10 Observations from working with Millennials

The dynamics of ‘work’ have been changing for a while now, so much that when I think about writing on the subject, my thinking almost seems outdated! Not surprising, GigaOm’s post from a year ago – How the great generational shift is causing transformation in the very nature of employment – shows as many as six generations active in the workforce these days! Each of them with different world views, attitudes, priorities and approaches to work. But given that I’m trading one demographic number for another in a couple of days, I thought it an appropriate time to share a few observations based on my recent experiences. Since I had written earlier on the challenges faced by my generation in The Future of Work and The Entrepreneur & the Professional, this post focuses on a younger workforce. Millennials, if you are into labels.

The first two points set the context. I mention these two because I think they have a direct link to the worldview, attitudes and behaviours of the emerging workforce towards work, and their life in general. They serve as the backdrop for me to observe the 15+ people I have managed in the last 4-5 years. More

The entitlement of the self

IMO, Season 4 of Mad Men really took it up a notch. I think it’s because the human condition started showing up much more than before. Episode 6 – Waldorf Stories – offers quite the example. <spoilers> To quickly give context to the non viewers, a flashback shows how Don Draper, the show’s lead character and a fur coat salesman then, was hired by an inebriated Roger Sterling (partner at an ad agency) years ago. Don rises right to the top, becoming a partner at the new agency that Sterling, and others form. When the agency wins its first award, Roger feels entitled to an acknowledgement from Don. When he doesn’t get it, he asks for it. Later, in the same episode, Peggy, whom Don ‘raises’ from secretary to copywriter, also feels entitled to Don’s  acknowledgment of her contribution to the award winning ad. In the first instance, Don is gracious and acknowledges Roger’s hand in making him what he is, but in the second, he is furious at Peggy.

It made me think of entitlement. I have read many an article about the millennial generation’s sense of entitlement, but maybe it’s not a generational thing at all. Maybe, it’s just that this generation expresses it more than others, and this is being documented much more courtesy the web. A point of difference is probably what is being asked for – opportunity (millennials) and acknowledgment. (earlier generations) More

A different kind of prosperity

A couple of months back, there was a very heated debate (mild term) based on an article that was titled “Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy” and (also) dealt with something that has occupied my thoughts for a while now – the sense of entitlement. It had a very simplistic formula on happiness : Happiness = Reality – Expectations, and the author’s take was that a sense of entitlement/being special heightened expectations and when that collided with reality, Gen Y’s happiness suffered. Another key factor in this was they are also regularly ‘taunted’ by people who are doing better – simply because the latter share their successes much more.

I must say that my observations on the sense of entitlement have led me to believe that it’s not totally an age thing. I do agree that societal and lifestyle changes have led to parents becoming more indulgent, but I think the larger culprit is mass publishing platforms –  the ability to broadcast one’s thoughts to large number of people. It is enhanced when the publisher realises he/she has an audience. It does seem higher in younger groups but that’s only because they have been exposed to these platforms much earlier in their life than an earlier generation and therefore do not have the alternate perspectives and experiences of the latter. But the entitlement discussion is for another day.

An interesting point made in the article was that Gen Y wanted fulfilling careers. What does not come out though is what defines ‘fulfilling’. Is it the emotional satisfaction of working towards a shared purpose, or is it the perks that come with a high-flying career? I suspect that fulfilling at this point swings more towards the material success that the latter provides. Umair Haque has an interesting take called ‘Growthism‘, a devolved form of capitalism, whose dogma is to achieve growth at all costs and according to the author prevents us from developing a sophisticated conception of what prosperity is. It does seem fluffy but that’s probably because we have been conditioned by various institutions for a long while now.

But I sense a change is on its way. For instance, thanks to this post, I came to know of The Prosperity Index, which goes beyond the GDP and economic success based models of measuring prosperity of nations. While this is indeed a positive step, I think true change will happen when constituents like the Gen Y mentioned earlier begin to look at currencies beyond money for a sense of fulfillment, and happiness. In this must-read article titled “Who Will Prosper in the New World“, the author mentions “People who don’t need money” – people who have the incomes of the lower middle class and the cultural habits of the wealthy or upper middle class.

