Soapbox: The Web Savvy Generation


Published in: Financial Times

Author: Benjamin Ola. Akande

In his book, How Will Millennials Manage?, Professor James Heskett of Harvard Business School says leaders of the future must be able to embrace change. No problem: born between 1982 and 2000, 115m iPoders are waiting in the wings and fast-paced change is what they are all about.

Who are these iPoders? They are a growing population that is internet-savvy, phone-addicted, opportunistic and digitally conscious.

The iPoders have extra limbs to accommodate an iPod, BlackBerry and laptop. This iGeneration is the first raised exclusively on computers. They move at breakneck speed, texting, e-mailing and twittering. Technology is their oxygen.

From the horrors of September 11, 2001 to the limitless possibilities of digital technology, the iGeneration has seen the worst and best the world has to offer. An added burden is that they have become the post-great- recession generation.

So what will the future look like with iPoders at the helm? It will be a future of innovative doers, who value independent thought. To stay relevant, organisations must successfully recruit and retain them. Andrea Hershatter, associate dean at Goizueta Business School, Emory University, says of iPoders: "They don't feel entitled because they are special. They just want to have those who are closest to them support their quest to achieve and accomplish meaningful goals."

The iPoders want things to move at a pace that is incomprehensible to the baby boom generation.

The greatest challenge for iPoders is discovering that wisdom cannot be attained from behind a laptop or from an iPhone. They want a world without limitation: wireless access any time and anywhere. While they form and sustain their social and, some day, business connections, technology is their one true, constant companion. My advice to iPoders is to seek what Professor Dorothy Leonard of Harvard calls "deep smart" – achieved by learning from other people's mistakes, seeking wisdom from others and, if I may add, embracing the traditional mode of learning in the classroom.

An iPoder's rule of thumb is: "Don't ask until you've Googled" – and they see technology as a way to answer all life's questions, as well as to meet people and stay connected with friends. Trust does not need to be developed face to face. For a generation that uses the internet to buy everything from cars to diapers, trust can be nurtured through social networks and e-mails.

I recently asked some students: "What should business schools do to engage iPoders? Their responses were pointed. The iPoders want schools to recruit young faculty who are practitioners in their fields. They are concerned about being competitive in a tight marketplace and question the value of faculty with little or no corporate experience. They question the readiness of such faculty for the corporate world when their academic preparation has been based on strategies learnt in the classroom that may not be relevant in today�s financial environment.

The iPoders want business schools to introduce delivery methods that use blogs, social networking sites and texting. They predict that the future belongs to those schools that transform themselves by operating in the internet-driven space.

Organisations that harness the iPoder's understanding and appreciation of technology, recognising innovation long before it arrives on the scene, will be the destinations of choice. The organisations that iPoders will be attracted to are the ones savvy enough to welcome emerging trends, bold enough to change long before they have to and smart enough to recognise technology as the currency of the future.

The iPoders know the economic climate offers opportunities enabling them to emerge from today's crisis empowered and ready to transform the future. They are determined to learn from the failures of the previous generation but do not want to waste time doing it. Their sense of constructive impatience gives us hope for our future.

Benjamin Ola Akande is dean of the School of Business and Technology, Webster University