Blended Generation Think Tank: The Millennial Mindset Comes to Light

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Following my earlier post on “Why Millennial Mindset Matters,” it was clear that many peers from across generations were conflicted – not only about the stereotypes that defined their generation, but also about the traits that put they shared with the “Millennial Mindset.” The question of identity came to the forefront. We invited some who had passionate views on this topic to share their opinions.

Here’s premise of the Hangout:

The Millennial Mindset: is the outlook that seems to transcend generations. While most of us hate stereotypes, this label is what people seem to use as ‘the’ measuring stick. GenX, Millennials and Boomers come together to provide deeper insight into their definition of the Millennial Mindset and how they perceive themselves within this label.

Our esteemed panelists included:

  • Brian Fanzo – older Millennial – Partner at Broadsuite Media, proudly wearing the badge of Millennial
  • Christin Kardos – middle GenXer – Community Manager for #SocBizHour
  • Bhupesh Shah – pre-natal Boomer (:) Digital Strategist and Program Coordinator at Seneca College
  • Tiffany Daniels – older Millennial – Non-profit government and community relations
  • Ross Quintana – younger GenXer – Social Media Consultant
  • Mila Araujo – middle GenXer – Director of Financial Services, Producer of 140 Conference, Montreal
  • Bev Lesnick – middle Boomer – Owner of Island Coffee Haus

You can listen or watch the Hangout in its entirety or follow the full recap below:

The Conflict

When I originally posted the question on Facebook, “GenXers, What makes you a Millennial in GenX garb?” I received polarized responses within the same generation:

Amy Vernon: I have to admit I’m annoyed when people deny being GenX. But that should come as no surprise to you. I think it IS GenX to easily adapt to new tech. We constantly dealt with new tech all our lives. Maybe some are more adept than others. Same could be said of ANY generation.

Mila Araujo: I should clarify, I was writing programs on DOS when I was 8 years old, on chats when I was 12-13 so to me, it is not about adopting technology – but perhaps being familiar with it as part of my being since I was a kid…In school I had to use word processors I wasn’t allowed to handwrite–all this stuff that is supposedly Millennial. I also remember reading about GenX when I was 13, and I was not in the GenX category back then. I remember this because GenX seemed like a cool group of peeps to belong to. Time has passed and now Gen X includes me, that’s fine.

Was it that people didn’t want to identify with their generation because of the prevailing stereotypes, OR, did they really feel that they fell into a different camp?

Do you currently feel you belong to your generation?

For the most part, the main factor that has created this dichotomy within each generation is technology adoption. Both Boomers, Bhupesh and Bev, were always looking out for new tools to make them more efficient or productive. Among their peers and partners exposed to the same information, Bev and Bhupesh were the only ones who saw value in new tech. As per Bhupesh,

The Boomer definition never fit in with me… I’m not as conservative… I adopted technology as soon as I heard about something. It’s almost like you are awake when you see the possibilities [to make life easier]

I loved how Christin phrased it,

I am totally greedy. I am a 40 year-old woman and I am proud to be a GenXer. I want to claim everything about my generation including some of the barriers we have broken. But there is also a tendency of today’s generation (Y) to be more adventurous, more results-oriented and more inclined to scrap the old in favor of the new. As a GenXer we have accomplished a great deal that is perhaps less documented but I am also open to the change that we typically attribute to young people

Brian noted that the strongest differentiator that defines  Millennials is the pace of  innovation in his lifetime; faster than ever before.

Millennials are willing to fail fast, so that element of change is something I identify with exclusively.

Ross interjected:

The tech is changing faster, and the adoption times affect the velocity of your change adoption. Though you can get numb to adoption and miss out (FOMO) as well.

Mila challenged Brian. With the change that GenXers lived through from DOS-based computers, Beta, VHS tapes, 8 track tapes, CDs and DVDs, she noted that ALL of society is getting together and learning about technology because it offers convenient ways to keep connected, and become more productive.

Bev added:

I went through change. We had the rotary dial phone. Remember when you had to hang it up if you made a mistake, then dial again? I have a 21 and a 23-year old. They are totally different from each other. One wants a neck tattoo and the other one doesn’t. I ‘should be’ [according to the Boomer definition] married 25 years and waiting for my grand kids right?  Instead I was divorced in 2005, and then in 2007 the bottom dropped out. I’ve adapted and moved on to better myself.

