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Alicia Blain

Inspirational Millennials


Last week, I had the rare treat of being around NINE 20-somethings for 7 whole days. As many of you know by now, I love watching Gen Yers.In fact, I learned to figure them out by creating a living, breathing lab years ago as I started hiring them. They frustrated me so much that I knew that I either had to figure them out or put in for early retirement. I chose the first option. Putting Gen Yers under the microscrope changed so many things in my life but most especially it changed the way I saw them and the way I led them.

Last week, I had a chance to observe nine of them in a personal setting instead of a professional one. Although I’ve been able to do this in the past, I didn’t have the opportunity to do it for long periods of time like I did last week. Seven glorious days!

So let me give you the quick backstory. My fiance’s mother, June, turned 90 in June. Isn’t it cute that June’s name is her birth month? Anyway, I digress. June’s daughter decided to host a family reunion in August so the entire family could make it. It’s a pretty big family so you can imagine how difficult it was to get busy schedules to align.

What was so amazing is that June’s daughter and her husband PAID for the entire reunion!! And I mean everything from renting the house next door, to stocking refrigerators full of food, to paying for dinners, a suite at a Padres game, tickets to the local outdoor symphony featuring the Beatles and Rolling Stones, to a beautiful sunset birthday dinner at a golf course. It was a magical week full of wonderful memories and all made possible by the generosity of June’s daughter & husband. I know the karma gods will reward them generously for their beautiful and selfless gesture and we are all indebted to them for everything they did.

So, the nine 20-somethings were mostly June’s grandchildren and a couple of their friends. I got to talk to them, observe them, understand what was important to them and just immerse myself in their world. In doing so, I realized that today’s 20-somethings are just like we were at their age – but with a 21st Century twist. I also realized just how much I had forgotten what it was like to be 20-something. Here are the 3 things that stood out:

1. They love having fun. Whether it was playing bananagrams in the dining room table or making signs to take to the Padres game or rocking out to the Beatles & the Rolling Stones at the Pops concert, 20-somethings live their life to the fullest. Seeing their zest for life and the dreams they had for the future, reminded me that I was exactly like them at their age – I had just forgotten.

Here’s the  twist:  At the same time they were playing bananagrams, some of them were playing scrabble on their smartphones with either someone else at the reunion or a friend online.  Before going to the Rolling Stones concert, they went to iTunes to listen to some Stones hits so they would recognize them at the concert.  Remember, the Beatles & Stones aren’t bands they listen to but yet they were totally cool about getting to know them & going to a concert that showcased their songs.  At 20-something, I know I wouldn’t even dream of going with my parents to a supper club to hear Frank Sinatra.  How about you?

2.  They love to Party.   While the boring Boomers would scramble to bed exhausted at 9:00 or 10:00, their evening was just beginning.  They would either congregate in one of the houses or they’d go to a local bar.  Sometimes, I’d hear them getting back at 3 0r 4 in the morning.  It reminded me of how I’d do the same thing in my twenties. But again, going to bed at 10PM makes you forget the days when 10PM meant you were getting ready to go out and party the night away.

Here’s the twist: Unlike their parent’s generation, I found that 20-somethings today are more aware of the hazards of drinking and driving. Instead of putting their lives and those of others at risk, these 20-somethings chose to let someone else do the driving instead. I find that 20-somethings today take cabs after a night of partying rather than get behind a wheel.  For a group that’s considered to be immature and irresponsible, that’s a pretty responsible thing to do and it’s smart too. How many times did you call a cab after a night of partying?

 Through all of their partying, these 20-somethings are connected at all times to their smartphones/cellphones.  They are either letting their friends know where they are, or finding a place to go eat afterwards or taking a picture to put on their facebook page, the technology is always with them and utilized all the time. Boomers will never know what that feels like.  We had to find our way to a payphone and prayed that it worked if we wanted to make a call.

3.  They love their families.  One of my fondest memories of this reunion will be how well all the generations – Veterans, Boomers, Xers, Gen Yers and iGen (yes, there were even children under the age of 11) got along.  There was love and respect even when understanding a certain way of thinking was difficult.  After all, what someone in their 90s thinks is important is very different than what a 20-something thinks it is. I loved how everyone laughed and interacted with one another and the genuine interest the 20-somethings had in the stories told by the older generations.  I thought back to the family reunions I attended in my twenties and how despite our differences, I respected and loved my family.  I still remember the wonderful family stories that were told that I still remember today.   I had just forgotten where I first heard them.

Here’s the twist:  20-somethings today really like to hang out with their parents.  They didn’t congregate in a group removed from the older folks, they got right into the conversation and the action.  In  my twenties, I distinctly remember how the younger group would separate themselves from the older folks and hang out separately.  Not so today.  Here’s an even bigger shocker – these 20-somethings didn’t even mind if their parents hung out with them at the bar or late into the night.  That NEVER happened when I was in my twenties.  Parents were simply not allowed into our space.  Not so with this crop of 20-somethings.  They include everyone… at least to a certain point.

