Why Socrates Hates Millennials

‘If the whole world depends on today’s youth, I cannot see the world lasting another 100 years.’ — Socrates, 3rd Century BC

Luckily for all of us, the world didn’t end 2400 years ago as Socrates prophesied. In fact, the ‘youth’ of Socrates’ day did eventually have the world at their fingertips, and somehow managed to keep the place from burning and allowed for 2400 years of innovations, discoveries, and feats never imagined by Socrates himself.

It seems though, that the end is near again. The world is about to burn. We again face a time when many of today’s Baby Boomers and leaders relate to Socrates. It’s probably fair to say that if Socrates were alive today as a Baby Boomer, he might feel that again the world is doomed, all because of one dreaded word: Millennials. Socrates would hate Millennials.

Millennials are young, brash, outspoken, carry a strong sense of self-confidence (some may call entitlement), question their elders, live in technology, and really seem to give their employers a headache. They are the generation Boomers can’t quite figure out or relate to.

It doesn’t take much these days to find some article or anecdotal story on Millennials. When one comes out praising the new skills and mindset of Millennials, skills that will change the world, another comes out showing how this generation will doom us all.

All you have to read to see this is the article ‘Why Millennials Keep Dumping You: An Open Letter to Management’ by Elizabeth and Lisa Earle McLeod, an op-ed that went viral a few months back, and then read the response to it, ‘Dear Millennials: Stop Whining And Do Your Job’ by Neal Dewing. You’ll then understand just how polarizing Millennials are these days. Odds are that one of these responses you agree with, and the other gets under your skin a bit.

I do not believe the merit lies is deciding who is right and who is wrong. Just as arguing whether smart technology is a benefit or detriment to people, the bigger picture is it is a part of life now, and there is no going back. As a Boomer running a company, pointing fingers and saying ‘I’m right, you’re wrong, and I won’t listen to you’ doesn’t get anyone anywhere, except putting your business at a competitive disadvantage. Just ask our Congress how well pointing fingers without solutions works.

What does matter is that the work world is changing. Technology is changing, people are changing, and the way we want to work is changing. The Millennials are the poster child of that change, and are embracing it. History has always favored those who embrace change.

Whatever side you agree with more really doesn’t matter right now, because the change is happening either way. Everyone struggles with change, looking at the world through rose-tinted glasses with memories of what it was like ‘before’. But without progress, by trying to keep everything as is, we’d find ourselves living like our friend Socrates did.

And if you think the influence of Millennials is disruptive now, just wait a few years. Right now, the youngest of the Millennials are applying for their drivers licenses, which means we are 6 years away from all Millennials fully entering the workforce. Each day that passes means new Millennials coming in, and Baby Boomers exiting. Currently, Millennials account for just over a third of the workforce, most of whom are in the bottom half of the organizational hierarchy. By 2025, they will account for 75% of the workforce. The influence of Millennials is just beginning.

It’s time to stop pointing fingers and start finding commonalities. The companies who learn to adapt and find these commonalities will create an unbelievable competitive advantage. Read any business strategy book or study, and they all say the same thing: your greatest resource is your people. By not adapting your workplace to attract this coming generation, you are effectively putting a shelf life on your company. Change happens, and you either adapt or feel the effects. You don’t have to look that far back in history to see how change leaves people behind. Go ask Blockbuster, Yellow Pages, or record companies why they didn’t see the internet as something that would affect their business, until it was too late.

So while many people today can relate to the feeling of Socrates, remember even Socrates found good in the next generation: his best student was Plato, who then went on to teach Aristotle, who then taught Alexander the Great, all of whom changed the world. It’s time to learn to build a bridge between these generations today, and to see Millennials as an asset, not a liability. Your organization depends on it.

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