Millennials: The Next Greatest Generation or Destined for Catastrophic Failure?

This is a guest post from my friend, Professor Matt Morava of Denver University. I’m not sure I agree 100% with his assessment, but it’s certainly interesting to consider…

May you live in interesting times. –Chinese Curse

It feels like I only go backwards baby, Every part of me says, “go ahead.”, I got my hopes up again, oh no… not again. Feels like we only go backwards darling.  –Tame Impala

By 2014, Millennials (those born between 1982 and 2000) will make up 50% of the workforce. The challenges they face are enormous: growing economic problems, entrenched class division, environmental degradation, warring life philosophies, emerging technologies, the impacts of globalism, and decreasing mental and physical health across populations. As an adjunct professor for the Daniels College of Business, I spend almost every day with Millennials building their internal resources and innate talents around leadership and I’ve come to deeply appreciate their gifts and see their flaws.

Here is what stands out for me about this generation:

The Good

1. Millennials are clearly less hung up on racial and sexual differences. Millennials seem to accept people for who they are and that’s a huge win for us a society. It’s a step in the right direction towards a true meritocracy.

Professor Morava teaching a class of Millenials
Professor Morava teaching a class of Millennials

2. They are less contentious than Boomers. Boomers like to fight about everything. Seriously. They are still fighting about Vietnam and Nixon as if it mattered. The Millennials however are focused on solutions. Maybe the “trophies for all” has a dark side, but the upside is that they are always looking for the end product.

3. They can team/partner like nobody’s business. Boomers are contentious and endlessly pick sides, while Xers tend to be solitary, the Millennials work together.

4. There’s a positivity about the future in Millennials that was frankly always missing in GenX and that the Boomers had beat out of them.

5. They are technologically savvy. You have no idea what’s about to come online in terms of robotics, biomedical, computing, and communications but it will change the world as we know it currently.

6. They are Global in nature. I’ve not seen a study, but anecdotally I believe that this generation has traveled to more parts of the globe than any generation previously. And technology allows them to stay connected with those they meet along their various sojourns.

The Bad

1. Because they are so solution focused and technologically savvy, they have a tendency to think the ends justify the means. They will cheat to win. With Xers it was uncool to cheat, and I think with Boomers too, but Millennials unabashedly cheat their asses off or draft off of other’s efforts without any sense that they’re doing wrong. Breaking bad is cool and rules are for suckers.

2. They are terrified of conflict and tend to compromise their values for the sake of team/group harmony. Because I teach in the business college, I run a lot of team exercises and almost never see someone stick their neck out and go against their team. And these are really creative, bright students who get sucked into bullshit projects just because they’re afraid of making waves. In other words, group think runs rampant.

3. They trust systems to a fault. The thing about Xers is that the systems were broken… School’s were failing, priests were molesting, parents were absent and there were no summer camps. For Millennials, it’s just the opposite. Everything has worked for them and they can’t begin to envision a world where the system is not your friend. It’s not just that independence is lost, it’s more that they can’t see the forest through the trees.

4. They have gotten trapped in the “endless nostalgia” of Boomers and Xers. If you’re under 30, you should not be talking about Neil Young. At all. Seriously, go find or make your own amazing music. I was at a bar a few months ago and witnessed a 90’s Tribute Band. That seemed to sum up perfectly how nostalgia is an inherited disease. (I kid my students about their awful taste in music all the time, but good bands are out there… yes Grimes, I’m looking at you.)

The Ugly

1, Porn and Sexual Liberation. I’m not a “Creepy Christian” nor a Right-Wing nut job and I’m all for mutuality and interdependency, but I’m also a hopeless romantic and I seriously worry about the death of love and romance in this generation. If it’s the expectation to have sex casually and early in a relationship, it takes away the art of seduction and the power of emotions that come from a higher chakra.

2.A  Lost Generation of Men. Women are naturals for the corporate life, as collaboration and communication rule the day, but these traits aren’t in the typical male psyche. I’m speaking now in gender stereotypes, but I wonder what a generation of men raised on video games and paintball wars will accomplish in the non-virtual world where conversation is the coin of the realm.

3. This generation, more than any other, has had very little connection to nature. They know the earth hangs in the balance, feel deeply about the loss of rainforest in the Amazon or the plastic islands building in the Pacific, but they haven’t actually had much connection with the nature that’s right outside their door and when they are outdoors they tend to be goal oriented vs. letting Mother Nature have a few words. Being able to harmonize with “other” is how narcissism is cured.

4. Creativity and Visioning aren’t real strengths. I blame the cult of celebrity on this, but fame and wealth are all that seem to matter sometimes. Why do anything unless it brings you money or fame? It’s a question they’ll have to find a better answer to.

So, will they meet the challenges ahead? I’m working my ass off to help them but it’s 50/50 in my opinion. It will hinge on their ability to keep their strengths out of liability phase and to remain conscious of how their weaknesses are acting as liabilities.

It’s certainly interesting.

2 comments on “Millennials: The Next Greatest Generation or Destined for Catastrophic Failure?

  1. Been thinking about the books that shaped my outlook on life in my teens and twenties and what books might make for good reading for those in their teens and twenties:

    Unknown Problems, Unknown Solutions: Books for The Next Generation of Leaders

    US Military & World Views
    Citizen Soldiers: The U.S. Army from the Normandy Beaches to the Bulge to the Surrender of Germany – June 7, 1944 to May 7, 1945 by Stephen Ambrose
    Drift by Rachel Maddow
    The Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin
    In The Name of Identity by Amin Maalouf
    Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent by Blaine Harden
    Among the Thugs by Bill Buford

    Organizational Awareness & Business
    The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate
    America by David Whyte
    The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner
    Great by Choice by Jim Collins

    Soul, Sex and Romance — A Love of Natural
    Aphrodite’s Daughters by Jalaja Bonheim
    The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
    Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin
    The Five Things We Cannon Change by David Richo
    Meeting the Shadow by Connie Zweig
    The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida
    The Tools by Stutz and Michels
    Soulmates by Thomas Moore
    Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind by Roszak, et. all

    Books That Shaped A Generation: The Desolation of Generation X

    Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
    Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Train 72′ by Hunter S. Thompson
    Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
    Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut
    Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
    The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by Carlos Castaneda
    Catch-22 by Josephn Heller
    Less Than Zero by Bret Easton Ellis
    Watchman by Alan Moore
    Essays in Idleness by Donald Keene

  2. Fascinating post — from a perspective most of us simply lack.

    I can’t imagine dating today … the texting culture alone would drive me bonkers.

    I must say there’s nothing wrong with nostalgia … appreciating and loving the very best of the past can help us process and appreciate the here and now. Then again, dubbing anything before 1998 as “classic” needs to stop. Now.

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