Competing with On-Line

Kids are exposed to the vast and unconstrained world of on-line from an early age, finding it harder and harder to want to spend time in the real-world, as it just does not stack up. You can see this perhaps most acutely in school, where the day to day drudgery of learning seems very much to take a seat — way back, from the joys of being on-line. It’s almost hard to defend what the real-world has to offer, given how much effort you typically have to put into it, to find something joyous to experience. The kids have it easy, turn on the computer (if it ever goes off) and within a minute they can be lost in some game or chat group or visual experience that allows them to turn off the majority of their mind.

I was watching a video by an educational researcher who was specifically pointing out how hard it is for boys to excel at school compared to girls, given how hard most school standards seem to be trying to push down boy’ish behavior — be a boy, do boy things at school, and you will most likely be labelled in some way if not ultimately expelled. Ok, maybe it’s not that bad for the general population, but by in large i think there is something emerging here that can be blamed on our increasingly on-line culture.

I like the notion of being connected, of being able to reach people anywhere, anytime — but it does not diminish my desire to do real things with real people. Yet, kids, my kids included, seem much happier to spend endless hours experiencing their lives through a 2-D screen image, mouse and keyboard. Endless hours. Fitting in their social lives, school, honing interpersonal skills, learning new experiences, all seems secondary.

The up and coming workforce will not be like those currently employed. I would argue, that in the last 5-years or so, the nature of on-line has changed dramatically that the next generation, say those younger than about 15 or 16, will not accept the typical job environment that is prevalent today.

  1. Going to an office each day will be a big chore — so being able to work at home is going to be extremely important. Although technology is already fully in place to make this feasible for many people, the self-discipline to actually get work done won’t be there with this next generation.
  2. Maintaining a scheduled work day — not happening. Work will get done when all the on-line socializing and activity is done. Given how endless it can be, it’s not clear that the next generation will have any chance to succeed in their first few jobs. The reality of being fired, not having money to pay cell phone and internet bills will be the only relevant pressure to get work done. The disciplines are not there, not the ability to regulate the home work environment.
  3. Staying off-line at the office during the work day — not happening. Everything is real-time, it needs to be real-time in order for it to be real. That’s probably the key — being on-line is like being plugged into the world, if you are not on-line now, responding to all txt mesages, twittering, facebook posts, email, etc — you’re not connecting to the planet.

How to you build a competitive company with this demographic — i suppose if the business is directly on-line, you can align the two rhythms appropriately — if it’s your average mundane business, no chance. I feel sorry for that generation, but what are the solutions? I’m trying to think of a few — here is what I have so far:

  1. Keep it out of the closet. Don’t force team members to hide their on-line activity. Perhaps create a social media room where people can come and go to idle time on-line. It would need to have some form of time-limit presumably, but at least everyone is acknowledging what they are doing. It’s a fix — they need a daily, perhaps hourly fix. This way you can turn down what they can do from their desks.
  2. Set many interim milestones on all projects. This is the only way to know if progress is being made. It will be easy for someone to push work towards the deadline — as long as there is a few minutes left, they will think it can be done. Don’t allow that — measure and reward many times throughout a project — even small ones.
  3. Get on-board with the program — don’t be a social neophyte leader, be online with the team, show them you understand what is happening around them and that you can be part of it. Have them show you how if need be. Try to integrate some company activity with on-line platforms — they will want to be on-line and do company work at the same time — that’s probably the real secret.

One last thing — everything is on-line, all knowledge is essentially on-line nowadays. If you are running a technology business, make sure the team understands the difference between stealing on-line ideas and learning from on-line ideas. It will come back to bite you if the foundation of your business is a youtube video or post on a discussion chat room.

I don’t want to compete for the attention of my kids with something i can’t stop — i want my kids to want to be part of a family that thrives on experiencing the real world.  I don’t want my next company to have a team of incapable achievers because they don’t understand how to get a job done.

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