The Millennial Mindset: Simon Sinek’s Theory

//The Millennial Mindset: Simon Sinek’s Theory

The Millennial Mindset: Simon Sinek’s Theory

While I’m not a degreed historian, I think it’s safe to say that every society in human history has had some sort of “what’s wrong with kids these days?” vibe running through it and has experienced some degree of friction, confusion, and misunderstanding between the different generations.  As a corollary, I also suspect most of us have failed to acknowledge our own hypocrisy, at times, and realized that we were just as mysterious and rebellious in the eyes of our parents as our own kids seem to be to us now.

And yet, some would say that today’s younger generation — the Millennials, Generation Z, or what have you — are truly cut from different cloth and that many young people today are growing up far less prepared for the workforce than generations past.  Or, at the very least, that they have an attitude about the working world that’s starkly different than that of the generations that came before them.

Agree or disagree, it’s a pretty interesting discussion.  And given that I’m finding myself working more and more with younger professionals these days, I’m paying increased attention to some of the new dynamics, attitudes, and values about work that the Millennial generation brings to the table.  I’m doing this not only so I can advise these individuals properly about their career planning efforts, but also so that I can help older workers learn to work with these younger generations more effectively — as well as work FOR them and have more success in the interview process in those instances they find a person half their age sitting across the desk, evaluating them.

Along these lines, I recently came across the video clip below from workplace expert Simon Sinek who presents some of the most profound theories and arguments I’ve ever heard on this topic.  So for those interested in learning more about multi-generational career thinking, and who haven’t already seen this clip, I’d strongly encourage you to set aside 15 minutes or so to watch it.  I thought it was riveting.  I also thought that much of what Mr. Sinek says in this video rings true.  In addition to explaining why he feels cell phones and technology have literally changed the brain chemistry of young adults, he also brainstorms the potential “solutions” that society and organizations might adopt to help younger folks become more engaged in their careers — and to get the different generations within an organization working together in more harmonious fashion.

So again, if you’ve got a few moments to spare, give this clip a watch:

Thoughts?  Reactions?  Impressions of the video?  Do you think Simon has uncovered some genuine “gold nuggets” regarding the attitudes and behaviors of younger workers today — or is this just another case of older folks being grumpy and simply failing to appreciate a different point of view than their own?  I’d truly love to hear arguments on both sides of this issue (younger clients and readers, please weigh in!) and if anyone has some other good suggestions and experience in addressing this issue.

If nothing else, I’ll confess I’ve had two brief experiences lately that make me think there’s a wider gulf between the upcoming generation and the traditional, older workforce than there used to be.  First, I had a person recently introduce me to a new verb called adulting that involves coaches/counselors helping young people learn to live independently and “grow up” so to speak.  Apparently it’s a big deal (click here to read some articles on it) and the concept has just never hit my radar before.  Additionally, and more anecdotally, one of my clients recently told me she interviewed for a job and didn’t end up landing it — and when she told her teenage daughter, the daughter asked “so what did you get for 2nd place?”  Not sure if the story was exaggerated for effect, but if not, it certainly is in line with some of the perceptions that older workers have about younger people these days… :)

Again, I don’t think any of these behaviors are good or bad, right or wrong.  They are what they are.  But I definitely want to understand the different career perspectives out there to the best degree I can, across different age cohorts, given the increasing age diversity of my practice.  All input and observations welcome!

By | 2017-03-03T20:43:14+00:00 March 3rd, 2017|Changing Careers|9 Comments

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  1. Ira Wolfe March 4, 2017 at 5:49 pm

    Matt – a great read. I have researched the generations and there is a very common theme of those between the ages of 15-25 regardless of the generation. From Chaucer and Shakespeare to Sinek, adults have questioned the attitudes and behaviors of the next generation. And those young adults grow up and repeat the cycle. I have quotes and magazine covers from 1968, 1975, 1908, 1985 and 1990 that I use without the dates in my presentations. They describe the Millennials ….Gen X…. and Baby Boomers as “privileged, narcissistic, entitled, spoiled and promiscuous.”

