I regularly hear people in corporate business talk about “millennials” or “Generation Y” as if they’re an alien race. The visage of anyone preparing to inflict traditional training or marketing on a millennial audience, is one of a wide-eyed scientist dissecting a new species. It’s become so prevalent in conversations across the company I work at, that I keep forgetting I’m a millennial myself. “They’re millennials so they get technology”, “millennials are selfish”, “they only like reading short text”; I’ve heard them all. But most of these assertions, particularly those about how millennials consume media, are based on an assumption that it’s the generation collectively that is different. My contention is that millennial is more accurately attributed to a mindset than a generation, and my evidence is in the fact that there are plenty of “millennials” who don’t have smartphones, and plenty of 50-somethings who excel on Twitter and Facebook. The millennial conversation for me heralds a discovery rather than the rise of a new generation. It’s the discovery of the human brain and how it learns and develops.
As someone working in the field of learning and development you’d think I’d be skipping through the field of dreams, leading the rest of the world to the promised-land. Sadly though, it’s not the learning and development profession that is seizing the initiative but those at the forefront of customer engagement, our younger, cooler cousins in marketing. The Theory of Natural selection created a paradigm shift similar to the one we’re experiencing now, and the key message is clear; “adapt or die”. Learning and development has been so in love with its own image – that of a wise old teacher passing down his expertise and knowledge to the ignorant masses – it’s failed to keep up with the pace of change. L&D is not alone in this, but in my lifetime I want to see a rebirth of the profession and the death once and for all of the tradition that’s holding us back.
I would say I have a millennial mindset in this respect. Like a new CEO that comes into her role and wants to reorganise, so the millennial wants to change the world and cull the chaff. There is a view that millennials are disruptive and something to be tackled – hence the hysteria in corporate business – but the reality is, it’s time for the old guard to put down their sabres and make way for the hover bikes. Yes sabres are awesome, they are shiny and have been pretty effective up to now, but hover bikes, are well hover bikes. They are different and special in their own way. This process is advanced with innovation; taking a step back and re-evaluating what has been working well up to now. The start of it all is listening. You need to understand the millennial mindset to work with it, and to understand you need to be open and humble enough to admit that your way might not be the best anymore. I previously posted about the importance of humility in leadership, and in my opinion it’s never been more important regardless of your role in business.
I have spent a lot of time navigating political situations at work. They are the symptom of a climate of fear and hierarchical management practices. In order to help “non-millennials” understand why I can be so frustrating to deal with, I thought I’d list out a few key traits that I recognise in the millennial mindset.
- Influence not control – some might lament “knowledge neutrality” but the fact is there are so many opinions now being shared globally, that it’s difficult to know who to listen to. As soon as we feel we’re being controlled a millennial mindset will assume you have something to hide and by deduction, that you’re wrong.
- Ask me, don’t tell me – there’s nothing more satisfying than being asked for your input and being able to build something collaboratively. A millennial mindset will relish the opportunity to work with others and will shun anyone who seems to be on an ego trip.
- We like to believe – God doesn’t make much of an appearance these days so we find our symbols elsewhere. If you can create a symbol which seems to hold layers of positive meaning a millennial mindset will be drawn to it.
- Change is constant – technology is the blue-print for our experience of the world. To use a social media example we’ve had Facebook, Twitter, Snap Chat and now Yik Yak, all in the space of 5 years. A millennial mindset is one where a person sees change as the status quo.
- Finally, time is on our side – quite simply the millennials mindset is taking over and we are growing exponentially every day. The tide will not turn until the next wave, climb aboard the Ark or drown clinging to your 1000 page textbook in size 8 font.