No surprise: Millennials are like everyone else, only more so

Yes, I know: the title sounds paradoxical. But Millennials appear to be bound and determined to confuse and surprise.

A recent survey by Cornerstone on workplace productivity demonstrates that the convention thinking about Millennials as Spock-like technoids is off the mark in a few key ways.

Meeting expectations, Millennials are most likely — of all age groups — to work with others online at 34%, but surprisingly, 60% still favor face-to-face for working socially. This suggests the office is not going away soon, and underscores the deep need of Millennials for involvement and engagement through contact with others, not just connections in the ether.

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As you can see in this table, Millennials are motivated to collaborate in ways that echo other age groups, but are consistently higher: they are like the others, only more so.

And it turns out that the ills of the modern working life are felt most strongly by Millenials, like information and technology overload:

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And we can chart the course of BYOD and wearables by looking at their attitudes.

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And 66% of Millennials are willing to use wearables if it enabled them to do their jobs better, compared to 55%, 62%, and 50% of Older Gen, Gen X, and Baby Boomers, respectively. Only 11% would be embarrassed for colleagues who use wearables to get their job done, compared to 89% of Boomers.

So, we are seeing some serious changes coming , with the mercurial, social, and adaptive Millennials leading the way.

A new survey by IdeaPaint reveals a great deal about Millennials and idea jamming

I had the opportunity yesterday to speak with Jeff Avallon, vice president of business development at IdeaPaint, the company behind the dry erase paint that turns any surface into a whiteboard. The company has released a 2013 Millennial Workplace Trends Survey, and we chatted about that and related issues.

The company positions itself as a workplace collaboration company, using 30,000 foot statements like ‘turn spaces into creative spaces’ and ‘We exist for one simple reason: to fundamentally improve the way people work’) peppered all over the website.  This is in a way reminiscent of Herman Miller (‘Inventive designs, technologies and related services that improve the human experience wherever people work, heal, learn and live’) and Steelcase (‘For 100 years, Steelcase has been bringing human insight to business by studying how people work, wherever they work. Those insights can help organizations achieve a higher level of performance, by creating places that unlock the promise of their people.’) which could be viewed as companies selling furniture, but are in fact diligently working to understand the relationship of the workplace and its artifacts to the activities we call work, and how to tweak the former to improve the latter.

So, then, it’s no surprise that IdeaPaint offers numerous reports and ebooks to help drive more effective workplaces and work practices, like The New Art of Brainswarming by Kevin Maney. Brainswarming is a term intend to up-end the conventions of brainstorming, which has fallen into disfavor in the creative community. There are better ways to ideajam than the formless and flabby brainstorming exercises of old.

One widely held view is that brainstorming is antidemocratic: one person holding the market in front of a small whiteboard, controlling the discussion by choosing which of proposed ideas to write down and which to ignore. IdeaPaint offers an alternative: paint all the walls in your conference rooms with dry erase paint so every participant can have their own marker, and everyone can be contributing in parallel. This is what they call brainswarming.

Yes, it can’t run fully in parallel all the time, but each person could at least get all their thoughts down before starting to look for the edgiest and weeding out the conventional.

In the most recent survey, Millennials are strongly inclined toward that sort of egalitarian and efficient sort of creative interplay.

  • 82% of the Millennials in the study believe that their company’s ideation meetings are effective
  • 68% of respondents feel as though they have an equal say during ideation meetings
  • 65% agree or strongly agree with the following statement: “My company makes it easy for employees at all levels to share great ideas and take them to the next level”
  • 61% of respondents answered yes to the following statement : “I know about the innovation and new ideas percolating at my company.”

I am unsurprised to learn that those in the tech and advertising industry had the highest engagement for Millennials, while education was a real laggard.

What I was also not surprised by was the degree to which Millennials favor face-to-face: 74% of respondents prefer small group coworking to spark innovative ideas. Avallon made the case that Millennials are obsessed with turning ideas into reality, and they chafe when placed in a context where that is block in any way.