    What most of these discussions miss is that each generation grows up in a different environment with a fresh perspective. And in today’s world change is occurring at an unprecedented pace. The world that today’s Millennials and Generation Z experience is more like science fiction that ever before. Sinek’s viewpoints confirm a tried and true bias of older adults toward youth. He’s speaking to his “base.” He and others are applying their paradigm of the world that will be significantly altered going forward. When you write, “In addition to explaining why he feels cell phones and technology have literally changed the brain chemistry of young adults” whose to say the change is bad and that is exactly what needs to happen to survive in a world when these young adults turn 30 or 40 or 50. In a world that will be see a massive collaboration between man and machine and moral and ethics tests on what defines humanity, maybe these changes are merely survivalist adaptation.

    Besides, while everyone doesn’t deserve a trophy for participation, it wasn’t the Millennials who instilled that expectation. It was the Baby Boomer and Gen X parents who now blame the kids. Fortunately research is showing that Millennials in their 30s (and the older ones are now 37) are not as competitive if not more than the Baby Boomers were at that age.

    I recorded a podcast a while back on this and recently wrote an article too.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Jennifer B March 4, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    Although I feel that Simon is pretty much SPOT ON about his description of the millennials and their mindset when it comes to work (and actually life in general), what I don’t necessarily agree with is the notion that these “younger kids” are the way they are “through no fault of their own”. I cringe when I hear this because it’s almost – to some degree – continuing to perpetuate the problem of the millennial’s irrational way of thinking. We’re basically deflecting the “blame” or fault of this misguided generation from the young adults and allowing them to play the “victim” card by ingraining in their minds that they’re simply the victim of ‘bad/poor parenting’. “No honey, it’s not your fault you have unreasonable expectations about your life, you feel entitled to everything without having to earn it, and you have a warped sense of self”. OK, so you didn’t get the most wise advice growing up or you weren’t ‘pointed in the right direction’. So what now? Spending copious amounts of time determining fault (rather than just learning how to “figure it out” like the rest of the generations who preceded you have) will do nothing to help bridge the gap between millennials and older generations.

    Regardless of one’s age, I think some of the best advice a person can receive and incorporate into their life is “Take responsibility for your actions and own your mistakes. Accept that failure is inevitable and unavoidable and learn how to fail graciously. Respect the efforts (and the people) of those who have built the foundation in the workforce for which you are now a part of. Develop meaningful work ethics and be prepared for a hard fought climb to the top that doesn’t happen overnight” I think a lack of understanding of and respect for these areas of advice are where millennials have *seriously* missed the mark. They just don’t “get it” and truly think that they can become instant millionaires overnight by eating free food while sitting on beanbags in a “think tank” spitting out fresh new ideas that are sure to revolutionize the world. For a *VERY* select few (i.e. Mark Zuckerberg), this has worked but he and some others are the exception, not the rule. I’m all about the ‘work smarter, not harder’ principle and I’m grateful for the advances in technology we have made in such a short amount of time that help us do that at times. However, nothing will ever replace good, old-fashioned hard work (i.e. blood, sweat, and tears) coupled with exercising humility and taking personal responsibility for one’s actions when it comes to achieving “success” in the workplace. *True* effective leaders know this — regardless of the generation in which they were born.

  3. Mark T March 4, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    Awesome clip – I hesitated but it was well worth the time! Totally aligns with not only my experience in the workplace, but things said by my adult kid’s friends, (how’s the job going?) “Oh, I don’t know, I might might quit…” Honestly, the thought did occur to me that it serves these corporations right given the way so many treat their employees – but that’s not the right attitude. We need to double down on being and building the human face in the workplace – really care for your people!

  4. Sally Webb March 4, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    Excellent YouTube…Simon Sinek’s thoughts on almost any subject are worthy of hearing. This is no exception.

    Personally, I’m very interested in understanding more about this subject. Those of us over 50 deserve great employment, as long as we can deliver on what is needed for the position. To be viable candidates for great positions, we must be capable of working well with whatever ages exist in a company – including Millennials. So it is our job to understand Millennials and make adjustments to ourselves so that this actually takes place. This is also true for Millennials.

