Thursday, July 10, 2014

Am I A Closet Millennial?

Are We All Millennials?
Millennials want to be heard.  They want to be involved.  They want to have a voice in decisions that affect them.  Is this new?  Isn’t this simply a statement of the innate human desire to be recognized as an individual?

It’s unfortunate that we feel compelled to apply labels and definitions to segments of our society.  I’m a late stage “boomer” who was followed by Gen X that has now morphed into Millennial’s (or is that Gen Y), which are being eroded by the new Gen Z.  I think there are fringe characteristics for all of these demographics, but it seems to me that the definitional core is remarkably similar.  People want to have a say in their lives.  And, as the world moves constantly upward and to the right, they have more opportunity for self-determination; however, that doesn’t make generations unique.

A Familiar Song
Let me turn back the clock to my generation of boomers that broke the social conventions of the “greatest generation.”  By the time the 60’s arrived we were struggling (if not rebelling) against the tight rules, stereotypes, and conventions that dominated our teen years.  We lived with strong discipline in the home; engrained roles for women; racial segregation; sexual repression; and governments run by traditionalists.

For right or wrong, boomers wanted to exercise personal freedom.  They rebelled against what they saw as society’s illegitimate exercise of power over their lives.  They changed their society forever (the results are open to debate).  Change came in many courageous forms: the Pill & Woodstock; Freedom Summer & Summer of Love; Kent State & Dow Chemical; Civil Rights & Equal Rights; and the shaking hips of Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show.

And don’t think that government’s weren’t worried.  They were highly concerned about disaffected youth and the devastation that this boomer “pig in a python” could wreak on society.  Governments were searching for answers.  My master’s thesis was on Youth Organizations, like the Peace Corp, that were experimenting with flat, consensus driven organization models.

A Different Song
So does this "wanting to be heard" make me a Millennial?  Probably, but not completely.  It’s the fringe characteristics of Millennials that separate them from other demographic groups.  Specifically, “wanting to be heard” slides into the notion that: “my idea is just as good as an idea tempered by experience.”  In fact, because the world is changing exponentially, experience is often viewed as a drag on innovation and progress.

There is a lesson here for Millennials.  They will learn that experience counts; that everyone has a boss and that their boss is evaluating their performance everyday.  They will learn that decision-making is a weighty privilege that doesn’t always accommodate consensus or the Millennials most brilliant new idea on “gamification.” 

Soon Millenialls will be looking over their shoulders at Gen Z.  As it grows up, this demographic is connected everywhere, all the time.  For them the awesome power of electronics is not an acquired skill – it is lifeblood; and our current eight second attention span will seem a lifetime to them.  Yet they are learning from the generation ahead of them.  They are learning that immediate self-gratification has to give way to a greater social purpose.  Being entitled is one thing; being entitled to help others is a better thing.

I expect to be an observer in this next transition of generations.  Yet a new cycle of people expressing their need to be heard.

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