The Digital Natives are Eating My Norms!

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Eight years ago we bought our first flat-screen television. About a month after this purchase my eight year old boldly told me that we needed another one downstairs. I regressed into classic father-mode and said, “Are you kidding me! When I was your age, I remember getting our first color TV”. He looked at me blankly and asked, “What color was it?”

I’m getting to the age where I’m starting to acknowledge that I’m different. I have children who don’t comprehend black-and-white television. Last night’s 16 year old American Idol performer sang a classic Bryan Adams song that she “had never heard before”. My daughter recently pointed out a nondescript young lady buying a hot dog at an Orange County fair and whispered, “she has over a million subscribers on her You-Tube channel.”

As Bob Dylan was crooned, “the times, they are a changing…”.

Much of this shift is rooted in the rapid technological change we have undergone in the past 30 years. The terms digital natives and digital immigrants are used to describe the mindsets differences such as the ones noted above. Digital natives are the generation of people Digital Immigrant Storyborn during or after the rise of digital technologies Conversely, digital immigrants are people born before the advent of digital technology (DeGraff). I am clearly an immigrant with native children who believe ubiquitous WiFi is a birthright!

As a result of our different histories, digital natives and immigrants have  different cultural norms. The environments they were raised in provide each with a different worldview. At times this causes us to clash. However, we can each benefit by learning from the advantages that each style brings.

Degraff outlines some helpful things that digital natives can teach digital immigrants:

  • To collaborate across boundaries, with a variety of people.
  • To make a place in life for values.
  • To build solutions that are horizontal.

In turn, digital immigrants can teach digital natives:

  • To achieve goals quickly.
  • To use focused resources in building things to scale.
  • To revitalize or repurpose existing institutions.

No matter which side of this spectrum you are on, you need to learn how to deal with others who think differently than you do. I believe that we can respond to these differences with one of the following strategies:

  1. We resist and pretend we don’t need to change.
  2. We duck ask the other person to change.
  3. We change.

Personally, I am a strong advocate of number 3 despite the fact that it means I have to pay attention to things like Nintendo, the Coachella festival and those quirky hipsters.

I recently read an educator who was speaking about the future of on-line learning. He noted, “I can hardly wait until we have on-line classes courses taught by millennials”. He understands that digital natives are going to transform our world in positive ways. Hopefully, both digital natives and immigrants will continue to transform the way we work. Are you willing to change?

Head ShotJeff Suderman is a thought leader and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their Future-Readiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman


Chris Mark (Feb. 18, 2015). Design for Millennials.

Jeff DeGraff (June 16, 2014). Digital natives vs. digital immigrants.


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