The legend of the digital native


January 2015, article published in El Periódico de Catalunya

The legend of the digital native

Today I got a call from an executive at a well-known multinational. I gave a conference to the committee of this company recently and they were so impacted by the figure of the digital native that they have decided to hire one for each of their directors. The objective? To shadow the director and explain to them what it is that a digital native does. For this task, they pictured a young guy (15/25 maximum) who, due to his high use of digital media, could help them understand and familiarize themselves more with such media.

I love the idea, the interest, and the commitment of this company. Their curiosity and attitude for improvement will bring them advantages. They will sell more and better. There’s just one thing: I fear there has been some confusion regarding the idea that putting a digitally-capable young person (I stress young) with their top people will transform their team into digital experts.

As much as we talk about digital natives these days, they don’t exist. Let’s break it down. Like witches, technically they may exist but it’s not a category that one belongs to automatically because of birth year, or that bestows per se extraordinary knowledge in digital territory.

Let me see if I can explain myself. I’ve been giving classes and conferences to management teams (professionals between 30 and 50 years old, approximately) on the topic of digital. The participants and students vary in age, nationality, and experience. Occasionally I have university students, young people, around 20 years old. And if I’m being honest, I don’t see big differences between them and the others in their level of familiarity with the opportunities that digital offers to companies or in their understanding of the business models. That is, their usage may be greater, and in fact it usually is, among the younger set. But it’s a stretch to say that just because they are younger they know how to take better advantage of digital. This would be like saying that because someone watches lots of television they will know how to use this media for commercial purposes. Without a doubt, it may give you an advantage but it won’t make you an expert.

So, just like there are thirty-somethings or forty-somethings who have a high knowledge of how to manage the different tools available in digital, there are also those in their twenties, not to mention the younger set, that have an unrealistic idea of how best to use these tools.

I recommend a book called “It’s complicated” by Danah Boyd (it’s for sale on Amazon but it’s also available free on her website) in which, after interviewing dozens of adolescents, she arrives at the same conclusion.

So if you see a digital native, don’t think that just pairing up with them will solve your electronic commerce or online marketing problems. My advice: as with any business activity, be professional.

Define a problem, propose an objective, and then look for an integral solution, which can include a digital native (young or not)….among other things.


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