By Bill Russell
In May, I had the opportunity to speak to our Hough High School Future Business Leaders of America at its year-end ceremony about leadership and commitment.
More recently, I was having dinner with a close friend and her nephew, Brian.
Brian is a rising 10th-grader, and we touched on school, summer activities and movies before our conversation turned to football. Brian plays linebacker for his high school football team and I listened intently as he discussed his sport.
It’s been a long time ago since I was a 10th-grader but I still recall the fun I had in neighborhood pickup games. When we couldn’t play outside, we crammed into my room and played electric football on an aluminum game board made by Tudor.
My players were hand painted to look like the Green Bay Packers and when you turned it on, the board would vibrate and hum, sending the players bouncing in all different directions.
Today, Brian plays “Madden NFL” on a Play Station 3 with state-of-the-art animation, which looks like it is taking place in real time. Technology over the last four decades has advanced so that today, Wii U has a glove you can slip on to play your favorite outdoor sport – tennis, golf, baseball – in the privacy of your home on a hi-definition TV.
While I might be impressed by this amazing technology, Brian and the Hough High School business leaders, products of the millennial generation, are rather unfazed. The millennials are emerging as the largest generation ever (80 million strong today in the United States alone) and will soon dominate our retail and service markets as well as the emerging workforce which will shape commerce worldwide.
They are a generation for whom connectivity has always been a constant. They grew up with the Internet, smart phones, and high-speed computers where the world is simply a key stroke away.
Last month, the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce held an informative luncheon on “Motivating millennials.”
Deanna Arnold, with Employer’s Advantage, pointed out there are tremendous cultural changes taking place in the workplace with the emergence of the Y Generation and the millennials. This is a demographic where everything is immediate and the Internet provides billions of options.
While Boomers like myself are loyal to rules and policies, and Generation X simply blended in, the millennial generation is a product of their environment and their environment has always changed daily.
They have lived in a time where the next version of everything was simply around the corner. Have a new IPhone? The next model is simply six months away with likely updates every month.
The millennials also grew up in a culture where there are no winners and losers.
According to Arnold, “Everyone gets a trophy.” While there is individual recognition, everyone is treated the same. One of the positives is that diversity in the workplace and community is simply not an issue for a millennial. They do not understand why anyone would make a big deal out of differences.
According to a Reason-Rupe poll, millennials are entrepreneurial with 55 percent saying they would like to start their own business and that they believe (61 percent) that hard work is the key to success. Millennials also have a positive view of profit and business competition.
When it comes to politics, millennials believe more strongly in state and local governments, but largely shun party labels. They care much more deeply about issues than they do candidates.
There is little doubt the next generation of business and community leaders will rewrite the rules when it comes to business and commerce. Studies show that the Millennial Generation needs detailed instructions regarding outcomes. Once provided, get out of the way and let them get it done.
That night after speaking to Brian, I reflected on my encounter with the young business leaders from Hough High and thought about when I was in 10th grade with my life before me. One of my mentors was the late U.S. Sen. Bobby Kennedy, who was just 42 when he left an unfinished life.
Bobby reminded us, “Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of the events, and then the total – all of these acts – will be written in the history of this generation.”
Very soon, America will feel the power of her young people. The millennials are our legacy. Shaped by the experiences and culture of their time with a history that has yet to be written.
Bill Russell is the president and CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce with approximately 1,000 business members in the Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville and greater Lake Norman region.