Millennials as Leaders? What About as Followers?

This article about how Millennial (born 1982-2004) will behave as CIOs misses the marks on pretty much every point. It describes how they are distrustful of big brands and tend to be risk-takers! Nothing could be further from the truth about Millennials. They tend to be very conservative in their life choices (they have been carefully guided at every stage since early childhood) and although they may not believe advertisers as much as Boomer (born 1943-1960) did, they definitely have a herd mentality to consumption.

Unfortunately the article is perpetuating several ideas about Millennials that are based on a “Generations X+1″ idea. [Gen X] is known for being pragmatic individualists who are willing to take risks in an effort to survive. Many view Millennials as the same but more extreme, which is why they are sometimes called “Generation Y”. This entirely misses the true nature of generational cycles. Where X’ers are individualistic, Millennials are collectivistic. Where X’ers are cynical, Millennials are optimistic and hopeful. Where X’ers lack trust of institutions, Millennials are willing to work with and build institutions.

For example the article says:

“This is a generation that’s going to beg for forgiveness when something goes wrong but won’t ask for permission,” Thibodeaux says.

Um, no. Generation X’ers are the ones that will beg forgiveness instead of asking permission. Many managers can attest to the fact that Millennials are in their office all the time asking if they are doing things right! They are not risk-takers and they are not rule-breakers.

I can see how they Gen X’ers and Boomers can get confused by the behavior of Millennials they observe. Just because a Millennial does not get swayed by advertising does not mean they are an independent thinker. It just means they trust a different source: Their massive circle of online “friends” who influence every decision they make.

The final thing that is misguided about the article is that they are speculating on how Mills will behave when they are executives. Sorry guys, but that is a long ways off and we should be focusing our efforts on understanding how Millennials are as followers right now instead of how they will be as leaders 10-20 years from now. Most organizations are miserable at managing Millennials and believe that this generation is full of job-hoppers who will be even more mercenary than Gen X’ers were. Nothing could be further from the truth and that is the topic of my next post.

3 Comments

Gaming, Millennial Style

Computer games have come a long way since I first played Castle Wolfenstein on a Commodore 64 at my best friend’s place.

As computing power advanced along with online access, gaming became more interactive but it was only once the Millennial (born 1982-2004) generation joined in on the fun that gaming truly became a team sport.

This recent article in the New York Times outlines how gaming is transforming into a sport much like Major League Baseball or Football. Teams. Groups of young men compete both online and in massive live events for large purses. They live in houses provided by sponsors and practice constantly. It’s becoming a very lucrative market and may be the Millennial answer to traditional team sports.

While it would be easy to ascribe these changes to the effects of more powerful technology and networking capability, it’s the nature of the generations using the technology that defines their popularity. [Gen X] gamers tended to be more solitary, playing tames that pitted individuals against each other. Only more recently has the mass team phenomenon come about (I commented briefly on this shift back in 2009) and it seems to really be gathering steam now that Millennials are directing the action. The NYTimes article mentions that a majority of the gamers and audience are under 30, making them mostly Millennial.

Although the article doesn’t speculate much about the future direction for the gaming industry, one possible scenario is that it ends up rivaling “meatspace” sports for the Millennials. Franchises could pop up with persistent fan followings which could be regionalized even though the games are played online. Are the Portland HipstersTM going to be the next dominant name in Dota 2? Amazon’s purchase of Twitch TV certainly says that the industry is taking the possibility seriously, and it all lines up well with the virtual utopia that the Millennials seem to headed towards…

4 Comments

Let the Homelander Movies Begin!

With the oldest of the Homelander Generation (born 2005-202?) entering their tweens in the next few years, it appears that Hollywood is preparing for the new mythology for their generation. According to [S&H] the Homelander generation will be similar to the Silent (born 1925-1942) in that they will be forced into a very conformist view of success through both parental and social pressures. This is definitely reflected in two different summer movie releases.

