Generation Me. Global Generation. The Net Generation. Echo Boomers (children of baby boomers). Gen Next... all these terms refer to millennials. Born between 1980-2000 they are the largest, best-educated generation in history. Indians under 35 represent 65% of our population. They have created one of the largest IT start-up ecosystems in the world—72% of dotcom founders in India in 2015 were under 35 years of age. Millennials also represent the largest cohort of workers in many organizations today. This makes how they think and act vital for the economy and society.
The standout quality of millennials is that they are more altruistic and share professional expertise more willingly than my generation.
I found many aha moments in an incisive new book by Subramanian Kalpathi, The Millennials: Exploring the World of the Largest Living Generation, published by Penguin India.
For a baby boomer mother of two millennials, the passing of the baton to my sons was a digital revelation—a huge change in work and life styles, behaviour and attitudes. A key difference is that earlier generations like mine are "digital migrants" whereas millennials are "digital natives" who think and operate differently.
My son works full time but remotely from Delhi for an Austrian non-profit with several sustainable development/frugal innovation projects across India and Nepal. The company, which employs several dozen professionals, has no office. All work is done online in real time over Skype, WhatsApp and other file-sharing platforms. The team meets annually for an offsite and occasionally for meetings in wi-fi-enabled temporary offices. Increasingly, teams come together around projects and disband when these are over.
Giving back to the ecosystem
Transience and individual autonomy are key drivers in shaping attitudes whether it comes to marriage or the marketplace because obsolescence is the engine of growth. But for me, the standout quality of millennials is that they are more altruistic and share professional expertise more willingly than my generation. Perhaps because the link between knowledge and power was more exclusive and privileged before the internet.
"The one trait that all successful IT entrepreneurs share," says Kalpathi, is:
"They are givers and routinely engage in what is termed by psychologists as pro-social behaviour. By reversing traditional notions...which say succeed first and give back later, many successful entrepreneurs get into the habit of giving early.
They share their time and offer crucial guidance to budding entrepreneurs, make useful connections to help start-ups in need, personally invest in and prop up businesses and are not averse to giving out office premises for other start-ups to utilise. They have experienced the pain associated with setting up a business in a volatile environment and begin giving back in the ecosystem early on."
Indeed, there are companies and individuals who play the role of incubators and accelerators, contributing extensively towards economic activity and job creation. Notes Kalpathi:
"The year 2015 saw a 40% rise in the number of accelerators in India with approximately 110 compared to about 80 the year before. As the start-up ecosystem in areas like Bengaluru begins to mature... these incubation cells will continue to play a pivotal role in providing a crucial leg up to Millennials setting up disruptive ventures in the exciting new innovation economy."
Innovation requires constant learning
For baby boomers like me, learning was a one-time thing. For high performing millennials learning never stops. How can it? There are no blueprints for most knowledge services and products being developed today, so learning is essential to the task. Successful IT companies include learning opportunities—of which hackathons are a prime example—and prize "learning agility" over conventional knowledge. Convergent learning, divergent learning, game-based approaches to learning... as long as you are learning continuously—online or offline—you can be a champion of the knowledge economy.
For baby boomers like me, learning was a one-time thing. For high performing millennials learning never stops.
The Millennials comes on the cusp of far-reaching changes in India's business landscape, where connectivity for a billion Indians is the aim of companies like Reliance Jio and its partners. The book is full of best practices from India's leading IT companies, many of them discussing concepts alien to my generation of HR professionals: intrinsic motivation, embracing innovation, digital disruption vs. linear growth, being collaborative, philanthropy etc. Combine these practices with an innate Indian talent for software development and I believe India's multitudinous problems will be addressed in its tech centres, not in the corridors of power. I belong to the generation that bought tickets and hotel bookings from travel agents and groceries from the corner store. Thanks to millennials all that is history.