Millennial Myth Busting: Attributes of Gen Y

I had the privilege of having a Corner Office article published in December’s NonProfit Pro. (I’d link to it, but it doesn’t yet appear to be online.)  One sentence in that piece triggered more reaction than all three months of my blogging combined:

We should regard a nonprofit that courts a Millennial audience at the expense of their core like the person who dyes their hair and takes off their ring to hit on people at a college bar: unfaithful to those who love them, uncomfortable with who they are, and ill-equipped to succeed even if success were desirable.

What I had not realized is that it appears that there are cultural warriors on both sides of a debate that summarizes to “Millennials are awesome and the future” versus “Millennials are horrible and the Earth is doomed.” And I had come down in the “get off my lawn” Gran Torino camp.


His next movie was focused on how angry he was with that empty chair.

So this week, I wanted to add a bit of nuance to this statement and to the strategy discussion of millennials and non-profits.  I add emphasis to strategy here.  My central point is the Corner Office article was to highlight that sometimes trends are used instead of strategies.

Nowhere does this seem clearer to me than in the discussion about generational dynamics, especially as it concerns the unique snowflakes called millennials.  The discussions remind me of the introduction to the Duck tours of Wisconsin Dells we went on growing up, where the tour guide would tell you that what you were about to hear was about one-third the truth, one-third Native American legends, and one-third out-and-out lies.

Since the Confirmed/Plausible/Busted trichotomy is likely copyrighted (copywrote?) by people who bust myths far better than I, I’ll use this truth/legend/lie way of breaking things down.  

Let’s review some of the attributes that millennials purportedly possess:

[They] have radically different life experiences than those in generations before them.”

[T]hey distrust hierarchy. They prefer more informal arrangements. They prefer to judge on merit rather than on status. They are far less loyal to their companies. … They know computers inside and out. They like money, but they also say they want balance in their lives.

They are “more collaborative”, “less hierarchical,” “more altruistic”, “more tech-savvy,” “balanced”, “candid in their communications,” and “rule-shy.”  

Most of children seem to be taking so long to grow up, at least by conventional measures. Therituals that once marked adulthood – graduation, the first job, marriage, children – have been delayed, eliminated or extended.

They are a “highly educated, pampered group, their numbers are small but their impact is great.”

By now, you have probably guessed the conceit here – all of these things weren’t said about millennials.  They are contemporaneous accounts about Generation X and Yuppie Baby Boomers.

The truth is that many of the things said about millennials are the things said about kids since time immemorial.  So much of what you hear about kids today with their smartphones, their social networks, and their texting are echoes through the ages of hearing about kids today with their fire, their pointed sticks, and their paintings inside the caves.

I’d highly recommend a Mental Floss list of some of these throughout the ages for the humor in this.  As you see surveys about how gender and sexuality are more fluid among the young (also here)), hopefully this 1771 broadside against the feminization of the then-current set of men sounds familiar:

Whither are the manly vigor and athletic appearance of our forefathers flown? Can these be their legitimate heirs? Surely, no; a race of effeminate, self-admiring, emaciated fribbles can never have descended in a direct line from the heroes of Potiers and Agincourt.

Can’t you just hear the ”harrumph” that must have followed this statement, possibly followed by a feverish polishing of a monocle or some such?  Plato himself wrote that kids are rude and don’t respect authority.  I would have put that in the list above, but the fact that it’s in ancient Greek might have been a giveaway that it wasn’t talking about millennials.

Yet these same “insights” are being repackaged for this current generation and will likely be repackaged for the next generation.  So tomorrow, we’ll put these to the test.

Agree?  Disagree?  Let me know in the comments.

Millennial Myth Busting: Attributes of Gen Y

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