What I Learned from a Millennial

I am often, some would say too often, surprised at how much I have to learn. I’m also often surprised at who I learn it from. 

 

Such was the case a couple of weeks ago when I was doing a presentation I called “Selling Through the Generations.” The focus was on the differences of selling to the various generations with a particular focus on selling to millennials. 

 

Usually when I’m presenting to a group I try to know more about my subject than my audience. If that’s not possible I at least try to help the group use what they know if a more effective way. This group was unique in that there were 7 or 8 millennials mixed in and I had no doubt that they knew more, way more in fact, about being millennials than I ever could. 

 

But I was really just presenting information that came from the ton of research done on generational differences so I was comfortable with my material. 

 

Despite everything you may have read and heard there are really more similarities between the generations than there are differences. There are however some things that make millennials different from their parent’s and grandparent’s generations. But those differences are not what I’m writing about today. I’m writing about what I learned. 

 

There are lots of names for the generation born roughly between 1978 and 2000. Most of us know that generation as the millennials, some people call them Gen Y and some people call them somewhat divisively “the trophy generation.” 

 

This term comes from the “fact” that millennials need a constant stream of recognition…or a trophy for coming in 9th place in a 10 person race. (Don’t worry, in today’s world 10th place gets a trophy too)

 

I don’t remember exactly how we began the discussion on millennial’s “need” for recognition but somewhere in that conversation one of the millennials in the room said, “we never asked for a trophy, you just gave it to us.” 

 

He went on to say that IF millennials are indeed the trophy generation then it was the generations that came before them who made them that way. 

 

I have done a lot of research on the differences between the generations and written and spoken on the topic somewhat often and I had NEVER considered that thought for a second. But a second is about all it took to know that this millennial was exactly right!

 

Think about it, a little kid competing in soccer or a baseball game had no idea that everyone was supposed to be a winner. They didn’t know that they “needed” or “deserved” recognition for every little thing….until some well-meaning adult told them. 

 

Boomers and maybe some early Gen Xers made millennials whatever they are and now it’s boomers who complain about the “trophy needing” “over-pampered” “brats.” 

 

Millennials are really more like other generations than many people think. The big thing I learned that day is that they have figured out some things that the older generations seem to have missed. 


I don’t think I’ll ever look at millennials quite the same again. 


Why Different is Good

Being better tomorrow than you are today requires that you do something different today than you did yesterday.

 

I think most of us, I know it’s true for me, are creatures of habit. I like doing the same things with the same people pretty much all the time. The people I like the most are the people who are just like me, they believe the same things I believe, the say the same things I say and they like to do the same stuff I like to do…or at least mostly. One thing not everybody I know likes to do is embrace different viewpoints. 

 

Now truth be told I don’t know if I actually “like” embracing different viewpoints but I do need to. I need to because I have a hunger to learn. I am a student of people and that means I need to understand them…no matter how different their life might be from my own.

 

Here’s the reality, and it’s not just my reality, it is your reality too… As much as I like being around people who are just like me I don’t learn very much from them. We are in agreement on most things, someone in the group says something and everyone nods their head in agreement. “You got that right” is a common refrain. 

 

It isn’t that I like disagreement or being disagreeable but often times it is in that discussion that follows disagreement that you learn. If, and it’s a big IF, if you are open to learning. If you honestly work to truly see things from the other person’s point of view. If you don’t just automatically think they are wrong because they don’t think like you or your friends.

 

It’s pretty tough to learn something new from people who are just like you. It’s even harder to learn something new from people who think exactly as you do. 

 

Never underestimate the fact that you could be wrong, about most anything. You might be the smartest person in the room, you may hold the loftiest position in your organization but that doesn’t automatically make you right about everything.

 

Search out people different than yourself. Invest time in understanding them. Don’t prejudge someone just because they “aren’t like you.” Listen to them and listen to understand them rather than listening for the sole purpose of responding. Understand that there isn’t anyone on earth who doesn’t have or know something they can teach you.

 

Read books with viewpoints you disagree with. Have lunch with someone you wouldn’t normally have a beer with after work. Watch FOX News AND CNN. (That’s almost like living in two different worlds) Genuinely try to see multiple sides of every argument. 


Don’t sacrifice your core values and principles but do try to understand where other people are coming from. Your may discover that if you were them you would think and act just like them. You’re likely to still disagree but at least you’ll understand why. You’ll almost certainly learn something about them and the odds are very good that you’ll learn even more about yourself.