Some say that the millennials (researchers and commentators use birth years ranging from the early 1980s to the early 2000s) – Generation Y in hip speak – are spoiled, entitled, unfocused, digitally dement, internet and game addicted and have an inflated sense of self. All that may be true, but they are also entering the workforce en masse, and not all businesses have prepared for that. According to a survey by Censuswide, only about half (52 percent) of millennials report that their employers fully utilize their skills and talents.
At the same time, they are remarkably ambitious and entrepreneurial. A whopping 68% of them want to run their own business, according to research by consulting firm EY. Seed accelerator Y Combinator has made it their business to harness this entrepreneurial spirit and encourage the millennials to start as early as possible.
Others argue that the millennials are just plain unrealistic. They have too high expectations and are setting themselves up for epic failure, leaving them burnt out, miserable and unproductive. Guelph researcher Sean Lyons says we should guide them into lowering their expectations rather than pamper their inflated egos.
So what should established businesses do? They need new talents and to renew their workforce. They may feel ambiguous about the millennials and not know what to do, but those are the cards that have been dealt. Businesses need to handle the millennials, one way or another.
So should they cold shower them and bring them down to earth, or pamper their quirks and encourage their entrepreneurial spirit? Some think they should do both. In recent years, a new style of business and product development known as Lean Startup has become immensely popular, and appears to be almost tailor made for Generation Y.
The author of The Lean Startup, Eric Ries, started out with the realization that the traditional business plan almost always fails and must be completely revised in a matter of months in face of reality. Rather than waste a lot of precious time on making the perfect business plan that needs to be discarded anyway, Ries envisioned starting up with a far leaner business plan – the skeleton of a plan, and a method for revising it. Things that work well are scaled up, whereas products or services that fail or are less successful are scaled down.
So what does this have to do with Generation Y? It incorporates a method for expecting and dealing with failure as part of a learning process. In one sense it allows the entrepreneurial process to mimic the structure of a game, and millennials love games. This allows millennials to take advantage of their high level of ambition while at the same time giving them a tool to handle failure.
In the board game Playing Lean my business partner and I have literally turned the process of teaching the Lean Startup method into a game in a corporate environment, thereby further entrenching the game metaphor for entrepreneurship. Field tests show that the millennials love this approach, and could be a viable strategy for large businesses to incorporate the entrepreneurial spirit of the younger generations.
Critics however point out that Lean Startup is largely a repackaging of existing ideas, and that the method automatically renders any startup impossible to fund. The whole point of a business plan is to secure funding by proving to venture capitalists that they are competent and know what they are doing. Defenders reply that repackaging and rebranding is good if it increases the appeal to the intended audience – in this case, Generation Y – and that Lean Startup may be best suited for entrepreneurship and product development within existing large corporations.
It is unclear at this moment which approach of utilizing the abilities of the millennials will win out and prove to be the better one, but – in the spirit of Lean Startup – it also means that there is still room for experimentation. Let the game commence.