I’m perfectly aware that I used VHS tapes and toyed with MS-DOS games in my childhood, but something about those memories doesn’t feel real. After all, I define reality by today’s standards, and the internet has been a core part of my life for so long now that the idea that I once managed with a dial-up connection seems almost farcical. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling that way — the march of digital technology has changed how adults of all ages approach life.
But the biggest impact of this astonishingly-swift leap in technological process doesn’t concern the older generations. It concerns all the young people among us, many of whom were only conceived after the internet had achieved mainstream viability. To them, the internet, social media and smartphones are all everyday fare: foundational parts of culture.
And with the classic lag of large organizations run by remnants of bygone eras in full effect, ensuring that plenty of companies and governments alike remain years behind the times, it falls upon the newest generations to take the digital world to the next level — to start to see its incalculable potential made into reality. Let’s take a look at how they’re doing just that:
They’re investing in programming skills
Governments across the world have been implementing initiatives to get more young people into programming, understanding the dire need for digital skills, plus it’s been clear for students in particular that coding (well, computer science in general) is one of the few safe bets in a turbulent time for employment. Software development may change as AI grows, but the industry isn’t going anywhere — it’s only getting bigger and more important to everyday life.
The knock-on effects for business are clear. As young coders get started on the employment ladder, they look for smarter solutions to established problems. They innovate and look to overhaul structural procedures. Compare that to the typical inclination of older employees to walk the line, partially because they’re not wholly confident in their understanding of how things could be done better.
A prime example: Tanmay Bakshi, a 14-year-old who grew up with coding, starting to learn it when he was just 5. He started his own YouTube channel just two years after that, and has since started informally collaborating with IBM on machine learning. Because he had internet access so young, he was able to soak up knowledge, feedback and resources, pursuing his interests as he wished. We can only imagine how many more young coders are out there, but it won’t be surprising when, in the next decade, a new wave of young digital savants hit the business world.
They’re embracing widespread automation
Efficiency is a core concept of digital transformation. There are numerous elements of human thought that are exceptionally difficult (if not impossible) to replicate through current levels of technology (or even the type of technology likely to be developed in the coming years) — but current machine learning and AI systems are more than capable of dealing with other tasks.
Such tasks encompass repetitive and monotonous work such as sending business emails in bulk, handling HR matters, organizing schedules, backing up systems, dealing with security, designing layouts, templating content, building stores, and even ordering groceries. Young people are far more at ease with using these options to the fullest extent. They’re not burdened by skepticism, or any outdated notions of how a business can or should operate — young demographics from emerging markets are driving change in the employment market.
Look at the rise of the World Robot Olympiad. Starting in 2004, it originally saw just 12 countries participate, but the 2018 instalment saw over 65 countries take part, getting over 70,000 students from across the globe involved. That immense level of growth isn’t only indicative of how important technology education is: it’s also a precursor of a generation ready and able to use advanced technology.
We can also factor in the rise of remote (and flexible) working as something that younger generations desire and may even expect as a standard — not just teens, but millennials in general. Companies that don’t accommodate them will soon enough be leapfrogged by those that do, with workers reluctant to accept their sluggishness. The newest generations know that they have leverage (always having the option of starting and running their own businesses from home) — as a result, they’re ultimately forcing change.
They’re generating proof-of-concept
Why are giant companies and tiny businesses alike so slow to commit to digital transformation? Because it’s a major investment, stretching far beyond a side project. It’s a top-to-bottom update of every last part of a company’s general process and infrastructure. Migrating a website to a new platform is enough of a headache, and this goes far beyond that.
Sure, it all sounds good in principle — less work, faster response times, better security, more scalability — but plenty of good-in-principle projects fall flat in practice, and there’s a common resistance borne of stubbornness and fear of change. Plenty of C-suite managerial types learned how to run a business before the internet was invented. They managed without computers, they might reason — why do they need to change? Why not keep going?
This is where proof-of-concept comes in. With digital transformation still being in its early years (from an objective stance), plenty of holdouts want to keep putting things off, justifying it with a lack of evidence that it’s going to practically benefit them. But young entrepreneurs around the world are doing remarkable things with technology. They’re doing away with old business practices entirely, raising massive funds, and proving the real-world value of analytics — and in the process, they’re eroding the last viable resistance to embracing digital transformation.
Consider how effectively crowdsourcing and crowdfunding are getting ideas off the ground and building businesses without needing traditional investment. Back in 2012, teenage Palmer Luckey’s Kickstarter campaign for the Oculus Rift VR headset raked in almost $2.5m without needing an angel investor, and it went on to be a huge hit despite its unconventional origin. Today, crowdfunding is a mainstream option, making it possible for anyone with an idea to bring it to life if they can convince the online world of its potential.
For another approach, take a look at Benjamin Kapelushnik, a teenager whose online sneaker-selling business has attracted celebrity customers and given him an income of over a million dollars per year. He didn’t need to go through traditional channels to achieve that success. He built an online store, forgoing regular retail partnerships, and hit it big using Snapchat as a promotional platform. Anyone anywhere in the world can turn to social media for marketing — it’s the great equalizer.
Given enough time, digital transformation is an inevitability, but older generations are (understandably) prone to sticking with what they know. As such, the onus falls upon young people to show what can be done with a forward-thinking business model, and that’s exactly what they’re doing on a global level.
Kayleigh Alexandra is a senior writer at Micro Startups, a site all about solopreneurs, startups, and small businesses. We love spreading the good word about hard-working entrepreneurs from around the world. Check out our blog for the latest marketing insights from top experts and inspiring startup stories @getmicrostarted.
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