Divergent CIO

An innovative, transformative, and digital leader experienced in Technology and Executive Leadership

Where Generation Z Learns About Technology

Generation Z is certainly shaping the change in education, not just in in regards to a greater dependence on technology but also in the way they embrace social learning environments, becoming hands-on and directly involved in the learning process. According to Forbes, they expect on-demand services that are available at any time, with low barriers to access, and are more career-focused earlier on in their college careers than their earlier counterparts. But before we get into the specifics, let's take a few moments to define what Generation Z is. Generation Z, or Gen Z for short, is the generation that comes after Millennials. They were born between 1997 and 2012 and range in age from seven to 22. Check out this cool Pew Research chart that explains all the generations, starting with the Silent Generation from 1928 to 1945.

What's unique for Generation Z is that they were born into a generation where technology has always been around for them. Indeed, they were never not exposed to technology, which has been a part of their lives from the very beginning. The iPhone launched in 2007, a time when the oldest Gen Zers were just 10 years old. By the time they hit their teens, these young Americans were primarily connecting with the web through mobile devices, WiFi and high-bandwidth cellular service. While Millennials saw the emergence of social media, constant connectivity and on-demand entertainment, these innovations evolved over time, which Millennials adapted to as they came of age. Those born after 1996 were ushered into this age as a matter of course.

Growing up in an "always on" technological environment has led to significant changes in youth behaviors, lifestyles and attitudes.

The Learning Process

There's been a dramatic shift in the way in which Generation Z learns. Studies show that today's students don't have any interest in being passive learners. They don't want to sit behind a desk, spew facts back at the teacher, memorize rote definitions for a test, and otherwise take a back seat to their educational journey. Rather, they want -- demand, really -- to be fully engaged in the learning process and become a unique part of it. In fact, these students thrive best when given the opportunity to have a fully immersive educational experience, with one study showing that 51 percent of students say they learn best by doing, whereas just 12 percent say they learn through listening. That majority also says they enjoy class discussions and interactive classroom environments rather than traditional teaching methods.

They have a preference towards engaging in a collaborative learning environment, to be sure, but it's not limited to just in-person interactions. Gen Z is entirely comfortable learning alongside other students outside of the brick and mortar school building as they utilize digital tools such as Zoom, Skype and online forums to participate, connect and engage. This has never been truer than during the current pandemic, where everyone was thrust into a new online world of interactions.

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How a Pandemic is Accelerating Technology Breakthroughs

 

The Silver Lining

The coronavirus pandemic may still be plowing its way through the country, leading to business closures, shut downs and social distance rules, but it's also been the harbinger of technological breakthroughs as people shift the way they function. From AI to remote work tools to workforce shifts, this pandemic is breaking through technology barriers at a break-neck speed. That old proverb has never been truer: "Necessity is the mother of invention." Translation: the driving force for most new inventions is need.   In a time when people were forced into a new normal in a matter of days or weeks, the demand for change brought about some pretty cool breakthroughs in technology. As businesses shuttered and sent their employees home, a new way of thinking was needed -- FAST. Born from this pandemic came an innovation spurred on by tragedy. The technology race has always been there, but its progress has been somewhat slow, until now. Indeed, this accelerated change has restructured workplaces, redefined roles, and instituted rapid learning, all while organizations were being challenged -- and still are -- to embrace a new way of thinking. The rush to virtualize business operations continues as social distance directives have taken the top spot on the best practice list.

 

Coronavirus as an Accelerant

Who would have predicted that COVID-19 would be the catalyst for such business transformation just a few months ago? As companies are forced to adapt to the future of work at an accelerated pace, they're increasingly embracing culture and purpose as they pivot team operations to enable remote working on a grand scale, says Forbes. Fueled by coronavirus, technologies are making breakthroughs at a rapid pace, in a variety of ways -- not just in the virtual conference room.

Online Meetings: As employees vacated their corporate campuses and set up shop at home, they turned to online meeting platforms such as Zoom, Slack, Skype and Google Hangouts to meet up, collaborate, and get work done. After all, the show must go on. 

