Monday, January 2, 2017

Millennials: Are we influencing them or are they influencing us?

Millennials. Most of have heard something about them by now. A friend of mine, who is a millennial, shared this video with me via Facebook:


Given that it's been a few years since I uncovered this generation, I thought it was a good refresher on the topic. However, I think a couple of caveats are important to the phenomenon:

  • Millennials are middle class: As Sinek notes that millennials have the entitlement notion. However, that can only develop if they've been insulated from reality of life. That is, they've always had a "safe zone" to fall back on: namely the bank and couch of mom and dad. This is not a reality of people who live in poverty inside or outside of Canada/US/Europe/Australia. 
  • Boys adrift phenomenon may be a confounding factor: Dr Leonard Sax wrote, Boys Adrift, a phenomenal book that explores why boys - specifically - have "failed to launch". This includes video games, pornography, misguided education approaches education and other factors. Definitely important to look at Sax's work when the individual in you are trying to help or advise is male. 
That being said, what I thought was interesting is: who is influencing who? Specifically, when Sinek spoke about smartphone addiction I thought "uh oh is he talking about me?" 

I recently commented to a colleague about how I have a propensity to ensure that I clear all my notifications and maybe that's a good thing because that way I am up to date on all my emails, slacks, and texts. However, after watching this I realize that in my desire to remain constantly productive, I am favouring the virtual world or the physical world. 

Although these devices are amazing in terms of helping us doing more with our dead time (e.g. driving ). That's how I "read" Dr. Sax's book - by listening to it on Audible while on the go. However, am I now at the point where I tend to prefer the screen of the smartphone? It is truly a strange thing for me. Early on in my career as a junior auditor I found the most effective way to deal with clients and colleagues was not by phone but actually going and discussing with the person live. In fact, when I returned to Deloitte in 2012 the new virtual mode of connection took a while for me to adjust as we used Lync (now Skype for Business) to conduct meetings - no more physical presence. 

So how can it be that I've been accustomed to the "millennial approach" to interaction?
Neuroplasticity. 

Nicholas Carr, who wrote an article for the Atlantic "Is Google Making Us Stupid?", which he later followed up with "The Shallows" actually talks about a similar phenomenon that he went through. He noticed how it was hard for him to get through books. What he discusses in his book is how by being immersed in the era of tweets, blogposts, and YouTube clips is that our brains are actually been reshaped by neuroplasiticity to favour this type of engagement over reading. 

Combine that with the dopamine bursts that Sinek talks about, it's no surprise that I have suddenly become millenialized. 

However, there is hope. 

Carr discusses how by disconnecting and forcing himself to read he is able to restore his brain and once again consume long-form material. The key is to purposely retrain our habits  to return to world of physical interaction and put away the smartphones as Sinek suggests. 

For more on the positive side of neuroplasticity see the work of Barbara Arrowsmith-Young who was able to rewire her brain. It's a truly inspirational story about how a woman was able to overcome her learning disabilities and help others as well.

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