Speaking to the digital natives - Monocolumn | Monocle


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25 November 2009

On Monday and Tuesday this week, senior German managers and politicians gathered in a converted factory in Berlin Tempelhof to listen to and learn from the so-called “digital natives” or Generation Y. These young people, aged between 17 and 29, grew up with the internet, and as they find their way into the corporate world they are expected the change it like none have before. In a project funded by Deutsche Telekom, called Palomar5, 30 carefully picked “digital natives” from all over the world came together here to offer radical new ideas for the workplace. 

They lived and worked together non-stop for six weeks and on Tuesday night they presented their ideas. You have to wonder what the senior Deutsche Telekom staff, the German state secretary of science and technology Almuth Nehring-Venus and the delegation from the economy ministry thought of it all. There was the Dada-Interface, which lets users download information on to pieces of e-paper by simply holding them to a screen – a future version of the printer, perhaps. Then there was the Inspire Bureau, where companies can track youngsters willing to share their knowledge on a central database. Other projects ranged from global ambition – Samara-Network, a satellite-system that provides the entire planet with free internet access – to an oval office meditation chamber called The Egg.

“All projects had to serve a purpose”, says Jonathan Imme, 25, of Palomar5′s team. “Otherwise they would have been art.” Apart from that there were no rules. He strongly believes that the young generation he is part of will demand fundamental changes in its work environment and that companies have to adapt to recruit the brightest heads. “Social entrepeneurship was a huge topic in the team,” he says. “Highly skilled young people are looking for purpose in their jobs.” Other values that came up over and over again, he says, were passion, sustainability, and collaborate sharing of knowledge. Most of the young creative Palomar5 thinkers do not feel that today’s corporate culture is set up for that. 

All this may sound like the feel-good mumbo-jumbo from a bunch of college kids, but the main sponsor Deutsche Telekom paid a substantial sum for such insights. The young thinkers were flown in from India, France, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia and the US and provided with all the technology, experts and materials they needed for their projects. “Telekom wants to understand what makes us tick,” says Imme.

And maybe borrow some product ideas. For all the lofty rhetoric most participants have their eyes firmly on the marketing. “We have already spoken to seed investors and a company that will build the first proper prototype out of biodegradable matter,” boasts Brad Morris, a 25-year-old from Canada, who invented The Egg. Then he closes the door behind us and we sit in the semi-darkness of the The Egg. “I am convinced that meditation fosters positive habits in people,” says Brad. “Do you want my business card?”


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