The [digital] natives are restless

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The [digital] natives are restless

[Blog post] And not interested in what you and I call a 'career'.

When I am considering how the future workforce at Fortescue Metals wants to engage with digital capability, my compass is my own "digital natives" - my kids.

Being 21 and 19 respectively, their lives have been encapsulated by ever increasing digital capability.

This capability now permeates their lives to such an extent that any interruption is equivalent to a limb amputation.

These digital natives don't have a "Plan B".  There is no fallback, there is no "analogue".  This is how they live their personal lives and this is how they want to live their business lives.

And there is no line between the two. Their dependence hinges on the belief that what we have created is utility. Why do we need an alternative, they would ask, when an alternative is just another device or capability?

I think back to my early years in technology, and try and draw some correlation. Nope, nothing. And that's the way it should be. 

My 30-year lens is not what we should be using to understand what our digital natives need and desire. And this applies to their careers.

A recent study undertaken by a top HR firm asked these natives about their career aspirations and expectations, and the results were interesting. Basically, they don't want a career. They want an “experience.

How does the establishment deal with that? Back when we were students, we were told to focus and plan in a way that could predetermine our lives ahead several decades.

When did we become constrained by such thinking? More importantly, why would our digital natives choose to subscribe to this thinking?

Guess what? They don't.

They live in a time of perpetual change, and it feels fine to them. There is no anxiety, no stress, no urgency. Wow, I wish I had felt that way at 21.

The premise of "experience" is based on the idea that working is something that is enjoyable, valuable and makes a difference to them and to society. It’s not about money.

Well, blow me over with a feather! Maybe that's why I can't get my kids to articulate their future!

And this is a lesson for those of us who think that we know what people want. We don’t know and we shouldn’t assume we do. 

Observing the behaviour of my children has led to changes in my strategy, thinking, understanding and execution of delivering digital capability.

Build for change

So what have I actually learned? Here’s what I have got so far -

  • It’s not about technology. They use tech, they like tech, but it is a utility. It's like air. If tech fails them, they move on. Quickly.
  • It’s about usability. If it’s not intuitive, it’s gone. Next please!  
  • It’s about availability. There is no “business” hours. It’s either on, or it’s not working. Make it reliable, make it available.
  • It’s about connectedness. Can’t get connectivity? Kill me now. And I’m not talking about losing an hour or so, I am talking about minutes.
  • It’s about people. While we think that communication is limited to text, Snapchat and such, it’s actually personal. The networks formed are far wider than anything we have ever thought, and just because they don’t call, doesn’t mean they don’t “talk”.

It's an interesting list, isn’t it. Isn’t this list exactly about what we should focus on when creating and delivering digital capability? 

I think it is.

So let’s create the experience. Let's create the capability that drives productivity, connectedness, and collaboration. These things are good for all of us, and we should be heeding what our digital natives are demonstrating and expecting.

Finally, let’s not build to last, let’s build for change. 

Vito Forte has chosen to forgo payment for this column and has instead made a donation to beyondblue, a charity dedicated to reducing the impact of anxiety and depression on individuals, families and carers.

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Vito Forte
As CIO of Fortescue Metals Group, Vito Forte leads the IT department to keep pace with the company’s rapid growth and expansion. Vito is an award winning IT executive who has many years of experience in mining and capital works projects. He shares his views on driving the digital value process.
Read more from this blog: Change agent

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