consequence of the emphasis on self-esteem in education, importance of which has caused terrible damage. This is a generation who were told throughout their education they can do what they want during their careers. The shock when they arrive onto the job market is even tougher.

I don’t know what to recommend here. However, it remains quite important to keep this element in mind during the integration of GenY in the company.

Digital Natives in action

Enough of dry theory : this post will soon team up with another one dedicated to a genuine Digital Natives company in action: the ruthless crew and super sexy 37Signals.

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