Humanize and the Millennial Generation

Two weeks ago I wrote a post about an inherent paradox in the conversation about generational differences. The differences we see among generations are both true at the big picture level AND irrelevant at the individual level. Every generation possesses significant diversity and significant “sameness” at the same time. That post was the setup to this one, based on the original question that was posed in one of our Humanize twitter chats, which was “Is the Millennial generation better poised to accept the ideas in Humanize than previous generations.”

My answer in the chat was that in the end, I don’t think one generation is going to be way ahead of any other when it comes to these ideas, but it is possible that the Millennials will have a “leg up.” Let me explain.

In my ebook on Generations, I provide my understanding of the forces that are shaping the Millennial generation. I follow Strauss and Howe’s theory on this, so I define Millennials as those born between 1982 and 2005. I also make the point in the book that anything I say about Millennials…is a guess. They are really too young to define too clearly. Generations are a big-picture and long-term deal. It’s much easier to spot trends when you can look back twenty years or so. When it’s still happening, the trends are harder to spot accurately.

That being said, I think there is value in having the ongoing conversation about the trends, even if we can be definite about them. Based on my survey of the literature and observations in the work world, I identified four trends shaping Millennials:

  • Social Internet
  • Abundance
  • Diversity
  • Child-Focused

I explain in the book how these forces affect the value systems of Millennials in ways that I think will show up throughout their whole lives. So what does any of this have to do with Humanize?

In Humanize we argue that becoming more human will allow organizations to tap into potential that our current, mechanical organizations are letting go to waste. Specifically, we point out the value of being more open (decentralization, systems thinking, ownership), trustworthy (transparency, truth, authenticity), generative (inclusion, collaboration, relationship building), and courageous (learning, experimentation, personal development).

Millennials grew up with social media, in an environment where if something they had didn’t work the way they wanted it to, they would use their social networks to figure out how to change it themselves. They grew up with unparalleled abundance, where the default assumption was that resources would be there. They grew up with diversity more as the norm, and the general expectation that groups would have noticeable and wide-ranging differences in them. They grew up with their parents as their friends, where hierarchical lines have been blurred. A lot of these elements are consistent with the ideas in Humanize (decentralization, inclusion, collaboration, etc.). For that reason, I think there is a certain resonance between the Humanize ideas and the trends in the Millennial generation.

But let me be clear: despite the synergy between Humanize and the Millennial trends, the Millennial generation is still getting their first work experiences in organizations that are quite firmly rooted in the mechanical worldview. They have been learning the same best practices that the rest of us have been learning for the past few decades, so I don’t think this is a case of “wait until the Millennials take over and Humanize will be the status quo.”

Creating more human organizations is the job of all of us. Every generation. I think the Millennials might be more positively inclined, but that may just because they’re newer. They haven’t had time to be indoctrinated into the old ways as deeply as the rest of us. But that’s a life-stage issue, not a generational one. So in the end, I don’t think we need a particular focus on generations as we pursue a humanizing strategy within our organizations. We will need to involve everyone, and as such it will help to be aware of generational dynamics, but the real heavy lifting will be in embracing the Humanize elements fully, and that is going to be hard work for every generation.


  1. 31.01.2012 at 12:20 pm

    Very thoughtful comments, Jamie. I especially liked your reference to “life-stage issue,” and that every generation possesses significant diversity.

    It will be interesting to see how the four values you’ve identified for the millenials will survive and get modified over time.