“What really bothers me is the lack of honesty. When they interviewed me they said they were interested in my creativity and new ideas, and yet now that I’m on the job, I realize that if I challenge the way things are done, I’ll just get slapped.”
“I really want to help the government do better, but I’m afraid of getting trapped in a bureaucracy.”
“He told me to be quiet and wait my turn. And in 20 years I’d be in a position to change things. And so I left.”
This is how many Millennials describe to us their experiences and fears about today’s workplace. They care about making a difference, but just aren’t prepared to sacrifice their souls in the process. They’ve heard all the talk about how they have unrealistic expectations and should just wait their turn and pay their dues. But what should they do, they ask us, if they think they have good ideas right now? Why doesn’t the organization want to take advantage of new ideas and fresh thinking during such times of disruptive innovation?
Why indeed! Although Lois and I are decades past our entry points into the workforce, we both recall acutely how it felt when we first realized that the organizations we worked for weren’t necessarily interested in our best ideas. Some of our best ideas were horrible or naïve or both, but a few of them weren’t so bad really.
The cost for organizations of ignoring the ideas of your new hires seems much higher today. When I started work in 1978, the technology in my office hadn’t changed in 20 years, maybe not even since World War II. I wrote on an old typewriter that had been around for years. I used a land line. And a ball point, although if you were really cool you insisted on a fountain pen. Today, however, Millennials bring into most work places a native familiarity with new ways of thinking and doing that organizations say they really want and need. It really doesn’t even make sense to ask them to wait five years for their voices to matter, let alone 20.
You can even make the case that if organizations really want to boost their creativity and innovation, they should go out of their way to harvest the ideas of their younger, newer employees. After all, young men and women in their 20s have given birth to some of the most convention-shattering ideas in human history.
- Einstein was 26 when he published his paper on the theory of relativity.
- Isaac Newton postulated the theory of gravity when he was 23.
- The founding generation of the United States was famously young. On 4 July 1776, Betsy Ross was 24, Nathan Hale 21, James Madison 25, and Tom Jefferson was 33. (Ben Franklin of course was 70!)
- A 27-year old Coco Chanel opened her first boutique in France.
- JK Rowling got the idea for Harry Potter at the age of 25.
- By the time he was 25, Mark Zuckerburg had been running Facebook for five years.
- And it was a 29 year-old Elon Musk who founded the company that would eventually become Paypal.
These individuals either worked outside organizations or founded them. I suspect, in fact, that a correlation exists between the growth and importance of organizations in the last 100 years and the popularity of concepts such as paying your dues and biding your time.
So while we have a tendency to write about individuals who have been struggling for many years to make organizational change happen, it’s time to acknowledge that you can find yourself a Rebel at Work within the first few weeks of your first job. Those “wiser and older” will tell Millennials to just cool it. But the better option for the smart organization may be to ask Millennials to “bring it on.”