Knoll, another office furniture company, conducted research in 2012 that showed Millennials like ‘quick, casual, and socially tinged meetings’ rather than the formal, overly prepped, fat slide deck meetings that Boomers prefer. This is supported by IdeaPaint’s new study. So we can expect a fast transition over the next few years to a new style of idea jamming, that is faster paced, looser, and much more geared to quickly turning ideas into reality. Oh, and every flat surface transformed into a backdrop for creativity.


Who’s calling the shots?

Who Will Be Calling The Shots At Microsoft?

I wrote this week about Stephen Elop’s willingness to ax some of Microsoft’s products if he were to get the CEO role at Microsoft (see Stephan Elop supposedly thinking about making big changes at Microsoft). In particular, people with access to Elop told Bloomberg reporters that Bing would likely be shuttered, Xbox spun out, and other consumer-oriented products reconsidered.

Most cogent to the business orientation of the firm, Elop would move to make Office actually workable on other mobile devices, like iOS and Android. Some commentators made the case that Office Mobile is already available, but they seem to forget that it requires an Office 365 subscription, at the least. Here’s an interchange I had with Henry Blodgett and Mary Jo Foley on that:

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So, Elop may only be advocating a speed up, but it’s been a long time coming.

However, others have started to wade in, notably, Paul Allen, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft. The chief investment officer of Allen’s family investment office Vulcan Capital is Paul Ghaffari, and he spoke at The Financial Times Investment Summit recently, and according to Stephen Foley of the Financial Times he said this:

Mr Ghaffari said the overwhelming majority of Microsoft’s earnings were generated by selling software and services to business customers.

“The search business and even Xbox, which has been a very successful product, are detracting from that. We would want them to focus on their best competencies,” he said.

“My view is there are some parts of that operation they should probably spin out, get rid of, to focus on the enterprise and focus on the cloud.”

The Microsoft board has shown a new “receptivity to getting outside views,” Mr Ghaffari said, adding that the search for a successor to Mr Ballmer was being handled well.

If the board opts for rumoured candidate Alan Mulally, currently chief executive of Ford, Mr Ghaffari suggested he be paired with another executive with technology product experience. Other shareholders have questioned the recruitment process, including the issue of whether Mr Gates may circumscribe future strategy.

Note that this presentation preceded the Bloomberg reports about Elop.

Other reports suggest that the Microsoft board wants to replace Ballmer before the end of the year, partly to deal with the issues surrounding its Nokia acquisition, the release of the Xbox One console, and to complete the company’s reorganization (which is still a work in progress). The same names keep popping up —  Elop, Ford’s Mullaly, former Microsofty Paul Maritz, and current evangelism and business development head, Tony Bates, the former CEO of Skype — with no dark horse appearing on the horizon.

So far, Elop is the only one that has presented a new vision for the company to the outside world, and it lines up with what investors like Allen seem to think is a wise course. But the others may be quietly presenting plans for Microsoft to the board, but not leaking it to the world. Personally, Paul Maritz might have a better claim for successfully leading large and successful business software companies, like VMware and Pivotal.

‘Because Marissa Said So’

There is a growing furor at Yahoo about Marissa Mayer’s Quarterly Performance Review system, instituted last year around the time of the ‘No Remote Work’ mandate. In essence, Mayer’s created a review approach that attempts to systematize reviews of employees: reducing the role of the manager in evaluating an employee’s performance, and placing employees along a curve.

This is the most recent example of the human resources issue: should all employees be evaluated using a companywide, ‘objective’ approach, or should employees be measured for the effectiveness in the work setting they are part of? On one side, the company is seen as a large monolithic collective, and all are ranked based on company-wide metrics and considerations, such as the degree to which they align with corporate culture. On the other side, an employee would be measured based on how their efforts supported localized goals, like getting their product designed and out the door on time. In place of corporate goals, localized goals would dominate.

