For as long as I can recall, two ideas have been a part of my life. I’d spend hours as a child building whatever I could imagine from my bucket of Legos. And my earliest working desires, ignoring my 6-year-old obsession with being a bus driver, was to teach. Sadly, the academic world and I weren’t well suited, and instead, via a long and winding road, I found myself studying a vocational computing course.
Fast forward nearly 30 years, and well over 50,000 hours in IT and software R&D has seen my innovation and educational itches well and truly scratched with time spent as a trainer and mentor. So, at the age of 50, I thought my previous experiences marked the zenith of my educational career, and in truth, I was happy with that.
How I got to guest lecture at a university
But recently, thanks to the team at Glecture, I had an extraordinary opportunity to take it all to the next level, lecturing at Sydney University as part of the internationally recognized Masters of Management program. Invitations of this type don’t come along every day, week, month, or year for that matter, so I was quick to jump at the chance.
Bridging generation gaps
Of course, nothing is ever entirely free, and I had to earn my spot, so I rolled out the best pitch I could with the most interesting title I could muster and did my best to sell the idea that “Human-centricity will make you millions.” I was working on the basis that the next generation of business leaders drawn from Australia, Asia, and Europe wouldn’t really want to hear anyone talk about IT as such, so I made it about the profit they could make if they got their technology right and put the needs of people at the center of their decision making.
This approach hit the mark, and so with just a little trepidation, I found myself standing in front of 35 members of Generation Z, each armed with more computing power in their phones and laptops than was available in all the computers combined at the insurance company where I started work in 1991.
Course tutor Gracie Yang asked that I include a practical segment to help the group think through the new ideas they’d been given in my talk. So, I produced three simple case studies of businesses that had disrupted their markets and asked them to work in their groups for a few minutes and think about what each company had done that made a difference.
While they were cogitating and ruminating, I went from table to table, talking with them about their ideas and insights, and it was during this process that I was struck by something that, perhaps a little naively, I hadn’t considered when I was preparing my slides and the exercises. While I was there to help them understand my ideas and experience, I hadn’t considered for a moment that I would also learn from them. But of course, I did.
I’ve had minimal exposure to Generation Z beyond my soon-to-be teenage daughter and her friends, so to be able to talk to them about their perspective on technology was both invaluable and utterly delightful. They are the first generation to grow up completely immersed in the technological revolution. They are the internet generation, and they barely recall a time when phones weren’t smart, and knowledge wasn’t freely available almost everywhere.
Understanding how experiences impact others
We grew up in a world that was far more insular than today. Since then, we’ve fashioned an environment that has allowed our children to connect and communicate so freely, and the result is that they view the world through their own distinct lens, and we have much to learn from them.
They’re tolerant of others. They endorse equality. They care for the environment, and at their core, they want nothing more than a better world tomorrow for everyone. And that, for someone who advocates for human-centricity and improving the human experience, is the most wonderful of lessons to have learned.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time guest lecturing. It was soul food of the highest order, and I recommend it to anyone with a story to tell and knowledge, experience, and wisdom to share. Should I be fortunate enough to do it again, I’ll enjoy the delicious irony inherent in the old aphorism that says, “when the student is ready the master will appear” because it will be I, the student, who has the impertinence to be lecturing his master.
Stewart Marshall is an IT innovator and the best selling author of Doing IT for Money: A Business Leader’s Guide to Improving Profit Per Person. He’s been solving business problems with technology for nearly 30 years, spending much of his career in the commercial software industry designing and building high-speed development tools and solutions used by thousands of businesses in Australia and around the world, including Proctor and Gamble, Kellogg’s and Kawasaki. Connect with @MarshallFloydAu on Twitter.