Are you picturing "The Millennials" correctly?

When I search Google Images for “millennials” these are the first five pictures that are shown to me**:

These images are typical of the images that Google gives.

Look at the faces in these images and ask yourself this question: How old are these people?

I’ll be a more specific: Are any of these people over 25? Anyone over 30? Anyone below the age of 20?

The Millennial generation were born between 1977 and 1997, as such they are aged between 39 and 19.

All of the pictures above seek to be representative of race, creed and sex but none of them (in my view) represents the breadth of age that the Millennial generation covers.

If these faces are what you picture when you think of the Millennial generation then you are missing most of the generation.

  • You are missing the faces of married people, and divorced people.
  • You are missing the faces of people who have worked for the same employer for 20 years.
  • You are missing the faces of home owners.
  • You are missing the faces of people with teenage children. Some of whom will themselves be millennials.

If we are going to generalise we need to make sure that we do it in a way that is reasonably representative.

** I’d expect your images to be different because Google delivers different results to different people.

Look out – the Millennial are coming

If you have children under the age of 30 and they use IT, you will notice that they do it in a radically different way to the way in which you started using it. These people are the Millennials, also known as Generation-Y.

Jimmy and Granddad visit Alnwick GardensThere has been a good deal of debate recently about the impact of the Millennial on the workplace.

These discussions are generally polarised between the people who believe that business practices, as we know them, will be completely and dramatically changed through to the people who believe that the Millennials who encounter the harsh reality of working life will conform to the business culture.

As with all things, it’s not likely that either of these polarised views will be overarching reality, although in some businesses one, or other, of the extremes is likely to prevail. But it’s interesting, to me anyway, to see the influence that this body of individuals is already have on the way that corporate IT people think.

As a starter it’s probably worth understanding the things that make a Millennial tick – 60 minutes put it this way:

They were raised by doting parents who told them they are special, played in little leagues with no winners or losers, or all winners. They are laden with trophies just for participating and they think your business-as-usual ethic is for the birds. And if you persist in the belief you can, take your job and shove it.

The workplace has become a psychological battlefield and the millennials have the upper hand, because they are tech savvy, with every gadget imaginable almost becoming an extension of their bodies. They multitask, talk, walk, listen and type, and text. And their priorities are simple: they come first.

A recent survey highlighted in CIO magazine defined four key lessons for CIO’s:

1. Millennials expect to use the technology and devices of their choice.

2. They either don’t care about or won’t obey corporate IT policies.

3. They have an entirely different view of privacy than previous generations.

4. They have little use for corporate email as a major collaboration tool.

The basic premise being that organisations need to behave differently if they are to get the desired outcome from this generation of workers. And how do they need to change:

1. Get Millennial employees involved at crucial points whenever key technology use and policy decisions are being

2. Make sure technology-related policies are written in plain language and do not sound overly punitive.

3. View corporate technologies through a Millennial lens.

4. Figure out how to work with Millennials who are not hierarchical in their teaming and collaboration approach.

5. Look closely at collaboration, much of which is technology-enabled.

In other words, Mr. CIO change the way you work or you are out of of synch with the business and ultimately out of a job.

That’s one way of looking at it.

Andrew McAfee writing for the Harvard Business Review reflects the other end of the spectrum in his article Millennials Won’t Change Work; Work Will Change Millennials. I suppose the title says it all, but to underline the point:

I absolutely buy that Millennials have different technology habits and preferences than us older workers. In short, they consider enterprise 2.0 the no-brainer default rather than something scary and weird. But that’s about the biggest difference I see.

I think that today’s workplaces will change Generation Y more than the reverse. I realize that this makes for a less splashy article. Good thing I’m not trying to sell magazines.

My personal view is that we will continue to see significant change in the workplace. Some organisations that are large and productive today will stagnate and die, others will evolve and grow. New business will be started with radically new business models, as well as new businesses doing things the way that they’ve always been done. New types of work will continue to be created, but we’ll still need a mechanic to fix the car. Information and knowledge will continue to be a significant factor in the effectiveness of many businesses, it’s use will be a key differentiator for them, but I’ll still have a window cleaner who puts a hand written note through the letterbox.

In other words – yes we’ll see change, no it won’t be as painful or as radical as some believe.

To pinch an idea from one of the comments on Andrew McAfee’s post – a lot of things that define the Millennials are just a result of being young.

The other thing I wonder about is whether the current downturn will have an effect upon the general mindset and birth a new type of generation? Speaking as someone who’s formative years included the impact of the last downturn I suspect that it will.