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Is There a Generation Gap in Innovation?

Jun 27, 2014
Satyamoorthy Kabilan
Director
National Security and Strategic Foresight

One of the emerging challenges we face in the modern workplace is the rapidly evolving technology landscape we have to deal with in our jobs. During The Conference Board of Canada’s Council for Innovation and Commercialization (CIC) meeting on May 21 and 22 in Ottawa, the gap in technology adoption between younger and older workers in an organization came up as a discussion topic.

Younger workers, particularly those who are digital natives and have grown up with the Internet, are very comfortable with new technology and the pace it evolves at. A number of participants commented on how quickly they adapt and how willing they are to try new technology and new approaches to their work. Adopting new technology can certainly help to drive productivity, especially in SMEs. New technology adoption is also a key ingredient in driving innovation.

By using and experimenting with new technology, we can explore the full potential of the technology and develop new applications. The power of innovation is in filling unmet needs or in significantly improving how a need is met. It may not always be obvious how a new technology can do this. As such, early adoption and experimentation can lead to novel applications. So, younger workers who easily adopt and experiment with new technologies could be very important in helping organizations to drive innovation.

Where would that leave older workers or those who may be less comfortable with the rapid adoption of new technology? While experimenting with new technology is important, it is also crucial to understand your potential market and where unmet needs may exist. In most of the developed world, we are faced with a rapidly aging population. Those who would best understand the needs of this expanding market would be the ones within the aging demographic—older workers in an organization.

It seems that we may have an emerging situation where there are elements of innovation that could be contributed by workers within different age groups within an organization. While a younger generation of workers might be happy to experiment with new technology, an older generation of workers would be the ones with an understanding of the unmet needs in a rapidly aging population. The challenge for organizations going forward is to integrate this combination of experimentation and market knowledge, drawing on the contributions of both older and younger workers, to drive successful innovation.


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