Millennials Aren’t Special – They Just Have Great Timing

Millennials, alvarez, September 2014
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I’m convinced Millennial employees are no different than Baby Boomers or Generation X employees. I saw a chart the other day illustrating research that found Millennials want access to the Internet, ability to work from home, meaningful work, promotional opportunities and a good salary.

Seriously. Do you know any adult of any age who doesn’t want those things?

Another report claims Millennials are unique because of the things they look for in employers, and that list includes cultural fit, career potential, work/life balance, compensation, challenging environment, company mission and innovation.

Again, whether you’re 21 or 61, what employee doesn’t consider those things when evaluating an employer?

Hot Money, High Tech and the Skills Gap

Millennials aren’t from Mars and their sensibilities aren’t the only thing driving modern workplace culture, no matter how many Boomers or Gen-X employees want to blame it on them.

These wide-ranging workplace cultural shifts affecting all of us are mostly driven by a massive amount of investment dollars chasing too many innovative ideas, while shoehorning an increasingly templated startup formula into a dearth of qualified people who implement questionable business plans.

Millennials just happen to be coming into the workplace at the same time, so they’re getting blamed for a lot of the chaos.

They’re entering the workforce just when the prevailing business formula seems to be money + tech – people = profit. And, the rarefied humans who are lucky enough to remain in the equation usually possess a unique combination of skills and attributes.

Insight From a Guy Who Knows

Naval Ravikant, AngelList’s CEO and one of Silicon Valley’s most prolific angel investors, just raised $400 million dollars from a Chinese private equity firm and was interviewed about it on CNBC.

Mr. Ravikant commented about two subjects I’ve been thinking about ever since I watched his interview. He described how successful tech companies don’t require many people and he described today’s young entrepreneurs as having the resilience of cockroaches.

Mr. Ravikant said, “The beauty is, it takes very, very few people to do anything in the tech business. You have incredible embedded leverage through technology, open source software, platforms and mobile phones…it doesn’t take a lot of humans to do it. We have robot armies working in data centers for us – servers – and that’s the way technology businesses should be built.”

And, in reference to the attributes of the people who get to remain with the robot army of servers he said, “Your average startup coming out of an accelerator just getting started, they’ve got 3-to-5 people, they’re like cockroaches they can keep a low burn rate, they can survive…these are young people with low burn rates and high ambitions.”

People Who Create Embedded Leverage

That interview suggests there are inordinate sums of money chasing business plans that call for as few people as possible, but who are able to build and service people-less software platforms. And, the people who are “blessed” enough to be involved are required to understand and do things fewer-and-fewer people are able to do.

Aside from having the resilience of a cockroach, the people who create the embedded leverage to which Mr. Ravikant refers, usually must also understand and do math or science or finance. And, there’s a shortage of people who can do those things, so those people are in the position to make financial and lifestyle demands.

That’s when Millennials usually get blamed for wanting weird stuff like flexible hours, remote work, purpose and success, and engaged feedback in real time instead of robotic annual reviews.

And, that’s when I pause and say, we ALL want more flexibility, accomplishment and purpose, and have you met ANYONE who thinks annual reviews are a good thing?

Millennials didn’t invent these workplace aspirations. They’re just the first wave of new workers who have the leverage to demand them.

Most of Us Don’t Work in Silicon Valley

Even though very few of us work in Silicon Valley, most of us are beginning to enjoy the office environment trends and progressive benefits being shaped by what’s happening there.

It’s intellectually lazy to blame those changes on Millennials, because for the most part they’re not the ones investing billions on tech startups. They’re just the ones being asked to do all the work.

And, it’s disingenuous because there’s not a Boomer or a Generation X employee who would have behaved or negotiated any differently if they’d found themselves in the same circumstances at that age.

Millennials aren’t special. They’ll get married and have babies and sign mortgages and buy life insurance just like everyone else.

And, in a couple of decades they’ll be grumbling about how “all these new kids” are causing the workplace to go to hell-in-a-hand-basket.

It won’t be true then just like it’s not true now.

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