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Those Darn Millennials All Want Trophies

She biked ten miles on a wall in China

At the Accounting Marketing Conference this year I realized there is a whole generation coming up after me who know so much more than I ever did. I hear people complain about the Millennials with too many tattoos or no respect for their elders. I watch people my age roll their eyes as they complain about the “everyone gets a trophy” generation. At more than one session, I heard that instead of blaming the Millennials for being Millennials, we should now blame their Boomer parents with all that exhausting bail-out helicopter parenting we did.

Blame who for what exactly? Because some Mils are immature? Because they start to work about five years later than the Boomers did? Because how they interact is massively different than previous generations? I am impatient with the disrespect all around. What is important is that Millennials are part of something much bigger.

Millennials can do so much more than I could at their age. Not just because they can develop a website or present a whole firm’s culture on Facebook. Exposure to technology has actually made them more worldly and knowledgeable, with wider interests fed by the Internet.

Because of this knowledge, they care more about a larger world. They have Kiva accounts micro-loaning funds to entrepreneurs in emerging economies. They use Kickstarter pages to start businesses, test ideas or just plain help each other out. Almost every young person I know has an interest in helping some part of the world beyond their doors.

They are practical about larger issues and much more willing to step forward and be part of the solution. They know the climate is changing and do not waste time arguing about it. They move together in groups, like the Arab spring, that do not necessarily know each other personally, using technology to connect around what is important to them. And, like the Arab Spring, they may not finish the change, but they sure are starting it.

While my kids do tease me about being “old people” when I ask for help on technology, they actually are amazingly generous and kind about helping their elders, all of us digital immigrants in a world to which they were born.

They are connected in ways I still can barely fathom. My son went to a wedding in New Jersey with a group from Minnesota. It turns out none of the Minnesota contingent had ever met the bride or groom – in person. They worked together virtually. They had a great time.

I have been studying leadership in professional service firms since the Baby Boomers were complaining about those slackers in Gen X. But this is different. The ages of humans are roughly divided into hunter-gather / agricultural / industrial / information. All four ages are happening at once in the world, with different groups of people. In the USA, most people are now participating in the information age. But most of us were not born here and participate at levels ranging from Luddites without cell phones to bleeding edge adaptors. Imagine the first generation to stay settled and plant crops, and how crazy that looked to their parents. Or people who left their rural villages and went to the city to work in factories. Crazy. That is somehow embedded in how we see our Millennials. Maybe the intense blame is really envy, for being born prepared to live in a world we struggle with.

Personally, I hope for great things from them. We need it.

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