I think we’re at the beginning of a new cycle – a generation will start ignoring the paradigms of success and fulfillment set by its predecessors and their institutions, and use the fabulous technologies that are evolving to craft its new narrative of happiness. I also think that my generation might be the casualty of two large concepts at war with each other, but maybe that’s what it takes for a civilisation to be entitled to its prosperity….


until next time, changelings

P.S. On a related note, do read ‘On Lifestyle Rigidity

Moral Signs

A little more than a year back, I remember writing a post on identity – what exactly constitutes the individual – work, relationships, consumption, combinations of these…….

More recently, I read a Scott Adams post which actually asks the same question ‘Who are you?’ He also provides his best answer to it ‘You are what you learn’. It’s an interesting point and I do agree that what you learn is what gives you additional perspective. It changes the way you view older experiences and how you react to new experiences. And so, despite believing in being prisoners of birth to some extent, and knowing that the apple never falls far from the tree, and at the risk of generalisation, I would tend to agree.

Which brings me to learning. In an earlier era, our ‘channels’ of learning were limited – parents, relatives, friends, teachers, literature, some amounts of media, and so on. Limited when compared to the abundance that a media explosion and the internet have brought into our lives. Sometime back, I read a post in the NYT titled ‘If it feels right‘, which discussed a study on the role of morality (rather, the lack of it) in the lives of America’s youth. The author clarifies that it isn’t as though they are living a life of debauchery, it’s just that they don’t even think of moral dilemmas, the meaning of life and such. The study ‘found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism’, mostly because they have not been given the resources to develop their thinking on such matters.

It led me to think about the moral frameworks that were instilled in us by our sources when were young. At the very least, value systems existed, though obviously their ‘quality’ would be a subjective affair. I wonder, if in this era of abundant sources, we are missing out on inculcating the basic moral guidelines that are necessary for a society’s sustenance and  evolution. If people are what they learn, then the least we could do is take a closer look at our own moral framework. The next generation, despite the abundance of sources, could be learning from it. Or perhaps this is the way it has always been, between generations. :)

until next time, moral poultice

PS: a beauuuutiful related video

The Future Belongs to the Curious from Skillshare on Vimeo.

A lot can happen over coffee

Part 2 of last week’s post. Contrary to what the title might suggest, this has nothing to do with Coffee Day. Well, almost.

I waited outside Fresco’s for the next meeting and this caught my eye. Coffee, destinations and experiences.


And just as I finish erm, shooting the above, she zooms in and after parking the car, chides me for not responding to her first wave from inside the car, until I point out to her that from where I stood, I could barely make out that its her inside the car. I also tell her that it might be unwise to wave at people of the opposite gender when one’s unsure… I was meeting her after a few months, and was yet again, struck by the precociousness. She’d called me to discuss a website idea of hers. She is all of 22, and has a knack of making me feel ancient, though unwittingly. We agree that the place demands that we concentrate solely on the chocolate desserts, but then we compensate by (me) arguing that the Oreo’s cream in her pastry was just wasting space that should’ve been taken by more chocolate. I pointed out my unadulterated ‘Chocolate Demise’.

I ask her about her new idea, and out comes the story that its happening thanks to the money made from another business of hers, that’s apparently quite a success. She informs me that the idea for the first business came about from an earlier meeting we’d had. She explained, and when I heard it, I felt like a favourite character of mine – Forrest Gump!! Meanwhile, her book is already with the agent, she tells me its been 5 months, and maybe its time to check out another agent. I tell her that’s a hell of a lot of things to be doing at 22. She finds it worrisome that she might be trying out too many avenues, too many side lanes, which might take her focus off the main road, and i tell her about the number of posts I have written about the paths not taken. After we’re through with our chat, I tell her that I’m very happy for her, the way she’s handling her life, and not to stop.

I wondered about the stuff I’d been doing when I was 22. One week later, I watch ‘Wake Up Sid’. (I Saw, Puked, in case you like anagrams)  After the movie I tweet,


Dil Chahta Hai was released in 2001. I was 23 then, close enough to 22 when one looks back now. Not then, of course.  Business management and beach bumming. There’s no comparison. :)

A thought on WUS vs Lakshya before we move on.  Both are ‘coming of age’ movies, and that’s where the comparison ends, for me. Lakshya had an individual who got himself something to focus on, Sid just becomes relatively more mature. Movies work differently for different people, in fact I identified more with Lakshya than Sid, but to me, the comparison itself is perhaps unfair, because it means equating coming of age to focus. In my book, they are not the same.

