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Will Millennials or Digital Natives Change Business?

I am a firm believer in the positive impact that the next generation (the so-called Millennials or Digital Natives) are having /will have on many aspects of business and society.  Leaving aside for a moment whether you believe the time your son or daughter (or for that matter, employee) spends on Facebook is useful or educational, social networking, Web2.0, and yes, even gaming is valuable to business.   Already, companies that leverage these technologies effectively have become more connected, responsive, relevant, and ultimately, successful.

However, we shouldn’t get too enamored by the vision of all of these cute, bright, articulate 4 and 8 year olds in Microsoft’s new “I’m a PC” commercial (cuter and possibly, even brighter than Gates and Seinfeld), and mistake “cut-e and paste” for content and execution.  Content matters and it’s still hard.  This came home last week in the form of an English assignment for group of students including my daughter (my “digital native” lab rat).  A 35+ page, period-piece magazine complete with features, artwork, letters, ads was an impressive assignment (on top of all other work assigned spanning works from “A Tale of Two Cities” to “Black Boy”) even for an Honor’s English class (no bragging intended).   And for those of us who can still spell Britannica, the difference between what can be produced now by a 14 year old versus what we could do is like comparing an iPod to that crystal radio in Popular Science.

As I saw drafts of the document being developed, I noted design, layout, ads, graphics and pictures were first rate (in fact amazing).  However, it rapidly became apparent that the challenge and most likely differentiation would be around the content (Tweets aren’t consistent with 1,000 word minimums), sourcing and referencing (when was the last time you did that in your PowerPoint) and absolute necessity for consistency of tone/voice in each article.  Can you spell “GRAMMAR and PUNCTUATION?”  (WORD’s spell check and thesaurus won’t save you from the RED pen of a 50 something, published English honors teacher who also has software that can scan complex documents for plagiarism and originality against the entire WWW).   You might think that with all the time kids spend on video games, IM, Facebook et al, that every one of them could type better than Smith and Corona together.   Let me just say that those 25 tweets a day are not great training ground for writing an original three page article. 

Luckily, some things haven’t changed and if you’re smart and choose the right team (remember that important collaboration thing), you can find the right resource with the skill you need, just when you need it.  In this case it was my daughter who, out of all her friends who seem to live on IM, was the only one who could touch-type and thus was also elected to do all of the final edits and content.  (Ok, now I’m bragging)  I guess the point is, while we can’t ignore the value that social networking and what ubiquitous technology will drive in productivity, like almost anything it is only one part of the equation.  Undoubtedly as “DN’s” enter the workforce, they will greatly influence business and the workplace in the same way they have already influenced retail and media.   At the same time, we can’t be presumptive that the benefits and skills they bring will be across the board.   “I’m a PC” is a compelling message for a 4 year old today, but as a twenty something wanting to differentiate when competing for a job or promotion, that tweet is only the beginning.

Posted by John Hiraoka, Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer, Epicor

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