It seems like every day I read or hear someone highlighting how different or strange these 20-somethings are.  After spending seven fun-filled days with nine of them, I can tell you they are more like us than we give them credit for.  It’s just very hard to think back to the days we were their age.  Also, they have their own unique twist that makes them unfamiliar – but not different.  From the generation that lived the  sex, drugs & rock n’ roll mantra, imagine how frightening we must have been for our very proper and “square” parents?

I think that if we start from a place of acceptance and commonality, the differences among us aren’t so stark. They add flavor to the rich fabric of our personal and professional lives.  And we are all the more blessed because of it.

To all the 20-somethings out there – You ROCK!!

One of the things I enjoy most is highlighting stories of Gen Yers that are making an impact by doing things differently. In my January blog titled “How Gen Yers are Reinventing the Future” I was highlighting a speech given by Rachel Botsman at  TEDx Australia.  She gave a fascinating talk about collaborative consumption and you can read about it in  my January 24th blog.  A few days after I posted the blog, I received a comment from Jonah Halper letting me know about another talk from Nancy Lublin that I would probably find interesting.  As it turns out, I’m a big Nancy Lublin fan so I went to visit the site to see her talk.

When I got there I was more curious about the site itself than Nancy’s talk (it’ll be our secret..).  As it turns out the name of the site is “NextGen:Charity.com” and what a great concept they have.  The description on the site explains what they do better than I can so here is what it says, “NextGen:Charity is a conference on non-profit innovation aimed to help you run your organization more effectively and efficiently, and connect with donors and your community more powerfully”.  The Gen Y founders,  Jonah Halper (my blog commenter), a professional fund raiser and marketer and Ari Telman, an award winning comedian & founder of JCORPS, an international volunteer organization, joined forces & started NextGen:Charity.

Here’s the beauty of their idea.  They saw the power & following that the TED talks generated & wanted to bring that to the non-profit sector, which as I can attest, needs it desperately. Visit their site & see the sponsor lineup supporting them: Fast Company, AMEX, Pace University.  Not too shabby, huh?  Then there are the speakers:  Seth Godin, our friend Nancy Lublin, and many more top name experts in the non-profit world.

The NextGen:Charity conference event  takes place in NYC on November 17&18 but the founders have Meetups scheduled all across the country from now until the summer.   Cool idea and worth attending if you’re in one of the cities: DC,Boston, Miami, LA & Chicago.

For all  my non-profit friends & clients, check out the NextGen:Charity and block those dates.

NextGen:Charity is just another example of Gen Y’s creativity at work.  It also showcases their innate desire for collaboration and helping others/giving back.  So next time you think Gen Yers are lazy & unmotivated, think of Jonah & Ari & think again.

Oh and BTW, I did get to see Nancy Lublin’s video & it was very good — I knew it would be.  :-)

In my blogs I always try to highlight great examples of Millennials doing good & being Millennials.  Last week, I came across a blog on Fast Company written by Simon Mainwaring titled:  “Using Social Media to Mobilize Millennials“.  In the blog, Simon talks about two projects that take a unique & highly Millennial spin on an existing practice.  That practice is social causes & our need as humans to give back and help others less fortunate.

The names of the 2 projects are Pando Projects & Loudsauce.  The first puts the Millennial brainpower to help young people that have an idea for a business but need help putting the business plan together.   Each project gets a website, promotional fundraising & volunteer management tools to kickstart the project.  The project is still a pilot but it shows the power of social media as people support projects based on the personal tie they have with that particular cause.  If you look at the 15 pilot projects, it clearly shows the interest that Gen Y has for causes and making the world a better place.  I particularly loved the projects that also had a multi-cultural component to them as it shows how the future of the US will be more ethnically and racially diverse than ever before.

The second project shows the incredible market savviness that Millennials possess.  Loudsauce lists a series of campaigns for causes & based on your preference you donate money to fund advertising for that cause on TV or billboards & then you spread the word using social media such as Facebook & Twitter.

What struck me in both examples is the creativity they display by leveraging 2 of the 5 unique skills & traits that Millennials bring to any situation.  The 2 skills are their collaboration or crowd sourcing approach to things & their use of technology. I believe Millennials are extremely lucky to be living in a time where technology provides access to so much that was not available in just a few years past.  The way they use technology & harness it is unique to them & extremely powerful.  On top of that, Millennials are natural collaborators.  I’ve shown many examples in my blogs of Millennials coming together to get things done.  They are wired to do it &  because it’s natural to them, they harness that collectivity in ways prior generations can’t begin to fathom.   

