The mystery behind what drives our generation is both the most unanswered and answered question of the last decade. While many theories exist on what Millennials really want; do we really understand what drives the generation? From our biggest critics, we often hear that Millennials are entitled, indecisive, unfocused, too driven by technology, or lost in a sea of data. From our supporters, we hear that Millennials are tech savvy, well-connected, good multitaskers, and purpose-driven. Undoubtedly, we see these traits often in our youngest generation, but why is it that we tend to fault the individuals who fit these characterizations and not the circumstances from which they were spawned?

A study of the Millennial generation should first and foremost be the study of the social, political, and economic environment in which we grew up. The Millennial phenomenon is not a product of the time between the 1980s and now, but rather, the function of the opportunities that have become available to us in a diverse and capitalistic society. Can we really say that individuals born after 1980 are the same in the U.S. as they are in China? I would safely guess that the answer is “no”. We are not Millennials because of the era in which we were born. We are Millennials because of the environmental context in which we live.

Socially, the United States is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. The entire foundation of the country is built on the backs of immigrants who have traveled from all regions of the world in pursuit of better opportunities. Diversity means more perspective, and with more perspective comes an inherent desire to wonder what more the world can offer us. It gives us an ability to cross sociological boundaries that some countries cannot. For example, the strict limitations on travel and immigration in and out of North Korea prevent its inhabitants from knowing any other way of living or governance. How can you wish for more when you don’t know what more looks like?

Politically, capitalistic countries that promote individual gain give us the impression that we can achieve anything that we want. So yes, Millennials are entitled and purpose-driven, but that’s only because we live in a society that encourage us to be. The border between the U.S. and Mexico is a perfect example of how political systems directly affect the mentality of its inhabitants. In Nogales, Arizona, you’ll find a neighborhood of typical middle-class Americans who have the freedom to pursue their own living and access to simple necessities such as electricity and public schooling. South of the border in Mexico, in a city called Nogales, Sonora, the prospects of a successful business or work life are slim mostly in part to the dominance of the long-standing Institutional Revolutionary Party. We ignore the fact that the privilege of living in a free country is a primary contributor to the Millennial mentality, because this privilege is something we assume as a given on a daily basis.

Economically, the U.S. is one of the most industrialized and technologically-developed countries in the world. This means, for example, that we can do more things, in less time, with more people. In a world like this, how can we be happy with doing the same thing for extended periods time? On my iPhone alone, I can do over 100 things with a 1000 different people in probably less than an hour. Whereas previous generations have been more likely to stay at a job for more than 15 years, Millennials can hardly consider five years. In a cost-benefit analysis, the opportunity cost of staying at the same job would be too high in comparison to the expected value of the indefinite possibilities found in the modern market. Logically, Millennials should opt for the latter.

There is not a straight-forward explanation of the Millennial generation, but there is an obvious implication that we need to recognize. The world economy is and will continue to adopt to the Millennial predisposition of being technologically savvy, well-connected, and multi-faceted. To be a successful organization in the modern world, we need to invest in managing change in the workforce by listening to the voice of our youngest generation. Most importantly, we need to be proactive rather than reactive to the inevitable ascension of the Millennial population. Those who fall behind will simply remain an excerpt of history. Does your organization treat the Millennial disruption as a fad or will it use it to progress forward?

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This blog post is part of a series of installments on generational diversity in the workplace.

  1. Being a Working Boomer
  2. Lost Between a Polaroid Print and a Snapchat Filter
  3. Why are Millennials so Interesting? A Millennial on the Millennial Generation
  4. The New Kids on the Block
  5. Generational Diversity in the Workplace