THE LAST WORD: March of the Digital native

This is the new generation of digital natives that will grow up and become consumers of the information and marketing materials, but will define the time, place and medium of their choosing

Ganesh with his millennial tech guru, Vaidehi Rege

Many folks reading this column would have seen the video of a proud parent bringing a home a picture book for his two-year-old child. After a quick flip through of the book, the child puts two fingers on an attractive flower and tries to enlarge it. Intuitively realizing that this is not the digital picture she is used to, her attention wanders away from the book and she reaches out for her dad’s phone, no doubt to amuse herself with her favorite game.

This is the new generation of digital natives that will grow up and become consumers of the information and marketing materials that we would like to push out at them. And this is the generation which will instinctively resist any form of pushed messaging and instead consume information, services and products at a time and place and medium of their choosing. When digital transformation consultants use terms like “design thinking” and “mapping future customer journeys” they are not trying to confuse but rather opening the minds of CXOs of companies who have at best become recent digital immigrants to the new product surfing, purchasing and consumption patterns of the future consumer.

A couple of months ago, a good friend who runs a fairly significant Business Process Management company in the US, Europe and India requested me to run a series of digital thinking workshops for his key managers in different locations. One fact that immediately struck me after completing the series was the homogeneity of understanding of the digital world and its amazing possibilities by all the millennials, albeit with some differences in the aspiration levels of Gen Y and Gen Z youth. And the speed at which emerging phenomena like the “Me Too” movement or the Gig economy get transmitted across the world through WhatsApp, twitter and Facebook and become part of mainstream thinking and discussion. This is also giving older people an understanding of the issues and expectations of the day that will drive the behavior of young folk in their families and organizations and woe betide the anachronistic parent, uncle or boss who chooses to ignore what the young folk are thinking. Patience levels with old fogies who “don’t get it” can be precious thin in these times.

This point of alacrity and empathy in the understanding of modern- day realities by people of an earlier generation reminds me of a time over a decade ago when we had a discussion with legendary actor and film maker Amol Palekar on the topic of relationships and our liking for his movie “Anahat”, a masterpiece on the dilemma of an impotent king and his bride essayed brilliantly by Anant Nag and Sonali Bendre. One thing led to another and we were co-funding a new movie of his, written by Sandhya Gokhale called “Thaang” in Marathi and simultaneously shot as “Quest” in English. The story of the movie begins quite dramatically with the protagonist, a young executive played by Mrinal Kulkarni taking an earlier flight back from a business meeting and walking into her own home to barge into a scene of her husband in a relationship with a male friend. The movie explores the nuances of trauma, feelings and relationship transitions that ensues as she deals with her husband, her child and her family while battling with her own emotions and understanding of this totally unexpected situation.

The march of the digital native has begun-let us get prepared for new surprises coming at us at a never before pace

The movie itself met with two types of responses. Quest received that year’s National Award for best English movie but both Quest and Thaang sank without a trace at the box office, with the theme being probably just a little too shocking for an unsuspecting audience to absorb and appreciate. If it had come today after the much publicized approval of the LGBT bill, the movie would probably be held up as a champion of free thinking and action. Time for a repeat release, Amol? More important, has open discussion on so many topics on social media made it easier for us to receive and internalize new ideas even if they are contrary to our notions and past preferences?

The friend who asked me to engage with his young team has still not agreed to my suggestion to do the same workshop for his top management team, fearing perhaps that some of the ideas may be too heretical for their unprepared minds, but there is no ignoring the fact that with both our employee bases and our customer bases moving towards the digital consumption option, we can ignore digital realities only at our own peril. Digital transformation in organizations is a matter of board room discussion for service providers as well as organizations searching for new business to consumer and business to business engagement mechanisms for customer acquisition, supply chain optimization or employee engagement and the emergence of new tools like artificial intelligence, machine learning, predictive and prescriptive analytics is making it imperative for all of us to understand, explore new frontiers and engage.

The march of the digital native has begun. Whether we are part of that description or have to deal with them at home or work, let us get prepared for new surprises coming at us at a never before pace!

Ganesh Natarajan