Millennials don’t all think alike, share the same values and exhibit the same beliefs.

INSIDE EMPLOYEES’ MINDS is yet another study on people and their motivations. It is a study, like many others, that is based on self-reported data (data gathered by asking people about what they want from their jobs and employers).

I’d like to deconstruct this study a little bit. Not because I have a personal agenda against self-reported research, but rather because I want people to understand the drawbacks of this kind of research and the potential negative consequences of using such data to drive strategic decisions.

Two critical points I’d like to make.

It’s time we stop considering all Millennials to be alike.

This report is telling us that a 25 year old man born and bred in a small town in Ontario, working a desk job for a local construction company exhibits the same values, motivations and behaviours as a 31 year old woman, from Vancouver, who has a masters in business, and works at an advertising agency. Do you believe that to be accurate?

It is also telling us that human beings are very rational in how they make decisions. Because all that really matters to people is pay, career advancement, health coverage and so on. Which means according to this, Millennials should be the least entrepreneurial. Because let’s face it, no entrepreneur is really guaranteed any of the above, until much later in their business’ lifecycles. If they’re lucky. Yet, somehow Canada seems to be churning out young entrepreneurs by the dozens (millennials twice as much as any other generation).

I can go on and on. But the point I really want to leave you with is that we can no longer afford to just accept these studies that place blanket values onto an entire generation of people. For the last decade, I have been studying consumer culture through my research work (primarily ethnographic and observational in nature). And every single study has taught me one critical thing — it does not matter how old somebody is. If you are trying to understand consumer intent, what matters is who these people are, what they believe in, and how their values motivate their behaviour on a day to day basis. Age should be a consequence or an outcome of research, not the source or the guiding force.

What to do when you really need to study young people for business reasons?

For various business reasons, you may need a focus on Millennials. But when you do, understand that you may not be able to talk to all Millennials the same way, and that any research that has focused on understand the values and beliefs of people will be able to break Gen Yers down further, based not on their age or where they live, but rather on what unique set of beliefs they hold towards your business and category. And this will serve as the guiding light for strategy.

Just remember, age can be an outcome of research, but should not be the driving force.

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