The Five Golden Rules I’ve Learned About Millennials

After building a business with them.

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You know the story, you hear it all the time: young people are lazy. They have the attention spans of goldfish — they’re disconnected from the ‘real world’.

Probably not the kind of people you’d want in your start-up then? And definitely not the people you’d build a business around.

Except, like most preconceptions, this isn’t true. And I should know: I work with 16- to 24-year-olds daily — my business model depends on them. If they were slack and disengaged, I wouldn’t be counting Barclays and the BBC as clients.

So what do I do? I help businesses engage with digital technology, to boost their output. It’s called ‘digital transformation’, and we’re called Freeformers.

And because young people have grown up in the digital landscape — they’re what we call ‘digital natives’ — we employ them as trainers to work with our clients.

Makes sense, right? Except it’s not that simple.

Here’s another pervading — and damaging — myth about under 24s: every one is a digital expert. Not true. Consuming digital media is different to creating it or understanding how it works. So we train our trainers first. That way we get digital native experts into businesses. And that’s when it gets exciting.

The Five Rules:

Rule 1: Digital natives have the potential to be digital experts

I’ve already touched on this, so I’ll carry on. While most millennials are born digital consumers, they’re not born digital creators. They don’t all know how to code, nor do they necessarilywant to know how to code.

But they’re also unaware of the skills they’ve developed from consuming digital, that they can make good money out of social media, for example. That getting 200 people to a party at short notice is a skill — one that can be turned into something very compelling for brands and marketers.

So while not all young people are digital experts, many have the potential to be experts, be it through working with software, social media or analyzing consumer trends.

Rule 2: Work and play are no different

Most of my friends view their work and home lives as separate. But for the millenials I work with, the lines are blurred. And they’re blurred in a really exciting way.

For them, ‘work’ is part of a whole portfolio of stuff. So while working for me, they’ll dip in and out of other projects — they might organize a filming gig they’ve got on at the weekend, for example. But at 11 o’clock at night, I’ll get a tonne of emails and interaction on communication apps like Slack, because they’ll be working. In other words, nine to five and ‘presenteesism’ doesn’t exist. Work is something they enjoy doing.

Rule 3: Learning doesn’t end with the last exam

My generation (and probably yours too if you’re reading this), suffers from the ‘I’m qualified, I’m finished’ mindset. So long as you’ve done your exams and got a few years under your belt, you’re done. You know it all. And what you don’t know, someone else will cover.

This is totally out of touch with how most young people think. The internet has transformed our appetite for learning and absorbing information — and millennials have a constant hunger for learning as a result.

They are flexible, open minded and ambitious. Whether it’s a YouTube tutorial or a language gamification app — our information age means that the learning never stops. Learning is part of their daily routines.

Rule 4: The internet is a way of life

For the young people I work with, the internet is a way of life. It’s not just something in their lives, and that’s an important distinction. It’s about openness and transparency — it’s about sharing thoughts, successes and failures.

It’s about connectivity and collaboration too. They want to be connected 24/7. A hotel without wi-fi? No thanks. And for coders, it’s about collaboration and co-creation — it’s about solving challenges and posting new pieces of code on websites for others to use as badges of honor.

Take a look at YouTube and reddit and you’ll find a wealth of knowledge driven from people’s need to share, comment and build on other people’s ideas.

Rule 5: Millennials are ultra-engaged

How many times have you sat in a meeting, trying to grapple with a concept you’ve never heard before? Wouldn’t it have been better to have googled it there and then, in the meeting, and contributed sooner?

There’s a misconception that young people are constantly on their phones, disengaged. This is both true and untrue. Smartphone use among young people is high, but it doesn’t mean they’re disengaged.

When I hold meetings at Freeformers, it’s not uncommon for a team-member to be on his or her phone googling a piece of info they hadn’t come across before. At the moment, that person is more engaged than anyone else in the room.


>> Did you know that for every businessperson we help, we train a young person too? It’s our one_for1 model.

Emma Cerrone is Managing Director of Freeformers. She co-founded the company to help organisations embrace digital and help young lives at the same time.
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About Freeformers

Freeformers helps companies drive digital transformation through programmes that teach relevant and practical skills to anyone from frontline staff all the way up to senior leadership teams.

For every business person we train, we train an unemployed young person for free, to help them get a job and to create a talent pool for business. We call this one_for1.

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We do the people part of digital transformation & prepare your employees for the future of work. How much could we save your organisation? bit.ly/ffdigitaldrag

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