Naughties, teenies and millennials

First published on BizCampBelfast 2010-07-23

When someone says “in the roaring 1920’s” we can immediately relate to the era of speakeasies, dancing the Charleston and silent movies. My question is though: what was the decade before that called? I ask because we will soon be at the end of the same decade in this century and it needs a label. Not just “roaring” moniker for the decade of 9/11, 7/7, Iraq, Afghanistan, Wall Street crash, Saville Report, Bhutto and the thousands of other events that have shaped this decade but what do we call the decade of 1901 to 1910 and 2001 to 2010? In the absence of anyone stepping up I’ve picked “naught-ies”. I tried the “oughts” and “zeroes” but they didn’t seem right to me.

And what has been happening quietly in the “naughties”? In September 2000 a generation of young people entered their secondary education: that same group graduated from university this spring. In 2003 MySpace entered their world, 2004 Facebook, 2005 Bebo, 2006 Twitter, iPhone 2007: this generation of young people, the “millennials”, have integrated into the fabric of their world a digital 7 by 24 experience that extends their presence across the globe and connects them to everything in real-time. For them this is not magic, not technology, not new, it is not even cool any more: it just is. It just is what it has always been for them.

These young entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, farmers, doctors, artists, philosophers, teachers, athletes, politicians, designers, technologists, historians, geographers fundamentally see the world as an integrated whole free from borders and restrictions. They expect to be able to answer any question in seconds from the palm of their hands. They don’t need to know anything: they just need to Google. They expect things to work together, they expect technology to be free, they adopt technology easily, they are not loyal to any brand, they are socially responsible, they get the work/life balance and they play World of Warcraft every week with their friends.

And they are your new labour-force. They do not see you are their employer: they see you as their collaborator. They are working for you to find an outlet for their creativity, a place where they can problem solve, somewhere they can express themselves and be innovative. They do not accept anything as a fundamental rule, all rules are meant to be tested and then bent, twisted and even broken if it means doing something better. They fail frequently and they enjoy failing for the lessons it teaches. They learn fast and adopt the latest ideas and technologies even though they know they are not always ready and reliable. Speed is essential to them, documentation is not. Delivering something that works for most people quick is better than delivering a perfect solution months from now. They’d rather be late delivering something cool rather than something business-like and on time. They do not settle for good enough: they want to delight. They love change. They revel in challenges.

So how do you exploit them? You embrace them. You create a culture that allows people to do lots of “R” in search of the “D” in R&D. You encourage them to experiment and if they fail you congratulate them on eliminating one more bad idea and encourage them to learn from the experience and try again. You make it clear that it is OK to challenge long held beliefs and you make it clear that you reserve the right to make the final decisions. You learn to say “OK let’s try that” and never say “That won’t work because …”.

As we move into the next decade, which I’ve dubbed to the “teenies”, the millennial labour-force is ready to change everything in your business. Are you ready allow them to take you to the next level and start Empowering Change in them?

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