Inside the Evolution of Millennials

It would be easy to claim that Millennials are still misunderstood, but they’ve been analyzed plenty by now. What is infinitely more interesting is where they’ll go from here.

Perception of the millennial generation has gone through several iterations, from general disdain to guarded optimism of their tech savvy. Here’s why Millennials haven’t yet reached optimum potential – and where they’re headed next.

Version 1.0: Millennials as Outliers

As with anything disruptive to the status quo, Millennials were first regarded with a combination of fascination and scorn. It might sound overdramatic now, but just a few years ago, psychologists, bloggers, and everyone in between had something to say about Millennials – and most of it far from complimentary.

Gen Y was arguably the most reviled generation in recent history. Millennials were pronounced self-absorbed, lazy, entitled, and coddled. They received trophies just for showing up. They’d lost the ability to read long-form but routinely overshared in 140-character bursts. Above all, they were tech-crazy and spent way too much time on their phones.

There were so many negative articles about Millennials that other articles were written about those articles. How you felt about the Millennial generation was a polarizing subject.

In this way, the first iteration of the modern Millennial was defined by the perception of others, as outsiders and outliers. Generational differences led to clashes, especially in the workplace, as Gen X managers often butted heads with their headstrong and opinionated Gen Y associates.

Version 2.0: Millennials as the New Normal

In the past few years, however, the general attitude towards Millennials has shifted. As technology transformed the way people communicate and conduct business, many of the aspects that defined Gen Y as outliers has become the “new” normal.

A common early criticism of millennial behavior, for example, was the inordinate amount of time spent on social media and smartphones. Today, Facebook has 1.35 billion users and counting, and social media ad revenues are projected to reach $15 billion by 2018. Similarly, according to Goldman Sachs, mobile commerce will account for 47 percent of all e-commerce sales by 2018.

71 percent of Millennials check social media sites at least once per day, and 80 percent sleep with their smartphones next to their beds. As chief users of these technologies, Gen Y-ers are now also the most knowledgeable and nimble at responding to changes in the field.

In light of this, there has once again been an outpouring of articles and blogs – but this time, addressing how best to maximize and optimize the Millennial’s talents. A collaborative environment, flexible work hours, and empowerment through responsibilities are popular points of advice. Even a recent article in Adweek advised training Millennials in the same format they prefer their content – in small, digestible bites.

The second iteration of the Millennial, therefore, is characterized by a guarded appreciation for their now-relevant skill sets. Millennials 2.0 are today’s Millennials, who are just emerging as today’s digital marketers and tech-savvy entrepreneurs.

Version 3.0: Millennials as?

Which brings us to now. There has been much progress for Millennials in recent years, both in public opinion as well as in their own professional development. Recognition of their skills in and knowledge of technology, in-the-moment marketing, and digital communication has allowed for tremendous growth.

However, there’s still much more to come. The second iteration of Millennials was merely a setting of the stage, especially within the workplace. Companies have been optimized to be Millennial-friendly, as referenced above. It is within this optimal environment, then, where Gen Y can grow even more rapidly.

Thus far, the iterations of the modern Millennial have mostly been defined by outside forces and external perception. Much of it reflects the journey of previous generations in their understanding of Millennials. Version 3.0, however, is still an open book, and one for Gen Y-ers themselves to define.

And they’re ready. Innovation often comes from disruption, and Millennials have been disrupters before they knew they were doing it. What’s more, their experiences have tempered their long-perceived overconfidence into bold entrepreneurial spirit – 67 percent of Millennials say their long-term career goals involve starting their own business.

It would be easy to claim that Millennials are still misunderstood, but they’ve been analyzed plenty by now. What is infinitely more interesting is where they’ll go from here. They are innovators, entrepreneurs, and risk-takers. Even more importantly, they’ve grown up. And what will truly define them – and how they’ll be remembered – is what they do from this moment onwards.

It’s clear that Millennials are ready for the next step. As a Millennial myself, I can say with (over)confidence that the best is yet to come.

Jerry Jao Retention ScienceJerry Jao is the founder and CEO of Retention Science, the global leader in Retention Marketing. Previously, Jerry founded two customer loyalty and referral marketing platforms. Earlier, Jerry was an analyst with Morgan Stanley, an engagement manager with BearingPoint (KPMG Advisory), and most recently an advisor to the CEO of Clear Channel Communications, working on digital initiatives such as iHeartRadio. Jerry is a graduate of UC Berkeley, as a full-tuition Alumni Scholar, and Yale School of Management.

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