The term ‘digital native’ was originated in 2001 by researcher Marc Prensky to describe people who were born after 1980 and that have grown up never knowing a way of life other than one that is mediated by networked digital technologies. 'Digital immigrants' of-course, are those people that may be quite sophisticated in their use of such technologies but who grew up in an analog world and so their experience is typically characterised by less familiarity with the digital environment.
It's certainly not a perfect analogy but in a similar vein I rather like the idea of the 'digital native organisation' as a way to describe businesses that have grown up in, and been very much shaped by, a digitally empowered world. Businesses whose view on the world is not tainted by legacy technologies, thinking, culture, strategies, or approaches but whose start point is one where digital 'thinking' is not separate or complimentary, but elemental to everything they do.
Whilst some organisations have proved to be very adept at transforming for the radically different environment in which they find themselves, this distinction is an important one since just about every area of every business (including customer interactions and expectations, operational efficiency and productivity, marketing and communications, sales, logistics and distribution) has been significantly changed by the impact of digital technologies.
The digital native organisation may have originated from the technology sector, but there now exists multiple examples across the widest range of industries from retail to logistics to marketing to automotive. Yet what they hold in common is an approach that is not just informed by digital, but has digital at it’s heart. An approach that takes a different start point to legacy ways of seeing the world and the competitive markets in which they operate. One that takes an often contrasting approach to traditional ways of solving problems, and likely embraces an organisational culture that doesn’t just look different from the outside, but feels different from the inside.
In the same way as people’s early experience helps shape them for the rest of their lives, so companies that are digital immigrants have to unravel a lot of outmoded assumptions, ways of doing things, and organisational habits in order to rebuild to become not only native speakers in the digital world, but native do-ers. So it's important to talk about digital transformation rather than digital adaptation because the change required impacts how things get done, how people work, the way in which the company is structured, and how people feel when they walk through the door. In other words the very fabric of how they operate, behave and do business.
I think that there are many lessons that traditional or incumbent organisations can draw from digital-native companies that can help them on that journey of transformation. These are the kind of lessons that I'm seeking to distill in the book that I'm writing.