Clue: It’s not because we are feeling hurt he didn’t hand us a trophy.
I’ve been asked my opinion on Simon Sinek’s video on Millennials in the workplaceabout 50 times…but I’ve hesitated to respond. Other generations have emailed the video to me to validate Sinek’s thoughts. Millennials have emailed me with frustration of seeing another person they had respect for completely misrepresent them. There are many things in his career that Simon Sinek has gotten right. For example, the concept of Start With Why. So let’s turn that logic on Sinek for a moment. Why are you pretending to understand the why of someone who is not you?
If you don’t already know me, I’ve been working with organizations to genuinely address today’s challenges for the past 5 years. For the past 30 years, I’ve grown up as a Millennial. Most recently, I’ve published a book, The Millennial Myth, on transforming five of the biggest complaints into usable organizational strategy. These are the top 3 mistakes that Simon Sinek makes, like many of the other random individuals who project their opinions in this space.
The first is this consistent blame that it is about parenting and trophies. Yes, there are helicopter parents and yes, the education system did shift towards positive reinforcement. But, it’s also a fact that only 46% of Millennials grew up in 2-parent homes and 43% of Millennials are not Caucasian in the US. There was NO singular parenting style for this generation that you can use to typecast the entire cohort.
In addition every generation is MORE ENTITLED than the previous generation. Let me take a moment to mimic the broad strokes generational pundits generally use to illustrate my point. This generation, it is about trophies. Last generation, it was about having television. The generation before that, it was cars and so on. But, you probably thought of a billion other things that happened as well and became defensive right? That’s because these are singular changes that do not represent every facet that influenced any of these generations. It is a one-sided story.
The bottom line is that Gen X and Boomer “viral” voices have a tendency to stereotype the entire generation based on simple phrases with little understanding of the deeper complexities and diversities of the generation.
The second biggest mistake is that, being of previous generations, so-called generational scientists and random individuals like Simon Sinek start from a presumption that there’s something wrong with the generation today, when:
- Right and wrong are perceptions made by individuals, not strict definitions
- There is always both right and wrong simultaneously in existence and we have to acknowledge both.
Frankly, these non-digital natives lack the ability to study Millennials and digital behavior objectively. They are experts in creating sensational content of which negativity is the name of the game. Just take a look at the headline recently published by Jean Twenge, a master in the art of sensationalism and the “real OG” when it comes to generational science: “Have Smartphones Destroyed an Entire Generation?” Wow…yes, you’re right. And, oh by the way, they also helped me, a thirty-year-old, gain incredible work experiences and opportunities to the point of having international engagements by age 30. I definitely feel destroyed by smartphones (not!).
These scientists, in accordance with longstanding academic tradition, rarely study Millennials from an appreciative inquiry approach. What about Millennials who are excelling today? Of which there are actually many — they are the ones who do not like being called Millennials, probably sitting just a few feet away from you. They function just fine without being awarded trophies or having their parents call their boss when shit hits the fan. Which brings up my last point…
The third biggest mistake is that the digital immigrants are afraid of change. And it is easier to throw blame and say, “The Millennials don’t know what they really want” when in reality, NO ONE has figured out what all of society wants in today’s digital world. Digital is THE change. That is why there are so many possibilities for disruption in industries – the people who figure it out in a small way are making a big impact.
It’s easier to spend time complaining about Millennial behavior, than to boldly lead the organization in an innovative, uncertain time. Instead of continually putting an old school lens on interpreting Millennial behavior to say “by no fault of their own, they are totally helpless”, we need to genuinely walk in a Millennial’s shoes or we have no chance of understanding Gen Z (forget Millennials) .
This is why I’ve built my business with the approach of:
- Help people move past the inaccurate social media-driven biases around next generations
- Create consciousness of how digital has remapped behavior (your own and others)
- Then drive changes in your organization.
While my end goal has always been about helping organizations transform for a digital world, I realized five years ago that I have to start by addressing the perception around Millennials. It is the greatest obstacle to an organization’s transformation. You may think it is the bureaucracy in the organization or legacy software, but the truth is: The biggest roadblocks start in the mind. As long as top leadership buys into the one-sided Millennial-biased picture, they will make snap decisions that subconsciously create more problems and reinforce these already-held negative perceptions.
I’m ready to move beyond the biases. Who’s with me?
P.S. Millennials didn’t ask for the bean bags. That’s the bandaid/superficial solution leaders thought would solve the problem so they could continue to ignore the extent of change related to digital. The previous generations have honed excellent marketing and advertising skills, but delivering true meaningful value is a capability only a few have. Check out companies who have been around more than 100 years for examples.
P.P.S. Millennials are now between the ages of 22 to 37! Why are we still talking about them? Previously, we would have stopped talking about the new generation and moved on. This is a true sign of what social media and the internet is doing to ALL generations, not just millennials — creating an information overload that most don’t have the wherewithal to break out of.
Crystal is a two-time TEDx thought leader, international keynote speaker, and author of The Millennial Myth: Transforming Misunderstanding into Workplace Breakthroughs. Her practice, Invati Consulting, helps Fortune 500 companies navigate the intersection of two of today’s most vital trends, millennial behavior, and future of work, through strategy, training, and organizational design interventions. She is known for her work shifting mindsets of executive leaders and helping shape powerful organizational strategy that thrives in the face of industry disruption.