Looking for innovators? Look to Millennials.

I recently attended a “Generational Leadership” seminar to learn how the interaction of different generations of workers affects organizations’ ability to innovate and respond to a rapidly-changing business environment.

The organizations showing up to this conversation have caught on by now: the world is changing… fast. Every day you wake up in a slightly different place. While you were sleeping last night, more information was created in the world than you can process in a lifetime, and somewhere within all that data is a new business model waiting to be discovered. Are the people in your organization prepared to innovate at a rapid pace in order to keep up?

In the session I heard many seasoned professionals express frustration with the most recent group to hit the workplace: the Millennial generation. Complaints included that ‘Millennials are self-entitled,' 'unfocused,' 'use all their sick days,' 'expect a seat at the table before they’ve put in their time' and more.  How did they ever get their jobs in the first place?

The presenter attempted to expand the thinking of his audience with this eye-opening if woefully-outdated video. Unfortunately, the connection was a bit slow, so he moved on when the screen showed no sign of life. After a short slide show, the discussion period began. Older managers were frustrated with the younger generation. I’m paraphrasing, but comments arose along the lines of ‘Their parents spoiled them and now they think they deserve more than Gen X, Y, and the Baby Boomers combined.’ I found I was (once again) the youngest person in the room. It’s like sneaking into a bar when you’re eighteen—everyone suspects you’re younger, but no one knows for sure. So when the same complaints came out, I kept my mouth shut and listened.

Are there any redeeming qualities of this generation?

I think Jeanne Meister’s & Karie Willyard’s great book The 2020 Workplace profiles this new generation of worker well. They say these new workers:

  • want freedom in everything they do—from freedom of choice to freedom of expression
  • love to customize and personalize their experiences
  • are the "new" scrutinizers
  • look for corporate integrity and openness when deciding where to work
  • want to find entertainment in their work, educational, and social lives
  • are focused on collaboration and relationship-building
  • have a need for speed—and not just in video games
  • are innovators and are constantly looking for innovative ways to collaborate, entertain themselves, learn, and work

Remember, we’re talking about a generation which has changed its primary way of connecting with  friends and family three to four times before turning 21 years old (i.e., landlines to cordless, mobile to text, email to Facebook). This generation is accustomed to rapid change and adopting innovative technologies which they constantly need to learn about. Of course, this can be confronting for the old guard who 'knows' their old business model makes money. 'If it ain’t broke, why fix it?,' right?

Wrong. In this new age, there are technologies that will be discovered this year which will force you to reinvent your strategy next year—and potentially drive (or kill) your profits the year after that. That’s a conservative timeline. A diverse workforce encourages dissent, and your Millennials are driving that conversation. They will have between 10-14 jobs before they turn 38. If you’re looking for innovators, look to your Millennials. Understand that they are not just expressing their entitlement to you—they can help you keep your job.

At the first break, I noted to the presenter that when you decrease the resolution on YouTube, the videos load a lot faster. He was very appreciative that his video loaded for all to see.