Though WUS did remind me of DCH, it was another comparison that gave me food for thought. Konkona plays someone who’s older than Ranbir, by about 5 years. She comes to Mumbai, focused about what she wants to do. Ranbir is barely trying to figure out what he wants to do. Two different approaches to life.

I wondered if the age difference explained it, or was it the individual character, or their different circumstances. In many posts, I have explored each of the three separately. I have wondered whether today’s generation has many more choices than I had, and whether that’s the reason why I am constantly thinking about roads not traveled. I have wondered whether people are just made differently, in terms of aggression, risk taking mentality etc. I have wondered about how one’s circumstances, and the people one is surrounded with, influence one’s destiny. I have even wondered  about the combination – whether society has changed and has helped the young of today by giving them freedom to experiment, to make their own responses to choices, and thus made them smarter along the way, and helped them build confidence.

And then i remember the coffee choices I’d seen as I stood in front of Fresco’s. Choices have always been there, maybe lesser, but there. I could have the coffee on the roadside or inside the CCD. They’re completely different experiences, and any judgment of one being better or worse than the other is simply a matter of perspective, based on time, person, place and so on. It perhaps isn’t even about the journey, its about how  one sees the journey, and what one wants to make out of it. :)

until next time, ennui anyone? :)

Bridge over troubled water

In ‘Tin Fish‘, there is a wonderful speech given by the school captain, which goes (edited a bit)

…..I am not what I’d have liked to be. The school is aiming to prepare me for others. I want to be for myself. But it is growing increasingly difficult for me to prepare myself for myself as my expectations grow greater. A reformed, open-hearted school can help me. Till then, I shall stand on the beaches, look towards the sea and wait for a solution to be washed ashore.

The novel is set in a boarding school in Rajasthan, deals with peer and parental pressure, and has the chaotic politics of the 70s as the backdrop. As a late 70s born, I could identify with the book because though the cultural icons had changed (rock bands/actresses etc) societal changes seemed to have moved at a much slower pace. The value and belief systems as well as the prejudices – caste, religion, income are a part of the 80s too.

I could also identify with the above excerpt on two counts. ‘Preparing me for others’ ..the pressure to conform – on the kind of education one should have, the kind of career one chose, the kind of person one could get married to, one’s conduct with family, boss, and one’s behaviour in society in general, all had their own sets of conformity. ‘Prepare myself for myself’..when I wrote this post sometime back, I had mentioned the conformity that the blog imposes on the blogger, it is something that happens in real life too – we create an image of ourselves, consciously or more likely, sub consciously, and try to stick to it. In either case, more often than not, objectivity will be lost.

Sometime back, I also came across this wonderful piece in the New York magazine, titled ‘Say Everything’. It talks about how as the young population gets increasingly used to the net, there are many among them, for whom, sharing their ‘stuff’ online is the natural way to be, and for whom, privacy has an entirely different definition. In fact they consider the extreme caution of the earlier net generation to be narcissistic and are prepared for the implications that the shared stuff might have on their lives decades later. The author sees this as the biggest generation gap in a long time, perhaps since the hippie generation. She even wonders whether in this era of surveillance cameras and tracked card transactions, their belief that privacy is an illusion might be the sane approach. The article outlines a series of changes that are happening with this generation –  “they think of themselves as having an audience, they have archived their adolescence, their skin is thicker than ours”

Now, one could say that they are conforming to an online audience (like my blog example), but as the author points out, over a period of time, will this generation, which has been growing up with the net, move towards such degrees of comfort that they are totally un-self conscious? And perhaps, to quote the extreme example used by the author, a Paris Hilton level where what could have been the worst humiliation possible, was used as a stepping stone for fame? A generation so transparent that any ‘forced’ conformity would be easily detected and would be undesired. And moving on, to use the words I had seen in a totally different context (link), would transparency be (or subsume) objectivity?

