I was recently at a dinner party where the topic of Millennials was the main course.  The discussion evolved to the subject of The American Dream.  What is the essence of this dream?

Every succeeding generation will have it better than the last.

Enter, this new generation.  There is now the worry that our kids and grandkids won’t have the life that we enjoyed.  They won’t have

  • a bigger home
  • a better job
  • more money

than their parents.  Then again, “bigger and better” have a finite capacity.  I posed the question, “how much bigger and better can it get?”

The questions we ask help form our thinking.  Could our understanding of the American dream actually be misguiding?  How can this new generation influence our definition of “better”?

Here are 4 ways they challenge us to lead today for a better tomorrow.

  1. They challenge us to think qualitatively instead of quantitatively.  Perhaps we should recalibrate the American Dream.  Quality has less limits than quantity.  Why not focus the dream on economic justice, or more tolerance for differing points of view.  Less polarization could be refreshing.  As one friend put it, “the radical middle is between the ‘left over left’ and the ‘self-righteous right’.”  Or how about revisiting our education system to make sure real learning is taking place?  Why not focus on preparing students for the workplace of the future?  Does our instruction take place in the context of a global economy?  This new generation demands this kind of thinking.  It’s a good demand and will help define what that American dream should be.

Think quality instead of quantity.

  1. They challenge old assumptions about careers and jobs.  Getting employment and loyally working for a company until we can comfortably retire has been thrown into question.  This pushes against past conceptions of the American dream.  Staying with one company is not the top consideration of a career.  And neither is the sole emphasis on the bottom line.  There is a strong expectation for businesses to expand the impact they are making.  Their role in the world includes improving it for the better.  This newest generation has a strong sense of this.  And it colors the American dream.  It transcends having more than our parents.

Think contribution instead of consumption.

  1. They challenge “one size fits all.”  Learning processes will be customized.  Some of us grew up with television.  This new generation has grown up with something in their hand. It has already started, and over the next few years more of these devices will be used in the classroom.  It will be possible to monitor how fast students are learning.  They will be able to learn at their own speed.  This will prevent someone from falling into the gaps of the educational system, while at the same time not holding another back.  The pace will be customized to the learner.  Today, when I purchase my music, I no longer have to buy the entire CD.  I can design my own.  Instructors will be able to do the same thing – providing more customization in learning along with the basics.

Think guide on the sideinstead of sage on the stage.”

  1. They challenge us to make decision-making more distributive.  It was customary for decisions to be made by central command because that’s where the information was collected.  Today, there is a pipeline of information available to everyone.  The skills for making decisions need to be dynamic – not static.  This is necessary to keep up with the normalcy of rapid change.  There are a lot of firsts with the Millennial generation that make this essential.

It’s the first generation that…

  • Doesn’t need an authority figure to access information
  • Enjoys external stimuli at their fingertips 24/7
  • Is in social contact at all times
  • Will learn more from a portable device than a seminar

As a result, leadership will rise more organically, and distributed decision-making will help grow and leverage that leadership.  A hierarchical chain of command can act like a bottleneck, slowing down this engaging system.  Millennials have worked in groups collaborating with others their entire lives.  It was organic and unfettered by an obsolete hierarchical system.  The result?  Better decisions and stronger engagement.

Think collaboration instead of control.

Every succeeding generation will have it better than the last.”

I believe that is true.  Defining what “better” means will go a long way in how we approach the future.

Would you like solid research on how this new generation will impact the American dream, and beyond that, the global dream? Find out in Managing the Millennials: Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce, 2nd Edition (Wiley).