I agree with Simon on his take of the future. The unique skills of the  Millennials layered on top of their affinity to get involved in social causes, layered on top of the technology available to help them do that will make them the  ”founders of companies and industry leaders that will transform the products, services and role of brands in near future”.

But where will that leave corporations?  For the first time, we have a generation of smart, collaborative young people who, at an age where other generations were forced to look for corporate jobs to get experience, have an option to start their own companies & use the collective brainpower of their peers to help them succeed.  As corporate leaders continue to rely on outdated principles & techniques that hinder their ability to see the goldmine in their Gen Y staff,  they may decide to opt out of corporate and start their own companies. 

They have the  technology, the social media & the brainpower of their fellow Gen Yers to provide them with the acumen & funding they need to start & grow their own businesses.  That combination has never been available to other generations.  Can corporations compete against that especially as so many Millennials are getting disillusioned by corporate & its leaders on a daily basis?  What kind of talent will be available to corporations?  Will the best Gen Y talent be willing to put up with all the hassles of corporate or decide to try their luck & start their own companies & bring on other bright & motivated Millennials?Will corporate be left with a mediocre talent pool going forward or will they be able to attract, retain & leverage the best of Gen Y?

Interesting questions that will be addressed at time goes on.  If you want to be that corporate leader that can attract & retain top talent, you better start now  First step, let go of the status quo, of your comfort zone & get uncomfortable.  Let go of outdated styles & techniques that blind you to the potential that Millennials bring.  Ignite experimentation in your group & make that connection with your young workforce.    That will give you a good head start.  Remember leading successfully in the 21st Century requires leaders to C.A.R.E. – Connect, Adapt, Reshape & Experiment to keep the best talent engaged & commited. 

Are you doing that today?

She inspires us because despite physical challenges, Ashley Fiolek, a 19 year old Millennial woman lives her passion everyday.  As usual, the first Success Magazine edition of 2011 is full of great informational and motivational articles.  One of the articles that particularly resonated with me is the one written by Alice Daniel in the Your Personal Best column.  The name of the article is “Off the Beaten Track“.

It spotlights a young woman who happens to be deaf but yet manages to be a two-time Womens Motocross champion.  I have to admit that I was not familiar with the sport of motocross but from the article I now understand it a bit better.  Basically it’s a race,  where dirt bikes  speed down a beaten track with very sharp corners.  Apparently, the sport is known for its distinctive sounds as engines roar and bikers zoom past other bikers.  But Ashley Fiolek has proven that assumption to be wrong since she can’t hear those distinctive sounds. The article goes on to explain how Ashley’s family first discovered she was deaf and how from a very young age she never let that stop her from communicating and living her life.  In fact, Ashley believes that her inability to hear all the loud sounds on the racetrack contribute to her success.  Instead of getting distracted, she “feels” the vibrations of the bike and that tells her what she needs to do.

Ashley has gone on to win various championships and she was the first woman motocross racer to be signed to the Honda Red Bull Racing team.  Awesome, isn’t?  What I like about this story aside from it’s very inspirational message are 2 things:

First, it shows the strong family ties that Millennials have with their parents.  From an early age, Ashley’s father, a former amateur racer, put her on a motocross and she started competing at age 7.  When her parents discovered that Ashley was deaf, they moved to Florida so she could attend teh Florida School for the Deaf & Blind.  In 9th grade, they began to home school her so she could be more active in the motocross circuit.  Her mom is always close by and helps her with whatever she needs.  Millennial parents go out of their way to ensure their children have the best experience and advantages they can possibly have.

Second, the story shows the possibilities that Millennials have.  They are fearless.  They have the support of parents that encourage them to fulfill their dreams and are there to help them do that.  Millennials are creative.  Look at how Ashley has turned her passion into a strong brand by being the first woman to be hired by a motocross racing team.  Imagine how she will inspire other young women to follow their dreams and more importantly, to go into the sport if that is their desire.  Finally, it shows how giving Millennials are.  In addition to racing, Ashley is very involved in speaking to young audiences that are deaf and, like most Millennials, is actively involved in charities.

Ashley shows the characteristics in most Millennials: optimistic, fearless, bright, creative & giving.  When harnessed correctly, those characteristics are powerful & are a huge benefit to any organization.  But first, you have to know it’s there and you have to know how to tap it.  Sadly, many organizations are not doing that because instead they focus on what Millennials DON’T do instead of shifting the mindset & seeing what they CAN do if only that talent gets tapped. 

As 2011 begins, let Ashley inspire us all to see the possibilities and not let our personal challenges hold us back.  For those leaders that have Millennials in their teams, take a step back and really get to see and get to know your young workforce.  They have a lot to offer and, like Ashley, they can be groundbreakers if given the right opportunity & direction.  Be the one to open the door to that possibility.   It will be a game changer  and a win-win for everyone.