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Get ready: A 13-year-old may be your next intern. In an effort to be better organized during the school year, 13-year-old Ozair Patel built an app, called Berry Schoolmate, named after Berry Middle School in Hoover, Ala., where he attends.
The app includes the school calendar so students can find out what days they have off, and an interface to allow students to email their teachers from an iPod or iPhone. After getting rave reviews from students and teachers, the school district’s chief technology officer invited Patel to make apps for other schools in the district.
Stories like this, along with headlines that the iPad is the No. 1 gift choice of 6- to 12-year olds (yes, you read that right!), cause us to wonder: How will members of the class of 2030 impact the demands for collaboration and immediacy in the workplace?
Matthew Landes, staff instructional designer at Google, doesn’t worry so much about trying to make everyone else work and learn like millennials.
“There are a lot of emerging social technologies,” says Landes. “I assume a 14-year-old somewhere is building a disruptive technology that will (again) change everything. I’m more concerned about how multiple generations of workers will recognize and leverage their diverse strengths, talents and experience in the workplace. Nurturing and amplifying this talent ecosystem will be key to staying competitive over the long term.”
The case of Patel and Landes’ challenge to develop and apply each generation’s strengths offer several insights for all of us to consider as we prepare for 2012:
- Just as it wasn’t Patel’s “job” to create apps for his school, many employees have untapped talents that aren’t officially part of their jobs. How do we recognize these so employees can contribute their strengths and talents at work and be celebrated for them?
- Patel is not the only 13-year old with app-development skills. There are many like him now, and more and more to come behind him. As people like Patel enter the workplace, organizations will be filled with a cadre of app developers — who have new skills in not only sensing what needs to be improved but the personal skills to transform those problems through technology, apps and who-knows-what-else that has not yet even been imagined.
- Patel is learning how to be an entrepreneur by applying his strengths. This is a necessary skill not only for starting new businesses, but for implementing open innovation inside of big companies. Open innovation requires cultivating creative mindsets and entrepreneurial skills in everyone. Employees need to become “intrapreneurs,” where they learn how to identify new opportunities, develop new ideas and create new products, services and processes.
- Patel didn’t create this app because he was commissioned for pay (though he will make some money on it). He did it because it was fun to do, it was challenging and he was good at it. Money is nice, but it isn’t a primary motivator for creative work — whether you are 13 or 63. If we want to motivate people to do creative work and produce innovative outcomes, we need to create environments where people can contribute and engage in what they do best.
What lessons do you take from Ozair Patel? How are you recognizing and leveraging multiple generations of workers and their diverse strengths, talents and experience in the workplace? Share your comments here.
Jeanne Meister and Steve Dahlberg
Jeanne C. Meister is co-author of The 2020 Workplace: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop & Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today (Harper Business, 2010) and co-host of the Social Learning Boot Camp. Jeanne is an internationally recognized workplace-learning consultant dedicated to delivering competitive advantage, innovation and improved business results for organizations. She was most recently vice president of Accenture Learning. Steven Dahlberg is partner and vice president of innovation for Future Workplace and co-host of the Social Learning Boot Camp. He collaborates across sectors to assist organizations in developing and applying creativity, innovation and learning. He co-hosts the Creativity in Play radio show, authored the foreword to Education is Everybody’s Business, and has written for Training magazine. Steven serves on the board of the National Creativity Network and has taught "Creativity + Social Change" at the University of Connecticut.