Well, just as I was about to write a post about working with Gen Y – yes I know there have been a lot of those – Paul Carr’s Tech Crunch rant and thenextgreatgeneration.com rebuttal from Colby Gergen offer a more interesting distraction.
Tech Crunch’s Carr, a somewhat accomplished online journalist, takes the generation to task for its entitlement (old argument), its insistence on celebrating itself (sort of true, but they were trained to think that way both by parents and the very same sort of media channels that pay Paul’s salary), and their tendency toward whining (not that there isn’t a lot to whine about given the mess that previous generations have bestowed upon this one). But his column sounds downright angry and overly critical.
In the spirit of social media – debate, disagreement, conversation and the absence of gatekeepers to filter either quality or style – Colby responds with a headline that declares, “Dear Paul, You Suck.” (Note it appears on thenextgreatgeneration.com, a crowdsourced blog that I admittedly incubated but leave to its own devices.) Colby gives Paul a bit of a devil costume and returns the attack with equal venom, though to his credit he at least includes some backup.
He challenges Carr’s sources, offers alternative perspectives, and attempts to defend his generation. Though in all honesty, he doesn’t really offer all that much evidence other than a few quotes from an unnamed ad exec and the magazine Fast Company.
So why am I bothering to blather here? Two reasons. I think it’s pretty easy for anyone – Carr, the NY Times (where this all started), UNH’s Paul Harvey – to criticize Millennials using all the tired clichés. And it’s sometimes hard for Gen Y to be taken seriously when they’re still in the process of establishing themselves as a generation. (Hence the idea behind TNGG to begin with.) Or when they simply rant back.
In this case, both sides of the argument offer noise over substance. Carr offers no real support for his case, just his own whiny criticism. Colby sounds overly defensive without enough real examples to confront Carr’s shallow claims.
So here’s my take on Gen Y. Shit, if everyone else can jump to conclusions, so can I.
They’re not entitled so much as ambitious and impatient
They’ve been trained to be nothing less. By their parents and by the technology they depend on. The latter has conditioned them to an on demand expectation for everything, from content to self-gratification. I say don’t blame them; instead take advantage of that ambition and put them to work.
They have an strong work ethic
From what I’ve experienced not only are they willing to work hard, they welcome more responsibility at a young age than previous generations. Combine that with a little too much confidence and a fearlessness of failure and while you may have to point them in the right direction, you won’t have to get them motivated.
They don’t fit into narrow job definitions
Having grown up multi-tasking, creating content and participating with media rather than consuming it, many have a diverse set of skills. And given the convergence of technology, product development, marketing, social media and the need for agility, this is a good problem to have. So rather than force fit them into narrow job descriptions, create job definitions around their broader interests and capabilities.
They have a hard time focusing
This is the other side of impatience and multi-tasking. This means they may be great at gathering lots of content and staying aware of everything going on around them but they’re too easily distracted. That makes it your job (like it or not) to focus them and make sure they know the end game.
Don’t expect much in the way of loyalty
I don’t think that they’re ungrateful so much as less likely to follow the paths taken by previous generations. The Times says they’re slow to embrace adulthood, but perhaps they just have a different, more modern definition of that life phase. Plus, given that they’ve seen what’s happened to their parents – losing jobs, retirement funds, etc. – why should they give more than they take?
In short, if you’re threatened by GenY, don’t be. Welcome them, learn from them and teach them what you know. If you employ them, point them in the right direction, have their back, but get out of the way. And if you’re their mentor, teach them goal setting and judgment. They already know the tactics and technology.
(None of my observations are based on research. But having both run and participated in lots of internship programs, having hired and mentored many Millennials, having met dozens of TNGG writers and community members, I can honestly and confidently say I feel pretty good about this generation. Hey, they put Obama in the White House.)