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It’s probably safe to say as long as man has been walking upright, younger generations have been pushing established boundaries.  That’s just what kids do.  So why then do we seem so puzzled by Millennials?  What makes them seem so different?  Why have corporations spent so much time and effort trying to understand how to attract and keep Millennials as both customers and employees?

 Though Marc Prensky’s article was written in 2001 and is focused on education, his findings and conclusions give an interesting and eye-opening explanation to these questions, and they also provide insights that could benefit business leaders today.

Here’s what Prensky says:

“Today’s students have not just changed incrementally from those of the past, nor simply changed their slang, clothes, body adornments, or styles, as has happened between generations previously.  A really big discontinuity has taken place.  One might even call it a “singularity” – an event which changes things so fundamentally that there is absolutely no going back.  This so-called “singularity” is the arrival and rapid dissemination of digital technology in the last decades of the 20th century.

” Today’s students – K through college – represent the first generations to grow up with this new technology.  They have spent their entire lives surrounded by and using computers, videogames, digital music players, video cams, cell phones, and all the other toys and tools of the digital age.  Today’s average college grads have spent less than 5,000 hours of their lives reading, but over 10,000 hours playing video games (not to mention 20,000 hours watching TV).  Computer games, email, the Internet, cell phones and instant messaging are integral parts of their lives.

“It is now clear that as a result of this ubiquitous environment and the sheer volume of their interaction with it, today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors…‘Different kinds of experiences lead to different brain structures,’ says Dr. Bruce D. Perry of Baylor College of Medicine…It is very likely that our students’ brains have physically changed – and are different from ours – as a result of how they grew up.  But whether or not this is literally true, we can say with certainty that their thinking patterns have changed…”

Prensky calls these “new” students “Digital Natives.”  And the rest of us “who were not born into the digital world?”  Digital Immigrants.

Through stories and examples, Prensky helps us understand some of the differences in how Digital Natives think and learn as compared to how Digital Immigrants think and learn.  The differences are real and striking and help to explain the potential disconnect between Millennials (Digital Natives) and the rest of the workforce (Digital Immigrants).

So what should happen?  Should the Digital Native students learn the old ways, or should their Digital Immigrant educators learn the new?  Unfortunately, no matter how much the Immigrants may wish it, it is highly unlikely the Digital Natives will go backwards. In the first place, it may be impossible – their brains may already be different.  It also flies in the face of everything we know about cultural migration.  Kids born into any new culture learn the new language easily, and forcefully resist using the old.  Smart adult immigrants accept that they don’t know about their new world and take advantage of their kids to help them learn and integrate.  Not-so-smart (or not-so-flexible) immigrants spend most of their time grousing about how good things were in the ‘old country.’

Prensky concludes, “So if Digital Immigrant educators really want to reach Digital Natives – i.e. all their students – they will have to change.”

Is the same true for business and business leaders?  What changes, if any, will business need to make to ensure that new generations connect, engage and contribute?

Contact us and we can help you better understand how to ensure your company’s environment works for all your employees.