The first is “Divergent“, based on the 2011 novel of the same name. Here is the summary from Wikipedia:

It is a young-adult dystopian novel set in the so-called Divergent Universe,[1] that features a post-apocalyptic version of Chicago. The novel follows Beatrice “Tris” Prior as she explores her identity within a society that defines its citizens by their social and personality-related affiliation with five different factions. Underlying the action and dystopian focused main plot is a romantic subplot between Tris and one of her instructors in the Dauntless faction, nicknamed Four.

 

Divergent imagines a society where children are raised to become workers based on their aptitude, and secondarily, their choice. But once this choice is made it is set for life, and those that have multiple aptitudes are considered “divergent”. These “divergent” along with anyone that changes their mind about their direction after their choice are cast out of society. The goal of the society’s leaders is to avoid the suffering that occurred before their utopian system was devised.

The second movie is “The Giver” which is based on the 1993 novel of the same name. The plot here is similar:

It is set in a society which is at first presented as a utopian society and gradually appears more and more dystopian. The novel follows a boy named Jonas through the twelfth year of his life. The society has eliminated pain and strife by converting to “Sameness,” a plan that has also eradicated emotional depth from their lives. Jonas is selected to inherit the position of Receiver of Memory, the person who stores all the past memories of the time before Sameness, in case they are ever needed to aid in decisions that others lack the experience to make. Jonas learns the truth about his dystopian society and struggles with its weight.

In the movie the protagonist is 18 while in the original book he was a mere 11. But the story is very similar to the later Divergent in that the elders of society are choosing for the youth their path in an effort to preserve a perfect society.

The rebellion depicted in both films smacks of Boomer (born 1943-1960) rebellion, but the oppressor here is not the G.I. (born 1901-1924) of from the Boomer’s youth, but rather a depiction of current Generation X (born 1961-1981) parents as stifling in their control of their children. Strauss and Howe predicted that the Homelanders would be sensitive, helpful and rule-playing because of how they are “carefully” raised by Gen X parents (I think this is a politically correct way of saying it).

Although there have been many books and movies on the theme of breaking away from uniformity of society (Fahrenheit 451, Gattaca, 1984 etc…) these two have a particular spin that is unique. The idea that society can be made perfect by each individual “choosing” (the amount of choice varies in each movie) their purpose is the central theme for both. That is the part that fits with the Homelander generation, who, like their Silent grandparents will have a life path that is sheltered and directed with close guardrails. The thing that struck me about these two movies is how they came out close together and with almost identical plot lines. 

This is somewhat of a contrast with the other dystopian blockbuster “The Hunger Games“. In that series the themes are similar but the governing powers are much more obviously corrupt and society is nowhere near equal. The societies in “The Giver” and “Divergent” are perfect and balanced but only if everyone does not question the role they are given at an early age.
Millennials were raised with excellence, cooperation and success as the goals. Homelanders will have safety,purpose and conformity emphasized in their youth. “The Hunger Games” feels more Millennial while “The Giver” and “Divergent” have a more Homelander character.

The business world is already moving in the direction of purpose as the driver for careers. Author Aaron Hurst has written a book titled “The Purpose Economy” on just this topic. He even provides a way to test your purpose with “The Imperative” (the definition of imperative? “of vital importance; crucial” and the second definition? “giving an authoritative command; peremptory“). These concepts are perfect for our time because they address the needs of Millennial (born 1982-2004) and Homelanders to have structure and a clear path to success or safety. The collective nature of both of these generations allows them to accept the categorization of their talents as long as they know that there is a guaranteed method for them to succeed (Millennial) or avoid risk (Homelander).

But 30-40 years from now there will be a massive backlash against these types of methods, which will be viewed by the Millennial’s children (Boomer’s grandchildren) as oppressive. That is where “Divergent” and “The Giver” are prescient in understanding the eventual rebellion.

P.S. The Giver was written by Lois Lowry, a Silent who has seen this path before in her youth, while “Divergent” was written by Veronica Roth, a Millennial who probably felt these nascent pressures growing up.