Mayer is in favor of the former, which comes along with the need — apparently — for managers to find a certain percentage of their teams ‘missing’ goals: to match the curve, and to serve up candidates for firing. Mayer has denied this in a 7 November Yahoo Q&A, as Kara Swisher reported,

Mayer highlighted that a part of the quarterly process called the “bucket” ranking allows for a divergence of plus or minus one to three percentage points. According to sources, this still apparently requires mandatory calibration, using the rankings: Greatly Exceeds (10 percent) Exceeds (25 percent), Achieves (the largest pool at 50 percent), Occasionally Misses (10 percent) and Misses (five percent).

There are rumors that these ratios may be relaxed, but there is no suggestion that the QPR regime will continue, as part of that glorious ‘entrepreneurial’ culture that Mayer is trying so hard to impose at Yahoo.

Are Millennials Calling The Shots?

I interviewed Avinoam Nowogrodski this week, the first in an ongoing series called The New Visionaries, where I plan to talk for entrepreneurs building social tools (see The New Visionaries: Avinoam Nowogrodski). He had piqued my interest by suggesting the businesses could learn a lot from Millennials, which he defended in the interview

According to a recent Forbes article, by 2025 more than 80 million Millennials are projected to be in the workplace. On the one hand, some feel this brings a wave of ambitious individuals with high expectations. On the other hand, I believe Millennials, more than any other generation, stand to democratize collaboration, which in turn can empower individual workers of all ages.

Because Millennial workers were raised in the digital age of transparency, they are accustomed to posting their activities online and having their progress followed. For them, success at work is about proving their worth to the team and the project. They must have an online voice and be constantly augmenting that voice and adding clarity to the team. Millennials thrive on transparency and a sense of team cohesion, which is something that social media provides. Because they are used to interacting online regardless of their physical locations and the time of day, they will provide the impetus companies need to embrace workforce mobility.

I read a story by Tom Agan in the New York Times today that provided additional support for Avinoam’s argument, and some specific examples:

I worked with one executive who was starting a big I.T. project — and she was shocked and a little embarrassed to learn that her mostly-millennial team had identified a lack of support for the effort among higher-ups. How? During her introductory presentation, they sent instant messages among themselves and to others in the company and figured it out.


When I worked at Nielsen, I led a quantitative study of major consumer companies like Kraft and Procter & Gamble — research that demonstrates the link between learning and innovation. The study found that employees were likely to generate more revenue if they held mandatory meetings to identify the strengths and weaknesses of new products after their introduction, used a consistent set of questions to do so, and recorded what they learned.

 At some companies and universities, smart leaders are already tapping into millennials’ abilities. For instance, when leading conference calls, one senior executive I know asks younger staff members to introduce the instant messages they send during the meeting directly into the discussion. Rather than keeping the two streams of information separate, he is intentionally encouraging and inviting the parallel conversation into the mix.

At Northwestern University, teams of undergraduate and graduate students — guided by older, experienced faculty members and alumni, and often paired with senior-level researchers — create plans for start-ups in an interdisciplinary series of classes called NUvention. Over the last two years, three of these teams have won first- or second-place awards in the Rice Business Plan Competition, to the tune of more than $1.5 million in prize money. And the winning teams have gone on to raise over $1 million each.

Mike Marasco, the leader of the NUvention program, puts it this way: “Millennials work more closely together, leverage right- and left-brain skills, ask the right questions, learn faster and take risks previous generations resisted. They truly want to change the world and will use technology to do so.”

In another example of Millennials’ preferences, Goldman Sachs recently announced that they want their junior bankers to work less, so they don’t burn out and quit. They also dropped their efforts to prohibit first year bankers talking with headhunters, and dropped the initial two year contract arrangement, making new hires full-time, regular employees from day one.

Millennials are starting to change the world of business, one text message at a time.

The New Visionaries: Avinoam Nowogrodski

I read a press release — yes, I occasionally do read them — and something caught my eye: that companies could learn from how the Millennials deal with the changing nature of work. So, I emailed the man behind the ideas, Avinoam Nowogrodski and we had a conversation via email, as the kick off to an interview series entitled The New Visionaries.

About Avinoam


Avinoam has worked in the realm of project management for over 20 years, now as the CEO of work management company Clarizen, and prior to that as co-founder and CEO of SmarTeam Corporation, which was acquired by Dassault Systemes. Avinoam holds a B.S. degree in electrical engineering from Tel Aviv University, Israel.

