I had a very interesting conversation the other day, as a Millennial on the head end of the generation curve, I was asked looking back to my own journey, how could I share some of my insights as the challenges, solutions spaces and trends have risen over the last five years.
Coming full circle now several times, now approaching my mid-30s, I started my journey looking at workplace disengagement as a values crisis for the 21st century and its systems impact to the global economy. I'd love to offer a values systems point-of-view being on the front line of social impact work looking at the intersection between #futureofWork and #futureofEducation, and how it's setting up the stage as a catalyst for social impact.
1. Harnessing Entitlement and Aligning the "ME-Selfie" Generation for Social Good
Let's face it, before there was all the research, questions and an entire field looking at the impacts (and complexities) of an entire generation gap, most organizations were happy humming away with structure, and the live-by-the-paycheck-save-until-retirement world view and suddenly BAM, an entire population of people began to reject that way of thinking. Whatever circumstances and evidence we've come up with, let's just call it a very very confusing few years for everyone. There wasn't too much wisdom to go around, and if there was, very few were equipped to deeply listen and create integrative solutions, let alone have the skills to even identify the problem.
Given all the inter-connectedness and a flood of information bombardment over the decade (Thank You Internet), we developed a generation of people who now place higher value on autonomy, purpose and making things happen. Imagine as if the individual entrepreneur and global-capitalism-system bred an entire culture and age demographic to put a stronger value on go-getting-achievement. (Forget that child-initiative story of the lemonade stand and newspaper route, we have a generation technologically equipped for instant gratification having already thinking that we "paid our dues" through years of mind-grinding institutional education that was highly prized during its creation in the first several Industrial Revolutions)
For those in the position, instead of blocking that raging energy (yes millennials who get blocked can get quite angry and passive-aggressive) and beat them down to submission with shame and punishment, we can harness that energy to solve many of today's complex problems.
Allow us the autonomy to grow. Listen, guide, trust and deeply support the process with empathy and compassion. (this is what the Millennial generation will have some challenges doing, and the older generations will have the capacity to master in a short amount of time. Be the Yin to the Yang.) Let us hit the wall, and clean up the messes ourselves. Accelerated supported learning.
Here's the caveat, it's not going to be a pleasant ride. It's about building trust and deepening relationships which takes commitment, faith and time. Allowing a generation to evolve also means evolving all the touch-points; Gen-Xers and Baby-Boomers will have to learn new skills, shift beliefs, and evolve upwards on the higher values scale as well, leading to the next point.
2. Finding Purpose and Shifting Values (for everyone as a whole)
It's not new news that Millennials are seeking meaning. What I mean by meaning is purpose. You can call it being more spiritual-emotionally balanced, or just sheer wanting to be passionate and alive. Having conversations between multiple generations and listening to multiple points of view, the common underlying root of it is the values systems and the growing pains around growth.
In other words, as a collective whole, we are now forced to be more aware of what's important to us, individually, and how we want to spend our own time. This could mean how Baby-boomers will retire, and how Gen-Xers, Millennials and Gen-Zers will add-value in this new vacuum.
Millennials generally want change; we don't need the years and years of experience to tell us that our systems aren't designed for our higher well-being, such as more love, joy, and happiness. Generally, we became aware of it from the school system. The "get a degree and you can be anything you want" quickly turned to "get a degree with lots of debt to get a job already designed for you to steadily walk the paved path". For everyone else, that might not have been true. If you work-work-work, you will eventually achieve happiness, and have faith that the system will sort itself out.
When you elicit people's values, what you tend to discover are values that are fear-based or move-away in nature. Want to try it yourself? Ask yourself what's important to you in your life, and if you get beliefs like: protection, safety, security; they come from a place that moves you away from your deeper needs. Then, as an example, ask yourself for what is the purpose is safety, and keep deepening and expanding yourself to uncover the root of your beliefs and eventually it shifts positive, and move-toward in nature.
Why is this important? Remember that values are what is important to us and determines how we spend (or want to spend) our time. Don't be surprised that millennials have many of their values already move-toward facing. It's not that we're more altruistic or live in a fantasy idealist world. It's just that we grew up more connected, even if it's only superficially, and in more safe and peaceful times. That we can gratefully thank and appreciate our older generations.
This leads us to a very important moment as a population. As we go through the exercise of shifting our values towards more positive ones, as a collective, we will develop the capacity to design and upgrade our systems centered on more higher values. That might not mean world peace tomorrow, but definitely get us moving toward that direction.
Before it gets too lofty, there is one practical solution that I can share:
3. Use Intra/Entrepreurneurship for Making Good
What an entire generation craves is freedom, autonomy and flexibility. While that doesn't mean let's make everyone their own business owner, we can use many of the success principles that stem from what we've learned about entrepreneurship over the last several decades. The science of achievement is no secret, it's how empires and industries started in the first place. The only difference now is the new industry is not about the success of the few, but a more peer-to-peer collective view of the success of the many with a few more elevated points-of-view learned through the wise.
Entrepreneurship, as we know it, can be very disruptive. While it is needed, the general narrative is that it is competitive in nature, self-interested and profit first. As a result, it has destroyed and extracted too much from our environment. Many transformed entrepreneurs who just strive for personal gain can attest to the burn out and unfulfilled feeling they get chasing success.
With the added social lens, many might call social entrepreneurship, we can still leverage the creative energy from rewards, merits, freedom and autonomy that Millennial generation craves, while adding the dimension of deeper meaning and purpose.
This opens up the space for older generations; whether thinking of retirement or what to do in the collision space of chaos, to also embark on the personal work to deepen yourself to connect to your higher values. How that might creatively express itself to benefit the collective whole is to demonstrate empathy, compassion and what going with the flow is like. By far, I can promise that the Millennial generation will thank you in folds as our generation will move from the "Me" to the "We" following your examples as we learn and respect the amazing and awesome power of trust that can impact a society.
In conclusion, even tough I speak as a Millennial, I feel that this isn't just a Millennial journey. It is a journey of consciousness. As a system, we are all evolving, and while the view points and narratives are different for everyone, we will have to shift towards higher values if we want to build a thriving future for this planet and the people living on it. Consider that I'm speaking from a "first world" lens, and how we transform ourselves will also up-lift the rest of the world as well by leading by example of this type of collective systems change.
Being on this cusp of growth isn't easy, but I believe we all signed on for this to experience this transformative collective journey.
P.S. And as always, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn and share your thoughts and feedback! I am always happy to meet talented people from around the world. If you find that I have overlooked an issue of importance to you, or that you want to share some of your experiences, I welcome your feedback.
P.P.S. I like the idea of sharing knowledge, therefore, please share this post with your network.
A little about me... Hi! I'm Duncan So, the Founder & Chief Catalyst of Phinklife, a Systems Change Agency, and the Head of Global Education at the Phinklife Institute for Social Impact empowering leaders for social impact.