Our world is changing at an ever-increasing rate. We need new language, new tools, and new ways of thinking. Our traditional models and linear solutions need to be replaced with complexity theory and agile solutions. And the generation of millennials are perfectly poised to ignite this thinking.
Every older generation says “the younger generation is so different from us” and every younger generation says “the older generation just doesn’t understand, the world has changed.” This disconnect between generations should be embraced. The leaders of tomorrow cannot apply the solutions of the past to the problems of the future and consistently succeed. What is fascinating is that each generation is a product of their culture and surroundings. Their differences and nuances that the older generation cannot understand will serve them well to function in the world the will encounter.
To generalize and oversimplify, millennials at first glance seem entitled, digitally connected, narcissistic, socially disconnected, people who demand everything right now. They don’t want to work 9-5. They want to play as much as they work. They are not interested in the “American Dream” - a house, a car, two kids, as much as the previous generations - and they easily see beyond the borders of their country and view the world as one.
How this contrasts from the view of their grandparents and even parents. Generations that saved and waited for everything they ever got. Generations that worked for the same company for years and years and invested heavily in their home, their car, their children, and their retirement.
Gone are the days of industrialism where these behaviours were well suited. We are now in the days of uncertainty, rapid change, and technology. The millennials might appear to be entitled - every opportunist looks entitled - but when you dig deeper you can understand the source. In their short lifetime, they have already seen one of the greatest recessions since the Great Depression which was quickly followed by another recession not 7 years later. They have been told climate change is inevitable. They have been told that a long term secure job is a pipe dream. If you were trying to establish yourself in a world like that, wouldn’t you also make the most out of every opportunity that came your way? What looks like entitlement I believe is simply opportunistic behaviour in a world with no guaranteed future.
They also have great optimism. I look around at the world destruction and long gone are my idealistic days. Perhaps it is because I am the last generation to have heard the battle cry against climate change and also seen the tipping point of no return. I have witnessed massive exploitation, extinction, and degeneration but my memory also carries the world that was before that. Millennials only know the earth as a scarred place so do not grieve its loss in the same way. But yet they have an optimism I do not have. Is it their naive youth? Or is it that they know that it is a necessity to be optimistic to be able to thrive in this harsh world?
Their narcissistic use of social media and their seeming disconnection from each other is again only a change from what we are used to. In a world where a corporation will not be taking care of them for their lifetimes they will be forced to sell themselves for work again and again. Is it narcissistic behaviour or just an exploration of a personal brand at an age when the previous generations never considered such a necessity? Their seeming disconnection from each other could also be interpreted as them creating new way of connecting for resiliency through multiple networks. These connections will be part of the future where groups of like-minded individuals lean on each other. They do not need physical proximity but global cooperation and their digital prowess will serve them well to do this.
Millennials also embrace the flexible fluid workplace with the realization that security can only be had in the moment. Why not fully take advantage of opportunities in the workplace as they arise but equally take advantage of play time? They do not want to be tied to corporations as they have watched the lack of loyalty extended to their parents after years of sacrifice.
They do not wish to amass possessions in the same way we did. In an uncertain world having less things to tie them down, to pay for, to worry about, is freedom. The same freedom we thought we were buying when we amassed our wealth. Their world will not support that continued thinking and a sharing economy will be the most fluid way for them to thrive and succeed.
It is our tendency to watch for the negative in the generation that will follow us but what I see is a generation that will use their differences to their advantage. What if we adopted even a portion of their thinking? How different would our lives be if we too had the mindset of the millennial and embraced change as they have been brought up to do? I am thankful they are adapting and that brings me hope. I worried I had brought my son into a harsh new world. He has shown me the adaptive nature of the human spirit and the hope he will need to live and work despite the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world we find ourselves in. He’s perfectly poised.