The Interview

Stowe Boyd: In an earlier exchange, you suggested that the other generations in the workforce could do well to learn from Millennials in the changing world of work. What are those characteristics we should be learning from?

Avinoam Nowogrodski: According to a recent Forbes article, by 2025 more than 80 million Millennials are projected to be in the workplace. On the one hand, some feel this brings a wave of ambitious individuals with high expectations. On the other hand, I believe Millennials, more than any other generation, stand to democratize collaboration, which in turn can empower individual workers of all ages.

Because Millennial workers were raised in the digital age of transparency, they are accustomed to posting their activities online and having their progress followed. For them, success at work is about proving their worth to the team and the project. They must have an online voice and be constantly augmenting that voice and adding clarity to the team. Millennials thrive on transparency and a sense of team cohesion, which is something that social media provides. Because they are used to interacting online regardless of their physical locations and the time of day, they will provide the impetus companies need to embrace workforce mobility.

SB: Presumably you are arguing that organizational culture is being changed by — and for — Millennials as they become more of a majority in the workplace. There are tensions between Millennials and Traditionalists, because the older cadres want to work hard and go home and disconnect, while Millennials and Gen Y are more liable to remain connected and lifeslice (and workslice) all the time. How to resolve those tensions about the form factor of work?

AN: It’s a bit of myth that Traditionalists unplug completely. The rise of the smartphone has touched all demographic groups. To your question, though, the point isn’t about making people work at times when they don’t want to. It’s about providing a collaborative environment that allows people to engage at the right time for them – that new type of collaboration that is not exclusively instant, or exclusively phased, but a combination of both, and rich in context. The benefit of this goes beyond generations and impacts geographically diverse workforces as well.

SB: What is the likelihood of Traditionalists and Boomers adopting those traits?

AN: It’s a myth that only millennials are social-savvy. People of all ages have been swept up by the social phenomenon. In fact, a study from the 2012 PEW Internet & Life Project study found that more than half of American adults over the age of 65 are online and almost two thirds of those same people use social networking websites.

For earlier generations, social technologies bring attention and respect to their experience and expertise. Think of it like the prom queen in pre-internet days. Everybody knew who her friends were, what she was doing, what she had to say. Social media makes us all the queen – or king – of the prom. It gives everyone a voice.

However, earlier generations have a well-developed sense of skepticism and privacy protection that needs to be respected. We prefer to think of the generations holistically as “Generation Collaboration” and stress the importance of developing processes and structures that meet all workers where they are. The trick is to deploy technologies and business processes that highlight the benefits of collaboration and transparency, while minimizing risks, both for individuals and for the company as a whole.

SB: The Millennial style of living a curated worklife — a stream of updates, conversational work patterns, and techniques like hashtags to annotate and organize unstructured information — requires technologies to support it. Perhaps that is a major distinction with Boomers and Traditionalists, for whom the foundation of work activities is not social tools. They grew up in a world before email. So this is the first generation for which social communication is foundational. What is the good and the bad of that?

AN: The shift to social communication didn’t just shuffle in an era of information; it created an era of democratization that is quickly infiltrating the business world. The good in this includes the increased celebration of employee participation, alignment and visibility, which gives people an understanding that their work matters. For Boomers and Traditionalists, it brings a lot of good. It’s extraordinarily gratifying to have a medium for expressing their unique expertise in a meaningful way. It brings their knowledge into the light. Also, adopting new technologies brings a sense of satisfaction and modernity – of keeping up with the pace of change.

It’s no longer about establishing rigid rules to blindly follow, but real-time transparency that encourages employee contribution. In fact, this new work culture will transform the quality of the work experience – and, ultimately, the work output. The net result? Democratized collaboration, empowered individuals and operational excellence.

Although democratized collaboration can improve the corporate bottom line, it does also present a challenge. Management needs to understand that a more democratized workplace isn’t a threat, but truly an opportunity for innovation and success. This is an occasion for breaking free from a productivity and innovation prevention that is inherent in hierarchical working environments. And at its foundation is the technology that will allow employees to move as far down the continuum that is comfortable for them.