Virtual events: It's not just business meetings that are taking place virtually, it's events, too -- coordinators of which have never faced such a big challenge before. But they're bringing it all together and it's working. For instance, Mobile World Congress held a one-day digital event, Google Cloud Next became Google Cloud Next '20: Digital Connect, Facebook F8 is all-online, Starbucks is even holding its shareholder meeting completely online for the first time ever, and colleges the country over are holding virtual orientation sessions for incoming freshmen.

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Why Face-to-Face Interaction and Communication are so Important

 

A colleague of mine recently shared an experience she had at her doctor's office. When she walked up to the window to check in, the young receptionist motioned with her finger pointing to the iPad on the counter and said, "please check in here," without taking her eyes off her cell phone. My colleague began asking her a couple of questions about the check-in process and the young gal remained fixated on her cell phone without once making eye contact during the verbal exchange.

Today's generation is socially challenged with the constant distraction of electronic devices and social media dominating our everyday lives. Does the convenience and pervasiveness of technology excuse poor basic human behavior? Certainly not. So how can we be more thoughtful and courteous to those around us?

Critical Social Skills Component

Face-to-face communication is an integral piece of the social skills puzzle. It's time to get back to basics with clear and precise communication -- something that has been lost little by little as technology such as smart phones, texting and email have permeated today's society. There's a lot you can glean from looking someone in the eyes, and a lot that can be missed if you don't. There's a personal connection there that you just can't get over the phone, via text or even FaceTime. It's so personal, in fact, that many of today's young people shy away from such an intimate display of human interaction.

Your clothing, hair accessories, posture and gestures can all convey a deep meaning, but it's your eyes that send messages as well, and failure to maintain solid eye contact with an associate, client or boss can prevent you from building critical business relationships, says Inc. Eye contact cues are subtle, to be sure, but they can make all the difference when trying to read the other party's emotions, from approval to disdain to any other emotion on the spectrum that can't be determined from an email.

A business venture or collaboration, such as negotiating a merger or even asking your boss for a raise, can balance precariously on how you handle a face-to-face conversation. You wouldn't ask for that raise with your face in your phone, and you certainly wouldn't negotiate a big business deal or merger over email. That's why the personal connection is crucial for conducting insightful discussions of mutual interest -- something that was just par for the course before the telephone was even invented, points out ToughNickel. The art of conversation has largely been lost, dragging down our social skills in the process.

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Finding True Digital Transformation

 

Digital transformation in the business world refers to the efforts of companies to keep up with changing environments spurred on by customer demand and technology. Because digital tools and technology are constantly evolving and affecting how people interact with one another, this in turn changes the way in which we conduct business. How you transform your core business processes using digital technology will determine how you can achieve competitive advantage and gain differentiation in your market segment, says Techopedia. It's essentially the third component of how businesses embrace digital technology, following digital competence and digital usage. With an ability to bring on new elements of innovation and creativity, digital transformation goes beyond enhancing and supporting traditional strategies.

What Spurs Change?

On the quest to find true digital transformation, one must understand the drivers that affect this change, namely profitability, customer satisfaction, and increased speed-to-market. There's a general understand that CIOs should be the driving forces implementing this transformation for their businesses, but is this really happening? In reality, it doesn't seem to be that cut and dried. In fact, digital transformation has many motivations and is the responsibility of many people, from top executives to lower-level employees, says CMS Wire.

According to research presented by MediaPost, poor customer experiences caused an estimated $83 billion loss by U.S. companies every year due to defections and abandoned shopping carts. With so many options these days offered by cloud, mobile, Internet of Things, and others, it's easy to lose sight of quality of the data in favor or hyper personalization.

So the question remains: how can companies find true digital transformation with leadership from their CIOs?

Insights

Companies that can harness the power of true digital transformation will enjoy the fruits of their labor by being at the top of the heap in terms of competitive advantage and differentiation. That's what we're all striving for anyway, right? Here are some suggestions:

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Why Wearables Are Important and What To Expect

 

Fitbits...Jawbones...Garmin...Samsung... these are all examples of wearables designed to track our health and activity levels, as well as alert and remind us to do stuff. From smart watches to smart glasses, wearable technology makes up a burgeoning market today: that of IoT (Internet of Things) personal devices. You wear these devices on your body -- most notably your wrist -- to get up to the second updates on everything to do with your health, from heart rate to steps taken.