3 Comments

Generation X vs. Millennials: Agile Development

A vast majority of managers in most companies today are Generation X (born 1961-1981). This is mainly just a factor of age (Gen X’ers are now between the ages of 32 and 54) and certainly isn’t motivated by the desire of Gen X’ers to climb the corporate ladder (we are the original slackers, after all).

When Gen X’ers got their start in the work world we entered a culture created by the G.I. (born 1901-1924) but dominated by the Silent (born 1925-1942) and Boomer (born 1943-1960) in management. The GI model for management was based on their experience from their youth: a hierarchy based on the military circa WWII. Although the Boomers struggled mightily to break these institutions, their workaholic tendencies often meant that their values of commitment and endurance reinforced the structures in place by requiring long tenures to advance. That is the world that Gen X entered into in our work life and we reacted in a way that has become stereotypical for our generation: we sighed “Whatever” and compensated with a drive for a work-life balance instead of challenging “The Man” to change the structure.

So even though most Gen X’ers think that the strict heirarchies in most companies are rather silly, we have not challenged them much in our careers. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but for the most part we just decided to lampoon the “Office Space” and devote ourselves to our children and our tribe. The result is that the structures left over from the days of “Mad Men” remain in place in much of the work world today.

Strauss and Howe have characterized the Silent and Gen X generations as “recessive” in contrast to the “dominant” Boomer and Millennial (born 1982-2004) generations. As Gen X’ers we take a back seat in society to the dominant generations we are sandwiched between. The good news is that we don’t need to shoulder as much blame for the screw-ups (we can justifiably point fingers at the Boomers for many of the challenges we face today) but it also means that we have to count on other generations to truly drive large social change. Which brings me to the Millennials in the workplace.

In recent discussions with Gen X managers in Silicon Valley I have noticed a shift that portends what Millennials may look for once they have the reigns. Most Gen X managers in technology are familiar with a project management technique known as Agile (aka SCRUM or Extreme). Created by programmers to give a more flexible way to manage projects in an iterative manner, it was cutting edge 15-20 years ago but has become the standard for project management today, particularly in software. I even use this method to manage projects on my team even though we don’t do programming. This method was probably developed by Boomers, but Gen X’ers were introduced to this approach early in their careers. As a result of growing up with these techniques (and seeing the failures of the previous approach known as “Waterfall“) many Gen X’ers in the Valley see this methodology as orthodoxy.

One  feature of Agile* that is worth noting for generational discussions are the daily meetings (sometimes called “Standups”) where each member of the team describes what they did the day before, what they will do the next day and any potential roadblocks to getting their work done. These short meetings ensure that each team member can work independently while staying coordinated with the entire team on a daily basis. Quick adjustment based on the information gained in a Standup are a hallmark of a well-run Agile project and are one factor that keeps projects from running off the rails unnoticed for months.

Gen X’ers can be characterized as individualists and so these meetings are a wonderful way to coordinate the activities of many individuals on a team. But Millennials were raised to be much more collective in their attitude (think Barney and High School Musical) and have been working together on projects from grade school through College. Most things with Millennials are group decisions and peer communication is constant (Gen X parents might say obsessively so).

I have heard to several Gen X managers who complain that their Millennial workers seem to think that Standup meetings are optional or that they can just communicate the information via text or Skype. This attitude is perceived as entitled and (optimistically) a bit naive. “Agile is the ultimate project management methodology and who are these kids to ignore its precepts?”, thinks the experienced Gen X manager.

But watching how Millennial teams organize and manage projects gives some insights into their thinking. I have seen Millennial development teams sit in the same conference room together for weeks during a project. After the work day ends they all head to the same bars together before heading home (often to shared living arrangements). They spend the entire day in constant communication, either in-person or via technology. The thought that they would need to “Check in with the team” for 15 minutes every day seems ridiculous. Based on their perspective there can only be one reason for the Standup meeting: to report to Gen X managers on their work. That’s right, Gen X, what started as way to empower individual team members and speed projects is seen as micromanaging on the part of many Millennials.

