Why Millennials Are Luke and Leia and Gen Xers Are Han Solo

Jamie Notter and Maddie Grant just published a new book When Millennials Take Over that details the processes and culture that businesses need to adapt. The book comes at a critical time. According to the authors, successful companies are moving to embrace the new work culture of the future (or the present, depending on your perspective) and drive business.

We thought it would be great to have a conversation with them at xPotomac on August 27th and discuss. To help prepare folks, I interviewed Jamie and Maddie last week in Georgetown. The interview is quite fun and even includes a funny reference to Star Wars as you will see. Don’t miss their session on August 27th (register today using the code “Geoff” and get 20% off).

Jamie Close-Up B+W
GL: Is GenX the lost generation?

MG: We’re not lost. I think we are purposefully the bridge. We have a foot in both places. Millennials don’t remember work before the Internet, but we do remember some of the old ways of working that still make sense. At the same time, we’re fully digital and we get that, too.

JN: Because we kind of invented all the Internet (laughs). We actually mention this at the very end of the book. It’s a little clichéd, but we’re all in this together. The millennials don’t actually take over. No one generation ever runs it all by themselves.

We use a Star Wars metaphor. Millennials are Luke and Leia. They’re the heroes.

Maddie Laughing B+W

GL: So does that make us OB1?

Both MG and JN: No, that’s the Baby Boomers.

JN: We’re Han Solo. Yes, we’re cynical, we’re independent, we’re all about taking care of ourselves, but we might save the day in the end.

GL: What is digital’s role in the millennial movement?

MG: The four key capacities that come out of our research — which is this intersection about millennials, what they like, how they operate, and awesome cultures – are digital, clear, fluid and fast.

Digital is the first one and we define digital as the digital mindset, which is about a relentless focus on the user experience. The user is the employee as well is the customer. It’s also about customization and personalization for the middle of the market as well as your top players. Then there’s continuous learning, continuous upgrades.

Millennials are used to having apps on their phone. Any kind of software that they use upgrades itself all the time. They want that in their work experience, their professional development.

GL: Have you seen Slack? Is Slack an example of that?

Maddie Close Up B+W

MG: Yes, we actually use Slack amongst the two of us. I am actually watching Slack pretty closely right now, and am fascinated by them. The reason it’s taking off is that acts in the same way that you can personalize your phones, every individual has a whole different library of apps based on what they want, need and use.

Slack acts in the same way, you connect all of your services, but at the heart of it is social, collaborative and chat, and the core of it is a chat stream. You can personalize your experience. It’s not about one ring to rule it all. It finds a middle way to connect.

JN: It’s just so pleasant to use. It follows what software designers should be doing right following an intense user experience. We argue in our book that you need that same intense user experience focus what it comes to your employees and you run your organization. Why are you not designing your organization with this radical emphasis on does this work for our employees?

The case study we use is a small nonprofit – they’ve only got 22 people – they designed the entire organization around the needs of the employee. Like most of the places we found for our case studies, employees say things like, “I can’t imagine working anywhere else.” Or, “I remember what it was like for XYZ company, and I’ll never go back again.”

When they have an opening they get applicants from the best tech companies in town. Not the other way around. Usually, nonprofits lose their best talent to the private sector.

They redesigned their office space and created it with the employee needs in mind, and not senior management. They put the boss out in front in a pod with everyone else, not in an office; because they found when everyone has senior access to senior managers they got their job done more quickly and effectively. There’s open space where they walk together, there’s a yoga room, they have a little coffee area, there’s wifi on the roof even though they are in Chicago. If it works for the employee, that’s what they do.

Their job descriptions are customized every year to the individual based on their career path. You could have two people in the same job with very different job descriptions because they are on different paths in their career. That’s harder work for the organization, but it’s better for the employee. It gets [the nonprofit] this kind of engagement that everyone is searching for in organizations, and they basically get more done than any of their peer organizations.

They put all of their content that they ever created for this association – The American Society for Surgery of the Hand – and put it online. They made it searchable across all platforms in an 18-month platform. It takes most associations 18 months to decide to do anything. They are faster and they get more done even thought they are only 22 people.

MG: Seven of their staff are full-time technology people.

JN: The average spend on technology in the association world is about 4%. They’ve got a third of just their personnel. They also have tablets and laptops and a database system. So they spend a lot more than that on technology.