At this stage, we are of course, smack in the middle of these changes, but unlike the above generation, technology (more specifically, the web) entered our lives relatively much later. We perhaps have the baggage of not just peers/parents/society but also the ones we have created for ourselves earlier on in our lives. We might struggle to adjust, but yet we are perhaps the bridge generation, across the cultural changes wrought by the www or even liberalisation (in India). Did every generation have to play similar roles? :)

until next time, stage fright

Something in common

A few weeks back, I read a book called ‘Patna Roughcut’. Its one of those nice little books that reminded me of ‘The Wonder Years’, except that this one is non linear even in terms of narrators (not just narrative). While it is set in Patna and Delhi, I could identify a lot of the stuff – something I described in my short review as “you know you were a kid in india in the 80’s ” moments.

A few days later, I had a conversation with someone on GTalk, about Thums Up and Frooti and all those drinks that existed in the 80’s and 90s, some of which, like Gold Spot and Sprint don’t even exist now, except in our memories. I realised that inspite of the vast distance between us, in terms of geography, we had a few culture icons that transcended it. That includes consumer items like those soft drinks, ads like Surf-Lalitaji, Lijjat Papad, Rasna, serials like Humlog, Mr.Yogi, Buniyaad, books – Amar Chitra Katha and Indrajal and many other things.(if you have been reading this blog post 2005, you might like to read that post, its one that’s very close to my heart)

I wonder whether there’s an inverse proportion between the maturing of a country/economy and the common memory of generations. I can imagine the earliest generation of our free country, who had a bond – they’d rejoiced on Aug 15th, 1947 and then watched, or sometimes, suffered, the horrors of partition. Later generations who could associate with Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialist monuments (from dams to PSUs), the assassination of Indira Gandhi and where they were when they heard it, the triumph of a cricket world cup, and for us liberalisation and a new economy that changed everything forever.

And while we have an SRK, a Tendulkar, a Dhoni, perhaps even a Vishwananathan Anand that binds us, in essence we’ve boiled down to Bollywood and Cricket as our icon providers. Everything else pales in comparison, and is at best, a regional influence. A single DD channel doesn’t find a place now even in our favourites, and the same goes for brands across categories. Sometimes I wonder, when the post 2000 generation is all grown up, whether they’ll only be able to relate to those whom they’ve known through some earlier association, like a school or college, and relate only because of those shared memories. Are they missing out on a large collective consciousness, one in which even this generation can relate to someone of their own age, simply because they’ve grown up in the same era? Maybe there are icons that I know nothing of, after all I belong to an earlier set. :)

until next time, nostalgia trips :)


Quite sometime back, i had written this, in which i had tried to fathom the confusion of a generation caught in transit. That genaration is definitely making progress, marching towards the paramaters of the next generation with ever increasing confidence, but in a sense, giving up on things that used to be sacrosanct until a few years back. Nothing wrong with that, to each his own. But there’s one thing that always makes me wonder.

There were things we grew up with – watching potboilers of amitabh in moviehalls with uncomfortable seats and later in VCRs, listening to the nasality of Kumar Sanu on Tseries tapes, enjoying the exploits of Kapil Dev or later Sachin Tendulkar in a crowded room full of cousins, reading Amar Chitra Katha and Tinkle and Indrajal, travelling in Ambassador cars and Indian railways, lazing around during summer vacations and so on.
And while they still watch Big B movies in multiplexes, listen to Himesh on Tseries CDs while pretending to say Oh No’s, Tendulkar still rocks despite occasional calls for retirement, ACK and Tinkle will soon be available online, Indian Railways is still cool if we go by Jab We Met, and they find a few hours to laze around during summer vacations despite the karate classes, entrance tutions, salsa classes etc that enable them to survive and win in this oh-so competitive world, I wonder whether they’ll ever get nostalgic about any of the above the way we do.
Or have they found other things that i haven’t heard of that will link them with their childhood and youth, the ones that will give them bittersweet memories which they can jot down like this, the legacy of a way of life they can pass on to the generations that follow. Or will it all be forgotten in the tumble of the life we lead today, in which everyday brings in a faster way of doing things, a quicker way of travelling, a better way to store data, an easier way to communicate and so on… Will it all be lost when things become so transient that the past won’t really matter anymore…
until next time, remember….