I have coached the Gen X’ers to work with Millennials to help them understand the importance of the Agile process through the needs of the larger group. Motivating them based on this larger picture can be effective, but it’s not just the Millennials that need to adapt in this situation. Millennials continue to move into management ranks, and, unlike Gen X’ers who succumbed to the existing structures with sarcastic acceptance, Millennials will push for large scale change once they are running the show. Whether it is forward thinking Gen X’ers (such as Tony Hsieh who has adopted the Holacracy for his organization) or Millennial leaders who will instigate these shifts, the Millennial workers will follow their lead.

Forward thinking organizations need to recognize these dynamics go well beyond the Agile example given above. The question to ask is not “How do we attract and retain Millennials?” but rather “How can we change as an organization to make Millennials more effective?” I think the answer will result in some wonderful new approaches to work in our society.

*I realize that Agile is a big umbrella and that Standups, Sprints, SCRUM  and other terms have very specific meanings and are not necessarily interchangeable. I use Agile to refer to the general organizing elements of these methodology. I also realize that standups are just one element of Agile methodologies but they serve as a good example of the differences between generations. Purists can flame me in the comments below.

No Comments

Millennials are All the Rage

In a fit of meta, this article from last weekend’s Sunday NYTimes states:

“Suddenly, as you may have noticed, millennials are everywhere.”

And its true: people are talking about Millennials (and generations) at a rate not seen in a long time. Since Neil Howe and William Strauss coined the term back in 1991, its usage has climbed steadily. But so have the terms “Boomer” and “Generation X” increase in that time. Below is a chart of the use of these terms in books cataloged by Google:

What does this tell us? First, it says that the terms “Millennial” and “Boomer” probably refer to something other than generational cohorts (since their numbers were high before 1990) but secondly it means that interest in generations, not just Millennial (born 1982-2004) is rising.

There are good reasons for this dynamic. Part of it comes from the popularity of Strauss and Howe’s theories. In the NYT article it quotes Morley Winograd and Michael Hais who are often refer to the Strauss and Howe theories in their books. But a bigger part comes from the transition we are going through as Millennials shift from childhood to early adulthood.

This shift in a generation’s life stage always heralds a new awareness of the different character of “young people” at the time. This was true back in the 80’s and 90’s when Generation X (born 1961-1981) came of age and were pegged as “Slackers”. Looking back another 20 years, the Boomer (born 1943-1960) were noted for their rebellious and counter-culture as young adults. These shifts always catch the older generations by surprise (unless they have read Strauss and Howe’s theories!) and captivate the collective consciousness.

The NYT article points out that the perceptions of the older generations about the Millennials is somewhat warped. This, again, is no surprise since the way X’ers and Boomers behaved in young adulthood was very different from Millennials and we judge them on that basis. It’s hard to turn off the tape recorder in our brains that says “Back when I was your age…”

The good news is that all this attention is also breeding a bit more understanding this time around. Although some may judge Millennials as narcissistic or entitled, many others recognize that these perceptions are largely based on our biased frame of reference. I have seen many conversations in my personal and professional life become much more productive once people understand the basics of generational theory. And, yes, that means that if you are reading this you should get started on understanding generations too.

 

No Comments

Useful Links for Understanding Generations

Basics of Generations:

Start here on thegenxfiles

More Details on Generations and Turnings

List of Generations

List of Turnings

Generations in History (PDF)

Turnings in History (PDF)

Neil Howe’s Blog

Books

For Generation X and Mills:

Millennials in the Workplace

X Saves the World

For Boomers:

The Fourth Turning

No Comments

Was 2012 The Start of Something New?

Generational theory tells us that there are four stages to the cycle of history: The High, The Awakening, The Unraveling and The Crisis. We are in The Crisis phase now and this can be further divided into events that Neil Howe describes in a recent post as the catalyst, the regeneracy, the climax and the resolution. As Neil stated in that article, we are clearly in the Crisis, but he wonders when the regeneracy will hit.