That was one of our points in the book. You have to at least be on the right side of the technology curve. It’s still just an entry into the game.

GL: With technology today, would you say that we are in a constant stasis of change? How do people deal with that?

Focus on Maddie B+W

MG: This is one of the things that the millennial generation is very comfortable with. They are very comfortable with switching from one piece of software to the next.

GL: What do you think their secret is?

MG: I think it’s literally just based on social media and mobile apps. You have this tool in your pocket every single day, and it changes all the time based on when apps change. They live with this, they communicate with their friends with this, they play games, they do all of these things that continuously change. So they get to the workplace and they don’t understand why they are still using Sharepoint.

JN: I think of the word disruption, and there’s sort of constant disruption. Older generations define that as a problem. I don’t think that word disruption is as problematic for the younger generation.

What the millennial generation is more capacity to deal with the short term. There may be a downside to that; are they looking at the long term enough? But they are really good at dealing with short-term disruption: “This doesn’t work? That’s fine, we’ll just move to the next app.”

In the old world, the scenario would be we spent six months learning this app. We have to use it for another 18 months otherwise there is no ROI on it. [Millennials} say no it doesn’t work anymore, even though six months ago I thought it would, so we’ll just use something new.

MG: This is where the generational difference is in the workplace. A boomer IT manager who is in charge of the budget doesn’t want to buy a new thing every six months. You have to articulate why it is actually good to be flexible in the software you buy. You have to buy it with the understanding that it might not work in six months despite the money and they training you just put everyone through.

GL: Is there one thing you would like impart on today’s Xers and Baby Boomers?

Focus on Jamie B+W

JN: Most senior leaders need to radically shift their focus to their internal culture. Millennials care much more about culture than previous generations did. They literally ask them what matters most when it comes to a job, and culture comes first. Salary comes fourth. That’s not traditionally been how we focus on an inside organization.

So if you aren’t building cultures that make sense to millennials, you are going to lose for a long time. They are going to be your customers and your employees for the next 20 years.

They are the kind of generation that says if you are not doing it for me, I am going to go do it myself. That’s what they grew up with is the ability to do that because they have the social Internet. A lot of organizations say well if I don’t hire you, you’re going to have to go home and live with Mom. And [millennials] say, OK I’ll go home and I’ll start something.

The Unadulterated Pleasure of Going Dark

The weekend is coming and I can’t wait. After returning from Africa on Monday, re-entry has been difficult, due in part to jet lag, but also because I really enjoyed my time off the grid. Going dark for days on end was really an unadulterated pleasure.

There was no Internet in Kenya and Tanzania for hours, and in a couple of cases for days on end.
More than anything, it was a relief. I missed my friends and some of their wonkiness, but I did not miss the grind of the social media industry. The need to be present and engaged disappeared. So did having to create content to fuel the beast (I ran reruns).

I got used to not checking in, not seeing what was going on, and not getting caught into little eddies of first world problems.

While I don’t think atypical portrayals of African suffering are accurate nor appropriate for the purposes of this post, I witnessed a base level of living there. Most people just want to work hard or find work so they can get a solar panel and little bit of electricity in their lives. That way they can enjoy the evening hours with their family.

When you see life in countries like Kenya and Tanzania, the online world loses relevancy. I know the online propels my day-to-day business, but I gained an understanding of what matters from a different perspective. It became easier to let go for that twelve day period.

When we returned to the Wildlife Works office periodically, I did my business (mostly posting pics from the trip for Audi) and shared a little bit of Africa. Then it was back into this amazing, different and untethered world.

I could breathe again.

The Luxury of Going Dark

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Going off the grid is becoming a common experience for the digital citizen. Many view going off the grid as a welcome experience, a refreshing get-away.

Escaping the wired world is rarely practical. Beyond the technical difficulties, after a while you become a loner.

Instead, it seems that going off the grid is a fantasy and a luxury. Perhaps a more realistic view of digital darkness is to consider it a means of rest and relaxation from the always on world of smart devices, smartphones and tablets.

There are more and morevacation opportunities for those seeking an unplugged break. Conde Nast calls these vacations digital detoxes.

I can definitely relate. Returning to the United States also brought a return to our always on world. And it is intense.