    Recently I was taken aback by a Millennial’s response to my university’s alum blog re employment for 50+. The career coach had just noted that it just took longer for most at this age, but that age prejudice really wasn’t as much of a problem as our fear that there was prejudice. Then a Millennial woman chimed in with something like, ‘If you’re 50+ you should get out of our way. You’ve had your turn. Those should be our jobs.’ She had no concept of being 50+ and needing to finance the rest of his/her life…no interest in working with people as old as some of us happen to be…and she hated the idea of working around people who might be as old as her parents. Her honest belief that she was entitled to employment and that we had no right to continue to be employed was startling to me – and such a foreign belief. When I was that age I knew I had to start at the bottom and work my way up…I did not believe I was owed positions and I would never have thought that 50+ (or anyone) should stop working to make my entry easier. She sounded ferociously sincere. So, yes, I want to understand more of this Millennial belief system. It will not benefit her or us in a work environment.

    Sinek’s follow up YouTube (following, shorter video) ties together well with what Matt sent:

    I agree with Sinek that Millennials should receive additional assistance from employers. Sadly, getting most companies to change their corporate environment sufficiently to support Millennials in this seems unlikely. It would be good business, but our corporate leadership too often seems to have short-term gain as a single priority. I believe it is critical that Millennials understand that they didn’t personally screw up, but rather, that the parenting model of the time was totally unrealistic. They also need to understand that every age group has had something un-helpful fed them or affect them – and that ultimately, we all must change to deliver what is expected by the employer.

    Babyboomers, myself included, must do the same.

    Hope to hear more on this subject.

  5. Anonymous March 6, 2017 at 5:29 pm


    Thanks for sharing this thought-provoking post. I’ve monitored the elder generation opinion of millennials for at least 17 years now. The anecdotes are endless, and there was even a millennial CEO-type on TED or something “acknowledging” that he was different from his cohorts because they were in fact all the things that they’re rebuked for.

    As an older parent, I think the parenting point is spot on, and I see it in the kids my eight year-old has to play with. All. The. Time. I say “has to” because I missed the point about parenting earlier that defines the word in the context of your kid AND his/her friends. e.g., The millennial soccer coach doesn’t have the backbone to lay down the law on the misbehaving kids, and I as the asst. coach have to dig in to my bag of tricks to redirect said misbehavior into something that appears vaguely productive on the soccer field. But if I were coach, those kids would be out on strike three and yeah, maybe we’d forfeit a game to make a point.

    I digress, I meant to just share another anecdote that compliments your post. I heard a call-in about the British Royal Family once on KUOW a couple years ago. A question came up about Americans and fame, and a caller said she polled her millennial friends and it came out that almost all of them wondered why they weren’t famous “yet.”

    My jaw dropped, because even on the most superficial level, that statement speaks volumes in my confirmation-biasing impression of the average millennial and their selfies and social media propaganda.

    If you made it this far, and I’m sorry to afflict you with my opinions. To end more positively, I’d also share a nugget I read someplace about selfies–this is not self-defining behavior so much as self-developing behavior. They’re trying on personas like everyone does and will eventually find their fit. Hopefully.

    Finally, I work with quite a few sharp, helpful, considerate, and apparently well-adjusted millennials now at my current company. Then again, I’m happy to meet people with those attributes no matter what their age. But that these folks are millennials gives me hope that maybe my bias is more to blame than bad parenting.

  6. Matt Youngquist March 6, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Just wanted to chime in and thank everybody for their comments and contributions above! Definitely a topic that conjures up strong opinions, for sure, and for those who haven’t done so already, I’d highly encourage you to check out the comment above submitted by Dr. Ira Wolfe — and to click the link he provided to a related article he wrote for Forbes magazine. In this article he provides some further thoughts and some great potential rebuttals/counterarguments for some of the prevailing “angst” about millennial behavior that is well worth a read.

    Personally, I’m still not sure what the exact cause might be of the difference in behavior shown today by younger professionals — or whether we need to “blame” anybody for it, necessarily — but I can absolutely confirm that they approach/view the workplace in a fundamentally different way than most older professionals I work with. They’re fearless. They’re cocky. They don’t seem to respect authority as much as past generations. And they have goals and ambitions that, to me, don’t always seem grounded in reality or supported with an appreciation for the hard work required to reach them. These are generalizations, for sure, but it will be fascinating to watch whether the world ends up “bending to them” to the point their attitudes end up changing the very fabric/nature of the workplace itself — or whether some of these younger folks instead end up having to “bend to the world” by embracing the time-tested realities of settling down, working hard, and finding out a way to carve out a steady living for themselves.