A recent article in the Christian Science Monitor would argue that we are already there. As Editor John Yemma argues in his upfront commentary:

There’s much more good news than bad news. But bad news travels fast and commands attention. Good news is like water carving a valley or a tree gradually extending its branches. Good news is a child learning a little more each day or a business quietly prospering. We hardly notice it.

Here are some reasons for hope: Extreme poverty is declining. HIV is no longer a death sentence. Technology is transforming everything from African agriculture to urban transportation. Drug violence is decreasing in Mexico. Travel is safer almost everywhere. Crime rates are falling.Somalia is emerging from a long night of anarchy. Myanmar (Burma) is coming out of its dictatorial shell. And while it’s true that China and Russia are only semi-free and the Egypt and other post-dictator nations may be going down ill-considered paths, water is still carving the valley. Freedom lives in 7 billion hearts.

If the regeneracy (which Howe describes as “a new counter-entropy that reunifies and re-energizes civic life”) is more of a ethic rather than a specific event, then I would argue that the world is already moving together in ways that our daily news does not reflect.

Perhaps it will take another massive event to make us truly come together, but all of the articles in the CSMonitor this week point towards a shift that is already in progress. Young people’s expectations and abilities are starting to influence our global conversation. The shift in global power is starting to reveal how the US, while no longer the super-power it once was, is still a symbol of some of the freedoms that many people long for and see as possible in their lifetimes. In some ways our various fumbles (bitter elections, legislative gridlock, unstable economy) will give other nations more empathy for the US as a country that still strives in a very human way.

The regeneracy is about a time when people come together, perhaps as a nation, perhaps globally. It is a difficult time when many will see their ideals crushed and their way of life disrupted. But it is also the time that will define the nature of the next cycle. So while we will likely see political battles and crisis in many forms over the next 10 years there will be an undercurrent (perhaps not noticed) of a strengthening of civic values and cohesion that will eventually overcome whatever we will face.

Call me a blind optimist (an unlikely title for a Generation X (born 1961-1981) like me) but that is the way I see it.

4 Comments

It’s 1933 All Over Again

I have never been much of a historian, but I picked up “The Plot Against the President” at the library recently and I have really been enjoying it. According to the theories of Strauss and Howe, we are in a period that is very similar to the early stages of the Great Depression. This period, known as Fourth Turning (Crisis) is similar to the period starting in 1929. The book is about the early period of FDR’s presidency, including his campagning before getting into office. I have only finished the first half of the book which mainly covers up until FDR took office.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1933. Lietuvių: Fra...

Image via Wikipedia

I suppose my education in the 80’s was lacking because I had no idea that there was an assassination attempt on FDR right before he took office. The first half of the book covers this event in detail, including all the social chaos going on at the time. Clearly the period from 1929-1933 was one of the worst in American history. Herbert Hoover (portrayed here as a bitter and ineffectual man) was all chased out of office but there still seemed to be little hope for the country at the time. The Depression had hit hard and there seemed no end in sight. Roosevelt, to many observers, seemed to be just the wrong person to take the helm at the time. There was a huge division between rich and poor (the greatest disparity ever in American history up until just recently) and great distrust of the moneyed class. Roosevelt came from old money and was seen as somewhat of a dilettante at the time. The fact that he had been paralyzed by Polio made his election even more surprising.

But FDR managed to prove all of his detrators wrong even before he took office. He took a two-week vacation at sea (on an expensive yacht owned by a friend) prior to his inauguration. When he landed in Miami, Florida there was a huge crowd assembled to see him. Denton tells the story of how Giuseppe Zangara took five shots at the President-elect but failed to even hit him. Six people around Roosevelt were struck and they were all rushed to the hospital. FDR held one of them, Anton Cermak (Mayor of Chicago) and kept him from going into shock as they sped to the hospital. Cermak died two weeks later but Roosevelt was held in high regard for how calm he remained after the attempt on his life. This event, at least as presented by Denton in the book, gave Roosevelt a boost in popularity as he took office.