Ross raised a great point that research “looks towards the mean,” i.e. the average, and does not consider the out-liers who fit into the “advanced” categories because they are  not within the current norm. In may cases, early adoption made by GenX was consistent with the “norm” that existed within GenY.

Tiffany added that technology is not unique to Millennials and the pace of change is affecting us all. “I fully expect GenZ to blow us all out of the water”.

Are we allowed to be selective about the traits that define our generation?

While Christin indicated earlier that she was willing to own the traits and accomplishments that defined her as a GenX, Tiffany Daniels provided a different perspective. Ultimately, being a Millennial means she was born within the time period that dictates this definition. However, as a Millennial, who works in Corporate America,

It’s the experiences: i.e. where you were, what age you were at that defines your development.  For me 9/11 and Columbine directly affected my outlook, as well as my education because of how my parents reacted to it… I am a Millennial and I’m not ashamed of it. The reason I am a Reluctant Millennial (@reluctantmilly) is because of the negative stereotypes that are associated with it: the laziness, the entitlement, the lack of respect. I know I embrace those things sometimes but I work in a business situation and in a conversation I don’t want to be considered a Millennial because that is a negative term, especially when you’re stereotyping the emotional maturity of GenY…

Our generation is simply too large not to hire us. But many people aren’t excited about it.

Brian noted that prior to 2014 he never proudly announced that he was a Millennial. When he started mentoring people, they too were embarrassed to be associated with it because of the stigma that Tiffany alluded to. But that’s when he decided to change,

I can remember the day I heard it because it flipped my switch to own it… I decided announce it [I am a Millennial] in every meeting because I wanted to change the perception by presenting the other things that we do great… Yes there are bad apples: the lazy and entitled… Millennials came across as entitled but we didn’t give ourselves the first place trophy for everyone participating. Someone else did that…Label me with the good and bad traits because I am doing good things not based on the year I was born.

Perhaps the research is flawed?

It’s important to recognize that the Millennial Mindset is getting considerable attention because, purely from a statistical perspective, GenY will dominate the workforce in less than a decade. Countless research has been conducted to identify those specific traits.

Prior to the Hangout, I asked everyone to take the following test from Pew Research: How Millennial Are You?

The original research was conducted in 2010 and defined the questions that “identify the distinctive characteristics of Millennials.”  The findings from Pew 2010 noted the following:  Millennials were,

….confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change….they embrace multiple modes of self-expression…Whether as a by-product of protective parents, the age of terrorism or a media culture that focuses on dangers, they cast a wary eye on human nature. Two-thirds say “you can’t be too careful” when dealing with people. Yet they are less skeptical than their elders of government.

Following the survey, each individual would be given an  individual score. Anyone with a score equal to or above 73 was deemed more likely to be “Millennial”.

I asked the panelists:  What was your score? Did it surprise you?

  • Christin (GenX) scored 97. She agreed the questions barely scratched the surface. ” I have a tattoo, but a cowardly tattoo at that”.
  • Ross (GenX) scored a 66. While this did not surprise him, questions that involved having a tattoo or contacting the government” has nothing to do with mindset. “I only have a landline because ComCast bundled it in my internet.” While he is more technologically aware, and more progressive than many, that trait did not have enough weighting to move his score ahead. Again, as he points out “If you hit the mean (ie average) of the group then it never fails”.
  • Tiffany (GenY) scored 88 and stated “Adoption of technology, social consciousness,  or parents who were not married – I don’t know that any of that defines me as a Millennial more than it defines where the nation is moving.”
  • Brian (GenY) noted that this test was conducted in 2010 and may not necessarily be representative of these times. “I have 9 tattoos that I show off often to prove a tattoo doesn’t mean I don’t deserve to be a leader…”

The environment and the culture will influence mindset:

Everyone agreed: We are all part of the same environment (to varying degrees). We are all products of our environment. There are those within each generation willing to take a ride on this rapid change that befalls us. Ultimately, it’s a choice to do so or it’s a choice to remain complacent and not learn new things. This is not generational.

Brian agrees that if he had remained in Pittsburgh things would have been different.