    Again, many thanks for sharing your perspectives on the topic!

  7. Matt Youngquist March 6, 2017 at 9:03 pm

    Hi Matt,

    Loved your post here and watching the Simon Sinek video- again. I had seen this a few weeks or months back, but more or less skimmed through it. In watching in full this time, I found it very engaging and on-point about millennials in the workplace. While it was very interesting to learn about how this generation’s upbringing, habits, viewpoints, strengths and weaknesses, I can’t say I agree with Sinek’s ultimate solution/antidote/conclusion. Some of the key points(paraphrased) he makes supporting this conclusion:

    • Corporate environment isn’t helping the millennials. Isn’t reinforcing the instant gratification and isn’t teaching them is takes time to make a difference in a corporation.
    • Corporations aren’t helping them build their confidence or skills of cooperation.
    • Corporations aren’t helping teach them balance.
    • Aren’t helping them achieve the satisfaction of working on something that cannot be done in a month or even a year.
    • Millennials often want to quit their jobs early because they think they aren’t making an impact.
    • “I’m here to tell them that it’s not their fault and it’s the total lack of leadership in the corporate world that is making them feel the way they do.”
    • “Corporations now have to work extra hard to teach them social skills and working hard.”

    While I agree there exists a lack of leadership in various parts of the corporate world, I absolutely do not agree with Sinek’s ultimate conclusion – that we need to introduce potty training, social coping skills, and the character, discipline, humbleness, tenacity, PATIENCE, and long-term, strategic thinking in the corporate environment. I see where Sinek is going with his thinking. Perhaps he is arguing that unless corporations and leadership adapt to the millennial mindset and behavior, there will be an overall negative impact on corporate performance due to the declining Boomer leadership numbers and increasing employee churn.

    Since it is the norm for millennials to change jobs every 1-2 years, should corporations really be obligated, take the initiative, and make the associated investment($) to help teach the millennials “balance”, long-term thinking, social skills, and the discipline of working hard for career satisfaction? Aren’t these more or less what we used to call ‘life skills’? Adopting this approach only reinforces that parental enablement environment that Sinek’s mentions as one of the four reasons for millennial behavior in the workplace.

  8. Art March 7, 2017 at 10:16 pm

    I’m 64 and I’ve never (I think) had a problem working with and for much younger people. At MSN in 1999, our Project Manager was 23, as were most of our colleagues. I respected their expertise and strong work ethic (finishing at 11:00 pm and sleeping on cots); The hardest part for me was giving up my buttons (in exchange for T-shirts.) One guy at a meeting said, “Lose the buttons, dude. You make me nervous.” That was 1999. Our PM called me in for evaluation and said, “Art, you ask too many questions about how to do things, such as how to publish the newsletter. Instead, you need to tell US about cool new things.” I asked one colleague, 23, if he thought about leaving MS to start his own business. “I already did that and sold it to MS – that’s why I’m here.” Oops! My 25-year age difference, even then (18 years ago) was like Mt. Everest.

    But I’m still alive and kickin’! Or cursing. Back in the 80’s, young bankers and traders would literally cross the street to a new job (“I can see my old office,” one told me.) Because there were so many jobs in finance. American Express was brand-new (I was booted for not paying my full charges one month.) I loved getting cash with my debit card. We all collected eleven percent on savings, and everyone on Wall Street was cheating everyone else with fake deals. Oh, yeah. Not to mention getting stoned at lunch every day. Those were the days, my friend. Oh 1980s, where are you?

    Oh yes, working for young people. (My senior moments are becoming senior hours.) I respect, admire and depend on the knowledge and skills of “young people.” (How old was Bill Gates in 1976?) For example, on a 10-day backpack in the Sierra Nevada, our tour leader was 26, super-fit and gung-ho. He did three such trips back to back and knew every bear smell. I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else in charge; that guy could save our lives if needed. Could someone 45? Probably. But in the outdoors, it doesn’t get better than 26. Some things we need to accept.

    So I’ll keep working for people with increasingly wide age gaps between myself and them, until I can no longer see or hear – or they think I can’t. Cheers, mate.

  9. Matt Youngquist March 10, 2017 at 3:53 pm

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