Escape is a luxury that one needs to pay for, like enjoying a great steak. At the same time, that very same escape is difficult for those that make their living off of digital media. It’s a difficult scenario. You come to understand the relevancy (or lack there of) online media, and yet you cannot leave it behind. Not for long.

No One Knows Who You Are

It’s funny how some people feel an online profile is the most important part of their career today. Building a business or a career based on an online reputation instead of an the actual product or service can only lead to difficulties.

As shocking as it may be to many big online influencers, a lot of people don’t know who they are. Even if they have heard their names, they don’t care about someone’s big blog or Instagram profile. I don’t care how big you are online — in your community or nationally — you have to assume no one knows who you are.

A nice online profile built around some subject matter expertise might get you a listen, but you still need to allay fears. Then once you get the sale you need to meet the promise you are building.

That’s why I found Gary Vaynerchuk’s post last week on personal branding versus old fashioned work ethic so refreshing. It got back to brass tacks: Do the work, refine your skills, then build the reputation.

I know someone who has a brilliant online persona, but person X takes credit for other people’s work and often throws them under the bus in the process. Every time I have seen Person X get an opportunity to excel as a star performer, he/she fails.

Too many Internet-based reputations are like the one built by Person X. These personal brands revolve around reciprocated sharing, social media talk and no walk. Is it any wonder social media experts and to a lesser extent marketing bloggers aren’t taken seriously in the CMO office?

Unsolicited Advice for Younger Professionals

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If you are eager to build your online profile to become successful, be careful. It can get you some opportunities, but success is built on fulfilling your commitment to customers. Make sure you are busting your ass on the back channel, too. You can’t afford to lose opportunities. Do the work, build things, prove yourself.

Further, yesterday’s successes don’t mean much to people. So in my mind, relying on a reputation for past works done is dangerous. It’s the current work that matters. We all have to work like no one knows who we are.

I don’t think people give a crap about what I did in the 2000s. That was a long time ago. The media have changed significantly since then. Any remaining hubris that I may carry doesn’t mean jack-shit if I can’t deliver TODAY. I need to kick ass on every new project like no one knows who I am. If I am not hungry enough to do that, then I can expect to struggle and at times to fail.

What about the effort you ask? Isn’t it too much?

I hear all sorts of things about work life balance, and God knows I put my family first and try to keep myself well-rested. But make no bones about it I hustle. Everyone who succeeds busts their butt and works hard. I drafted this on Friday night from 9:00-10:20 p.m. I edited it on Sunday night at roughly the same time. AFTER I fed my daughter, put her to bed, and AFTER I finished my client work. The promo came last.

No matter what, you can’t shortchange the work.

Eating Dog Food

Sometimes you have to do things because they are right, even though you don’t want to. I yielded to staff pressure last week, and committed resources to doing more with our Tenacity5 Media social media accounts. We have to eat our own dog food here.

Why not engage in social before now? I honestly felt doing the client work was more important given how small the company is (three people currently).

Plus I have developed a bad attitude towards social media boutiques — all talk and no experience. So I didn’t want to have the company grouped within a category I consider to be increasingly marginalized by the bad.

But good marketing is good marketing. Quality marketing includes social as part of the overall strategy today, I don’t care what kind of business you have. That doesn’t necessitate an over reliance on a medium, but you can’t avoid it anymore.

A parallel can be drawn to blogging in the 2015 era. Just like I wouldn’t over rely on a blog today, I still think blogging is part of the mix. So I blog once a week just to eat my own dog food. It’s the right thing to do.

Walk the Talk

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Practicing what you preach was the very reason that I engaged in deep emersion with visual media through photography. I also invested in a significant website upgrade with a focus on the visual.

It’s really hard to take someone’s opinion about visual communications seriously if they don’t practice those same views. That is apparent every time I read a social media blogger’s text-heavy post about visual media (see paragraph 2).

Many people wag their fingers at what everyone else is doing wrong, and opine about the way things should be. This is easy to do. It is the path of the pundit.

But sooner or later, you have to stand on your own efforts. It’s one thing to engage in criticism, it’s another thing to become a demonstrative example. One creates attention, the other builds reputation.

We’ve got to eat our own dog food at Tenacity5, and that starts with me.

Featured image by Mel. Second image by Mazen Alhadad.

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Finishing Is Underrated

We live in a now world. If we don’t get what we want, we leave. The tyranny of now is particularly true online where a simple touch or click lets someone exit stage left at the slightest whim. Yet, this axiom also holds true in the real world.

