Explaining Millennial Arrogance


[This post originally appeared on my old blog, BrokenGentleman.com, on Feb 18, 09]

This weekend, while doing some volunteering at OYP, I heard the now tired rant about my generation (the ‘millennial’ generation) and the apathy, entitlement, and arrogance that define us.  I’m going to do my best to explain some of that, if not justify some of it.

The internet is likely the biggest alteration to human interaction with information, since written language became commonplace.  I don’t think this is hyperbole.  The written word allowed stories concepts, ideas and information to exist without being directly shared, and to have a life beyond the individuals, and even the cultures, that created that content.  The internet allows instantaneous communication, collaboration, and access to mankind’s collective stored information, and has the ability to make physical and temporal distance irrelevant.  It has changed everything, and the millennial generation is the first one to consider it as a given and as a right, rather than as a tool.  The way we envision communication, culture and problem solving is based on this level of connectivity, which did not exist when current leaders learned how to solve problems.

Every generation thinks that it is living in the apocalypse times.  We don’t have nuclear war (yet), but we have the strongest economies in the world collapsing, the spectre of rapid climate change, and asymmetrical insurgent warfare, on top of everything else.  We’ve inherited a pretty ruined world, and after a lifetime of being told we wouldn’t have pensions, or steady jobs, or social security, we are being told that expecting a career, or a stable environment, is unrealistic.  We also can’t help but notice that many of these issues are at least partially traceable to the generations preceding us.

We were raised specifically in rebellion to the discipline and sacrifice taught to our parents by the Greatest Generation.  Most millennials have been told from childhood that they are valued, they should expect to be heard, that they have valid ideas, and that expecting fulfillment in one’s work is a bare minimum.  The education system in many areas has been shifted to one that doesn’t consider failure an option until the early teens, and in my experience we’ve created a culture where we expect that 75% of students can be above average.  This inherently results in apathy regarding results, as expectations are absurd, and/or grading criteria are meaningless.

Now put this person in the workplace.

They have ideas, they are excited and motivated to finally have a chance to do something that MATTERS, that will be judged on functionality, not an artificial standard.  This is not the reality of the working world.

The people in leadership positions, in most corporations, are people who don’t like being presented with entirely new ideas, especially not by people who are considered untested.  Most business structures are still operating on a pre-internet base, or at best with a thin veneer of new technologies applied to old structures.  Old structures are resistant to new ideas.  And millennials in the workplace quickly realise when they are in another situation where what comes before is dictating the options available to them.

We don’t subscribe to the idea of paying dues before you get to make change, because in our minds, everything has changed, and the people who have the status necessary to influence things don’t understand it.  If you’d like proof, the best example I can give is record industry execs admitting that they didn’t hire anyone to help them with technology, because they wouldn’t know who to hire.

To a millennial, every industry looks like that, or will soon.

We were raised to think this way, we have been presented with a well and truly ruined world, and when we actually try to do something about it, we are told we will have to wait a decade or so, to establish the credibility necessary to get anyone with influence on our side, or we are shown by others to strike out completely on our own, and make the change we see as necessary without support from older structures.  While being told to wait a decade, we are also hearing that we have a decade or so to change everything before the world falls apart.

We can see how bad things are, the world over, in more detail, and more personally than any other generation in human history.  And we keep getting told that the only thing we can do, for now, is business as usual.

Not sure if you’ve noticed, but business as usual has failed.  Miserably.  And doing the same thing, with hopes for different results, is the definition of insanity.

Of course we come across as arrogant, as entitled, as apathetic.  The entire world has changed, the way the human race interacts has fundamentally changed, since the current leaders of the world have entered the workforce.  Speaking to close friends and family members even ten years older than me is astounding, because they cannot speak ‘internet’.  And we’re being asked to wait, and to stick to failed structures.

You’d be arrogant, entitled and apathetic, too.