It’s a blue-collar, family-oriented, hard-working steel town. It’s conservative. I wonder how change-enabled I would have been if I had lived in Pittsburgh. We moved to Virginia Beach and was exposed to a much more open culture (singles, divorced). Today technology through lives-streams we are exposed to more cultures and what companies are doing [much more today compared to a few years ago].

On the other side of the coin, Tiffany pointed out that there are blue collar Millennials and they don’t desire significant professional change. “For some reason, we deny ourselves the opportunity to desire those options as well”.

Companies stifle individual growth; individuals move it forward

I also argued that the work environment had as much influence on mindset. In many corporations, a firewall not only limit access to your personal (social) life, the 8 hours that you spend at work also determines how adaptive and how technology-aware you become. Not everyone works for a start-up. Not everyone is exposed to the open and agile environments that befit many of the panellists.

Mila agrees that where you live will make a significant impact on your mindset.  In Quebec, while there are many innovators, they are few and far between. Many financial institutions (brokerages, in particular) are 5-10 years behind because of compliance and fear of legislation. There is a definitely lack of awareness or understanding but she has taken proactive steps to make her company current: with the use of Rypple, Yammer, and using blogging as a communication vehicle.

Tattoos are not unique to Millennials

The biggest discussion within the chat concerned tattoos. It’s more accepted today in the mainstream but it continues to have its place. Do people have less tattoos or smaller ones because they are aware of how people may judge them? Tiffany pointed out that tattoos still turn some individuals off “good or not”.

I also live/work in a world that is very conservative and governmental. Tattoos and extra piercings are more of a distraction than a statement in those worlds. We have 20 years to catch up with marketing…

Driving change

This was, by far, the biggest epiphany for the group. With the number of flawed interpretations of this definition, it was clear that this question is far more complicated than when we first spoke about it. And while many initially embraced this definition of Millennial Mindset, we all left with more questions than answers. There really is no ONE definition that describes us all. What’s clear is that what’s deemed “acceptable or likeable” within this definition is not necessarily embraced by everyone. Ross is absolutely right when he talks about the “mean” delivering the prevailing view. But it’s not the ONLY view and for these panelists; this needs to continuously be explored.

I appreciated Brian introducing this notion of happiness because it’s clearly a common end goal. Tiffany noted it was a foreign concept for many people. For Ross, happiness = growth. For Bhupesh, it’s about doing what he wants to do and having the freedom to choose. For Christin, happiness = growth and human connections. Bev rounded out the discussion and stated that it’s ALL generations that should want this. As per Brian,

I don’t believe I can tell ANYONE what happiness is for them but I do want to help people get there so for me it’s about busting and driving change. 

If this discussion is to continue, the Millennials (in their sheer numbers) have the power to drive this change and influence the discussion based on the prevailing views of society in general.

This discussion is far too robust to limit to one hangout (apologies for this long blog post).  We will continue to explore this subject around the potential subtopics that may drive this definition of Millennial Mindset.

Insights:

  • As Christen alluded to: “I believe that year over year, decade over decade, people are fundamentally the same. Everything that GenXers and Boomers say about Millennials is the same thing that our predecessors say about us. It’s just that we’re able to have more conversations and discourse on the subject.”
  • So perhaps the way Millennial Mindset should be redefined and be deemed generation agnostic. It will take into consideration the “outliers” as opposed to the average and redefine them in their own unique clusters.
  • Perhaps technology adoption should NOT be a prevailing trait. This should be measured to include cultural and local influences.
  • Bhupesh put this nicely, “The fact that we can chat, listen and speak in the hangout says a lot about us huh!” The conversation continues and the divides that separate generations are fewer than those that bring them together.
  • It’s clear from this conversation that momentum is required and everyone is willing to continue building the right definition together.

At ArCompany we  analyze data gathered from social media, websites, forums and search. This research helps inform and guide the communication efforts of many brands. If you want to learn more about implementing meaningful insights, we’re here to help.

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CEO at ArCompany, and a seasoned digital strategist having held management positions for top Ad Agencies including Ogilvy, Rapp Collins, ONE and Isobar Digital. She also has extensive start-up experience with launch successes like Yahoo! Answers. Hessie is the co-author of EVOLVE: Marketing (as we know it) is Doomed! She is also an active writer for Huffington Post, and Steamfeed.

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