Why Half of What You Hear about Millennials Is Wrong: Haydn Shaw at TEDxIIT (Transcript)

Following is the full transcript of Haydn Shaw’s TEDx Talk: Why Half of What You Hear about Millennials Is Wrong at TEDxIIT conference.

The question I get asked the most is, ‘What do we do to attract top notch Millennials, motivate them, because they’re not like the rest of us, and how do we keep them from leaving?” That’s a hard one. The question I get asked second most often is, ‘What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve come across in 25 years of researching generations?’ That one’s easy.

Half of what you’ve heard about Millennials is wrong. Half the frustrations business have about the younger Millennial employees is wrong. Half of the frustrations Millennials have about communicating with the older generations about what they need or what’s different today is wrong. Half the frustrations that families have with their 20-somethings is wrong. Not wrong because they’re statistically inaccurate, although a lot of what we read or hear about the Millennials, I don’t know where it comes from, it has nothing to do with social science.

But even the stuff that’s social science correct, that’s survey-based, half of it’s still wrong. Gallup, for example – I mean, you can trust Gallup’s research – are doing a conference in a month about the Millennials, and they are suggesting they are the least engaged generation in the workplace. While that’s accurate, it’s also wrong because it’s not the millenials who are least engaged, it’s a new life stage called emerging adulthood, and that’s what’s unexpected. This one, my friends, is a game changer because if it’s the Millennials, they’re are a problem that needs to be fixed. If it’s a life stage, it’s a change that we need to understand and adapt to.

And understanding that makes working together easier, and it makes being a father easier. Now, emerging adulthood is characterized by three things: freedom, choice, and change. It actually takes place between 18 and 27 or 28, and sociologists have only been talking about it the last 10 years. It shouldn’t be so unexpected because, if people are living 20 to 30 years longer around the world, then there should be more life stages in there somewhere, and so, we should have seen it coming, but if only about 2% of the people I talk to ever have heard about it, how do we know it’s there? Because when you ask people on surveys who are over 30, “When does adulthood begin, full adulthood?”, they say, “28, 27.” When you ask people under 30, “When does full adulthood begin?” “27, 28,” it’s the one thing we all agree on.

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We all see it, we just didn’t have a name for it. Parents say this, “When I was 25, I had a mortgage and a kid. You need to settle down, quit turning your nose up at the wonderful people I find you, and bring me some grandchildren. What is wrong with you?” Bosses are, “How do we motivate them? They’re not engaged.” Yes, because this is not going to be their career for the rest of their lives.

How do we keep them from leaving? Simple. The research is absolutely clear: a mortgage and babies. That’s when the boomers settled down. They just had a mortgage and babies earlier, as the first generation to experience emerging adulthood. So rather than explain emerging adulthood in business terms, let me show you the most unexpected benefit of the most unexpected thing I’ve learned. It made me a better dad to my three sons.

I have a daughter, but she doesn’t face freedom, change, and choice, because she’s only a sophomore in university, and she is going into medicine, which means her next eight years are preplanned for her. So this doesn’t apply to her, but to my three Business-major boys, it applies to completely; and they illustrate the three characteristics or dimensions of emerging adulthood: freedom, choice, and change.

My son Bart is 26. When he was 22, he graduated with two degrees, got married three months later, and headed off to a very risky start-up. All start-ups are risky, but this was twice as risky as the average start-up. His mother said, “No, you have 500 dollars to your name and a new bride.” He said, “My new bride can work. She can get into any grad school with her grades. We’re fine, and we both want to live in Rhode Island.” So they moved to Rhode Island – which has great lobster rolls, I have to tell you, after living in Chicago; amazing lobster rolls; go Iggy’s! – so they live out there.

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They’re quite happy. They’re dirt poor. They have hand-me-down furniture in the back of a U-Haul, and he just resigned last Wednesday. He ran out of money. He’s not sweating it. He’s 26. He has a wife, no money. I would be panicked as a baby boomer in the same situation, but Millennials have an intensification of freedom that the older generations didn’t have when they experienced emerging adulthood. He said to us, “Why would I not do it now? I don’t have the entanglements of later life – early adulthood – I don’t need the money. We could put it on the credit card, and you’ll let us move back in with you, won’t you?” Yes, one out of every three Millennials lives with their parents some time in their 20s, and that allows significantly more freedom.

In 1962, Alfred Hitchcock made a movie about boys that live at home too long. What was the name of that movie? “Psycho.” That’s what previous generations thought about boys that lived at home. There is significantly more freedom today than there was back then.

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