Steven Covey wrote the seminal book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in 1989 and I was one of the first to read it. This was just a great read and still filled with great advice and truths that are applicable today. His premise, to begin with an end in mind, is just plain sticky, as they say. It makes as much sense now as it did then. How can you accomplish anything of great complexity or value if you don’t have an end-result, an outcome, in mind? This idea comes from the assumption that the expected outcome to be obtained is known. This idea resonates with my point of view as I am a person always looking to the future with a point of view and a plan. As for the generations after mine, we need to look at their life experience if we are to lead them.
Millennials are a generation of digital natives. They were raised in an Information Age steeped with boundless connectivity, data, devices, and mobility. They grew up with the assumption that if you want to know something—anything—you’re just a click away. If you want to buy something, just order it; if you want to connect with a person, join one of a thousand social networks. They use technology in ways that my generation could not even imagine (that is, not in the way that it was intended). They hack, they mash-up, they ask for the APIs, they live in the Cloud. They share, they crowd-source, they don’t care about ownership. They care about getting from one place to another, about transportation more than the unsustainable car in the garage. They care about outcomes. They don’t seem to care about The 7 Habits.
Millennials appear to challenge authority beyond your comfort zones, not out of disrespect, but out of the knowledge that authority can often stand in the way of getting to the desired outcome. The phrase, “That’s not the way it’s done,” is meaningless to them. It’s just a roadblock. And maybe that’s a good thing, as my generation appears to have all but given up on solving some of the persistent, intractable problems that millennials have embraced: climate, hunger, healthcare, equality. Generation-Z (born after 2000), just coming now into the workforce, will be even more technology-enabled: they disregard advertising, user manuals, mainstream media, and combustion engines.
But here’s why we need to pay attention: Millennials bring unfettered creativity to our teams. Because they reject or ignore the constraints and limitations of what’s come before them, they see most challenges as a clean sheet of paper. They assume that any data set that is desired can be found. They believe in accountability and progressing any meaningful cause or goal. And they all (or almost all), have an appreciation for or have done some type of configuration of software. They create value in their lives and differentiate themselves via software and applications. A washing machine is not just a utilitarian device intended to make the process of washing clothes efficient and effective, but a smart device participating in a sustainable ecosystem, enriching the connected life experience.
Maybe we need to add an “eighth habit” for highly effective digital natives: recognize that your peers and employees may work differently, but it’s not necessarily wrong or ineffective. The cultural norms we create should be about efficacy, not control, and let the culture grow organically within those norms, not despite them.