Consider how many people start projects and never finish them because its too hard or unpleasant. Or they can see a losing effort in a game and quit. Or they find work is difficult, so they stop putting in the effort. One could go on and on with hypothetical examples.

For whatever reason, many people don’t finish. It’s a world of instant gratitude.

That’s too bad because finishing is underated today.

Finishing signals to those around you that you are reliable.
More importantly, it’s one of those character building traits that separates you from the pack, reflecting who you are. You see things through when others tank at the first sign of discomfort.

Finishing the War

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I am toiling through the final chapters of The War to Persevere, a book I should have finished last winter. There is a great sense of relief as I pen the final chapters.

People seemed to like Exodus, and asked when the sequel would come out. I promised a release at some point this year.

I began drafting The War to Persevere last fall during NanoWriMo and continued into the New Year. I was 2/3 of the way through the drafting process when my grandmother died at the end of January. That set off a series of events that basically distracted me from any extra curricular activities. Then work got crazy — the usual conference season stuff — which left me exhausted every night to the point that from a creative standpoint I could shoot phots, but was not able to write fiction.

June rolled around and I hadn’t picked up the book. A friend nudged me. The excuses were there. I could say forget it, it’s just a novel. Afterall, I don’t make any money from it and I’m really enjoying photography right now. But I know better. Not only had I committed to my novel readers, I had promised myself that I would finish the tale.

So I made a commitment to finish the book. I started drafting again during my vacation last month, and have not looked back. I write four or five days a week, and will complete the first draft by the end of the week. Most importantly, I will meet my commitment to publish this year.

Finishers Believe

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Image by Philo Nordlund

I had a friend who said that suiting up and showing up no matter the circumstance is half the battle in life. I have to agree. Showing up at the virtual till every single day is what lets you finish things.

One of the toughest things I experienced in life was completing my Masters degree. It took me four years attending school part-time while I worked a full-time job. I almost didn’t make it thanks toa dot bomb experience in California. Yet, finishing that degree was one of the most beneficial experiences of my life. Not only does the degree (Communications, Culture and Technology) still impact my work today, the thesis writing — an arduous process that required daily attention for months on end — showed me how to write a long-form piece, such as a book. I am amazed at how important my Master’s was from a character building standpoint.

Once The War is completed and published, I will have successfully written five books. That’s something that no one can ever take away from me.

When I finish things feel good about my efforts. I believe in myself, and know I can accomplish more. That’s why finishing that 10k, going back to school, completing that project gone bad no matter how effed up it is, finishing the novel, wrapping up that degree, etc., etc. is so important.

What do you think?

15 Ways to Restore Your Creativity

Demand Success was a blast, and running Tenacity5 through its inaugural year has been exciting. The work has been intense, and I am starting to lose my creative edge. It’s a challenge all communicators face sooner or later.

Fortunately, I just went on vacation in the Outer Banks, and am likely restoring my mojo. That being said, I really am struggling with writing a significant post on work/rest/life balance, a la Arianna Huffington’s Third Metric. So I mailed it in, and instead am offering this BuzzFeed-esque pictoral, 15 Ways to Restore Your Creativity.

Here we go!

1) Take a Vacation

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Nags Head Fishing Pier by Northern Tony.

2) Explore a Different Creative Path

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Painter’s Palette by Eli Goren.

3) Meditate

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Meditate by Arinna.

4) Go to a Live Event

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Natitude and Penants by me.

5) Watch a Movie

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Cinemark by Richmond Confidential

6) Hike in Some Place of Natural Beauty

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Patagonia River Valley by me

7) Take a Nap

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Family Nap by Maciej Dakowicz

8) Watch the Sun Rise or Set

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Sunset Over Cameron Run by me.

9) Journal

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Journal by Kanghee Rhee

10) Play with Your Kids (if you have them)

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Soleil Climbs the Awakening by me

11) Admire Someone Else’s Work

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El Ateneo by me.

12) Visit a Museum

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Gugenheim Museum Bilbao by Bastian Sander

13) Play a Game

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Cards on Parade by Magnus Lundquist

14) Work Out

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Image by Ron Sombilon

15) Enjoy Time with Your Partner

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Siluetas al amanecer by Juan Paradeda

What would you add?