The interesting parallel to today’s crisis is that we too have been suffering the effects of a financial crisis that still seems to be hanging around. Although there are signs of improvements it is clear that a recurrence is entirely possible. And we are headed towards what may be a very contentious election that does not seem to offer any candidates with a clear ability to lead (in my opinion). Obama’s first term has not shown him to be a firebrand but rather a compromiser on many issues. Romney also does not appear to be the sort that would take on the status quo to really shake things up. It is certainly possible that another candidate will take the Republican nomination, but the interesting thing to me about the lead-up to the 1932 election is that Roosevelt and Hoover seemed to be a choice between the lesser of two evils too.

Hoover had certainly been more than useless during the later part of his term and using Douglas MacArthur against the Bonus Army was the death blow to his chances at a second term. But Roosevelt certainly did not seem very Presidential at the time either. Many described him as a dabbler without much real knowledge of economics or larger political issues. But when the time came for him to take office (at the very pit of the Great Depression) he proved to be and incredible leader. The times, in some ways, defined his abilities. The same may be true for our next President, whoever that may be. We can certainly hope that whoever does take office can unify the nation during this portion of the crisis.

The other striking thing about the history presented in the book is just how ready the US was for a leader that would dictate our direction. When FDR came into office there were journalists and pundits that called for him to be a dictator during our time of need. The country was willing to give up their liberty if it meant the possibility of turning around our economy. So in many ways the country was primed to take the direction of Roosevelt if he was strong in his convictions. It will be interesting to see whether the same is true in the upcoming election. Will the US be ready to have a leader that does whatever is needed to lift our country out of the recession fully? Only time will tell, but the parallels to our history 80 years ago are enormous.

Enhanced by Zemanta

, , , ,

8 Comments

Latest Numbers for Generation X

This is from Neil Howe at Lifecourse.com:

 

We ran these number per Census as of July of this year for everyone age 18+.  They are cut exactly according to our birthyear boundaries:
G.I. (born 1901-1924), 4.5 million
Silent (born 1925-1942), 26.2 million
Boomer (born 1943-1960), 65.6 million
Generation X (born 1961-1981), 88.5 million
Millennial (born 1982-2004) 18+, 52.0 million
Total: 236.8 million.
Subtract this from the current total U.S. pop (around 311.8 million) gives you 75.0 million under age 18.  That’s about 4.2 million per cohort, which is just under the recent birth per year totals.  Again give a bit of allowance for immigration.  So that fits.
Also, nearly 2/3 of these cohorts under age 18 are Millennials, which gives you nearly 100 million total Millennials–so that fits.  The remaining 25-30 million are Homelanders.

7 Comments

Generation X Report: Active, Balanced and Happy

The University of Michigan has apparently been surveying a large group of Generation X (born 1961-1981) for some time and just released a report on their findings. Here is the blurb from the site:

For more than two decades, a loyal group of young Americans have participated in a national study to allow the nation to understand the thinking and the life experiences of Generation X. This web site reflects the thousands of hours of time and effort that LSAY participants have put into completing questionnaires, taking tests, and sharing their information about new addresses, new names, and new members of their family. We hope that the LSAY will continue to monitor the history and the future of Generation X for years to come and we have attempted to make this web site a useful place for staying in touch with the study and sharing the results of this work.

LSAY stands for Longitudinal Study of American Youth and it looks like they have been surveying these folks since 1987!

The report findings are interesting but not terribly surprising for those who follow generational theory. Gen X’ers continue to strive for work/life balance and that includes an active and healthy social life. I found the happiness index to be encouraging:

The cool thing about this report is that they say they are going to produce them quarterly and it will be fascinating to see the other issues they delve into. It would be really interesting to compare their survey results with their current (Millennial) students’ answers.

No Comments