Wearables represent a critical transformation in the world of technology that is breaking through the barriers of simple computer screens and utilizing technology that you can put on in the morning when you're getting dressed. No cumbersome laptops, no annoying connections to charging cords, and best of all -- they're light weight -- not much heavier than a normal watch. These devices are part of a large money-making opportunity for technology companies, with the sale of wearables slated to increase from 275 million units in 2016 to 477 million units in 2020 -- a $61.7 billion revenue opportunity, according to Gartner.

What to Expect in the Near Future

There are many new types of wearables on the horizon for 2017, ranging from biometric authentication and mobile health monitoring to virtual personal assistants (VPAs) and smart coaching. Here are just a few more examples of what's coming to store shelves in the next two years:

  • Energy-boosting using harvesting
  • Embedded security
  • Conformal electronics
  • Virtual and augmented reality
  • Accurate motion recognition
  • Wearable processors

What Types of Technology to Look For

Because this is such a competitive market, technology providers are looking for ways to stand out. There are many ways they can achieve that in order to boost the user experience and make the most impact in a business sense. One area is in battery life. Right now, this is a concern among wearables users. If battery life can be extended to ensure the user has a superior, hassle-free experience, this could be a game changer in the IoT arena. Another area of improvement is security. With data breaches in the news nearly every day, security is understandably a big concern for users. Decreasing the possibility for confidential data exposure is something many technology provides are implementing in their new devices.

Of course, improvements on design are always an area of focus. Smart watches are the most popular form of wearables right now, but the intention is to move into less obvious forms such as bio patches and electronic skin. As mentioned above, the ability to immerse the user in the technology through augmented reality and virtual reality will also be an important factor. Hand in hand with that is the ability to incorporate object and movement tracking in an effort to boost sensor accuracy.

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How to Create an Innovative Workplace

 

Fostering a culture of innovation begins and ends with an open mind about change. In order to promote an innovative workplace, no matter what the sector, there should be a continual exchange of ideas to result in the right balance for your company. Yes, you need creativity at the forefront of it all, but this isn't something that can be forced. However, positioning your firm to achieve a successful approach to innovation takes a few key motivators, from flexibility in the work environment to hiring team members for a vision that aligns with yours. Let's take a look at some of the best ways to foster an innovative workplace.


Building a Creative Mindset

This all starts from the ground up with the people you decide to bring on board to take this journey with you. The wrong employees can prove to be toxic to your overall vision of creativity, change and flexibility in the work environment. It doesn't mean you have to only hire people who agree with you all the time; it's more than that. You want to encourage different perspectives by hiring people who are passionate about what they do, with the flexibility to spur on productivity without being hampered by rigid thoughts, ideas or scheduling parameters, says Forbes



Here are some tips to achieving that sought-after creativity:

  • Give employees incentives to care and thus share your company vision
  • Involve your employees in the process, listening to their ideas and getting them pumped about a new project, company direction, etc.
  • Brainstorm to help new ideas emerge
  • Broaden perspectives and encourage change through practices like short-term job swaps
  • Encourage trying new things, tweaking them to make them fit, discarding them or embracing them as a result
  • Avoid penalizing those whose ideas don't end up working out
  • Reward and encourage the flow of ideas and new thoughts

 

Does Technology=Innovation?

There's no denying technology is a big piece of the innovation puzzle. After all, how can you expect to compete in today's global market if you're not on board with the latest technology? Innovation often goes hand in hand with technology, but it doesn't have to. In fact, you can be innovative at little or no cost. Innovation, at its very core, is something more than that. Lou Gerstner, former CEO of IBM, put it best in Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance: "In the end, an organization is nothing more than the collective capacity of its people to create value." You can have all the strategy, marketing, technology and financial management skills in the world, and although all those things will help get you on the path to success, it may not necessarily keep you there. Bottom line is, you won't get far if innovation, flexibility, and creativity aren't ingrained in the company's soul.

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