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Chris DeJong, Founder and President of Big Blue Swim School, is a five-time U.S. National Champion swimmer.
Since the pandemic hit, there’s been countless articles about the race for “digital transformation” as companies rush to restructure their business models to meet customers online and support remote work. But there is a second digital transformation of sorts that has begun. As Baby Boomers retire en masse and Gen-X remains ignored, Millennials will step into the C-Suite, marking a transition of power from analog to digital.
While not true “digital natives,” Millennials (of whom I am a part) are very much tech-first people. They went through the internet’s awkward teenage years as teens themselves, watching as screaming dial-up connections turned into always-on broadband and as cell phones went from indestructible bricks to pocket computers that put the desktops of their childhood to shame. Millennials have seen firsthand how powerful and transformative technology can be, and it’s been a strong influence in shaping their views of the world and how they approach its problems.
With that in mind, here are four ways that I predict Millennial perspective on technology will reshape how business is done.
1. They think device-first.
To be successful in business, it’s vital that you meet customers where they are—and today, that’s smartphones. In less than 20 years, these devices have solidified themselves as central tools in our everyday lives. Now they are the primary way that we shop, consume entertainment and even manage finances.
Older generations may have berated Millennials for their tech dependance, but as consumers become more device-centric, a device-first mindset will be key to meeting their expectations and preferences. Companies who don’t approach their customer journey from a phone-first perspective, even if their business isn’t remotely technical, will likely create friction-filled journeys that leave customers frustrated and searching for solutions elsewhere.
2. They see tech as an enhancement, but not a replacement.
I’ve lost count of the number of headlines over the years proclaiming, “In This Many Years, This Technology Will Make This Industry Completely Obsolete.” But so far, aside from a few like Blockbuster, most of them haven’t played out as predicted.
Despite their tech-forward tendencies, my experience has been that digital natives and Millennials have a firm understanding of technology as just a tool, not a magical solution that can turn any business it touches into a goldmine. Millennials saw the implosion of the dotcom bubble as kids and witnessed the rise and fall of many a tech startup in the mid-aughts and early 2010s. Technology has the power to make things faster, easier and more convenient, but it still needs to be built on a solid business model to succeed.
3. They take a data-based approach.
Growing up in an era with constant access to near-limitless data, Millennials have been primed to believe that you can find the answer to almost any question if you can find the right information. And they’ve developed the skills to find it, too. It may sound odd, but years of scrolling through search results, comparing websites and trawling through links to find original sources in order to win an argument with a stranger hold strange parallels with data analysis. So, it should come as no surprise that Millennials found themselves right at home with business data. In my experience, if you can collect and measure something, you can use it to answer questions.
4. They see tech as constantly evolving.
The short shelf life of modern technology is relatively new and goes directly against the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality of nondigital generations. This has resulted in many businesses using computer systems that have gone on well past their last supported update—more commonly known as “legacy tech.”
However, as a digital generation, Millennials hail from the realm of frequent updates and upgrades. To them, these are signs of ongoing progress and the promise of something better. This is why I believe that Millennial leadership will see the tech stack go from a series of stagnant solutions to a set of tools that is constantly evolving.
To stay successful, businesses need leaders who understand the perspectives of their consumers; and in today’s world, those consumers are growing increasingly digital. While the population hasn’t gone full digital native yet, we are quickly approaching that curve. Businesses will need to pivot quickly to adapt to shifting preferences and meet new expectations, and that includes tapping the skills and perspectives of Millennials and other digital natives in the workforce.