SB: What do you envision as the counter to the innovation and productivity blocking style of traditional business? For example, when you are talking about democratized innovation, how does that jibe with the desire of most management to develop a corporate strategy and to communicate that to people across the company. How far does democratization go?

AN: This is a really great question. The most important thing for management to do is to share the corporate strategy and help employees realize that they have a part to play in reaching those goals. This is broader than corporate strategy – it’s time for a new type of leadership, giving up on “command and control” and learning to lead by asking the right questions and giving people a voice. While this requires more transparency than some traditional companies are used to, it’s empowering for everyone on the team. Everyone – regardless of generation – wants to feel like their work is worthwhile. What’s more worthwhile than being a part of the top initiatives of your company?

SB: Yes, as I often say, the new job of leadership is creating a context for others to find their way. A great conversation, Avinoam. Thanks for your time.

AN: Thank you! It was a pleasure.

Third of millennials watch mostly online video or no broadcast TV

A New York Times (s NYT) survey of over 4,000 online video viewers found that 34 percent of millennials (ages 18 to 34) say they watch “mostly online video/no broadcast TV,” compared to 20 percent of Gen X’ers (35- to 49-year-olds) and 10 percent of boomers (50+). Poynter has a bunch of slides from the survey, which Brian Brett, the NYT’s director of customer research, will be presenting at a conference in Las Vegas Thursday. Headline updated when Poynter updated its headline.

Stuck-in-the-past boomers are holding back the Great Work Shift

EY conducted a cross-generational survey of over 1200 professional outside of EY and across the US. The overwhelming majority (98%) worked full-time, had some level of higher education (95%) and reported household income in excess of $75,000/year (57%). The differences between the desires and perceptions of these generations — Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials (called Gen Y in this study) — are truly enlightening, and suggest that there are some fundamental changes going on in the nature of social contract between professionals and their companies, and a variety of frustrations between the generations:

From the executive summary

  • Cash is still king among all the generations and ranked first by nearly half of all respondents (49%), while benefits such as healthcare and retirement ranked first by 22%.
  • Baby Boomers were significantly more likely to identify benefits as the most important perk compared to younger generations (29% vs. 19% for Gen X and 17% for Gen Y).
  • Flexibility is the most important workplace perk among the non-cash/benefits perks, with 18% ranking it first. Gen X said they would be more likely to walk away from their current job in the absence of day-to-day flexibility (38% vs. 33% of Gen Y and 25% of boomers). Gen X respondents also rated flexibility as the most important perk (21%) over top-notch benefits (19%).
  • While women (20%) across all generations valued flexibility slightly more than men (16%), surprisingly men were more likely to say they would “walk away” from a job if day-to-day flexibility was not offered (34% men vs. 30% women). Gen X men (40%) were most likely to leave if flexibility was not offered, followed by Gen X women (37%), Gen Y men (36%) and Gen Y women (30%).
  • Most respondents still work with a set schedule. However, respondents anticipate a shift in the coming years to more flexible hours, as 62% of all respondents currently work during standard office hours and only 50% expect to do so in five to 10 years. This is particularly true with Gen Y, as 64% currently work standard office hours and only 47% expect the same in five to 10 years.

Here’s an obvious extrapolation. As more Gen Xers assume leadership positions or start their own firms in the next five years or so, flexible work will rapidly become the norm, not the bleeding edge. People will choose when and where to work, and will coordinate to meet with other as needed, but official hours will have become a thing of the near past. This shift is a central element of the move to the new fast-and-loose form factor of work.

The perceptions of the various generations is revealing:

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Millennials seem to be only “best” in tech savvy and social media opportunism. Of course, these folks are relatively young, so it’s no surprise they lack executive presence. They are perceived as hard to work with, which is probably a result of very different values, ones that are not well explored in this study. For example, Millennials are much more tied to family than Gen X and Boomers.

Personally, I find these categories very dated. What about creativity, leadership, and self-direction, for example?

Gen X seems like they fill the middle of the organizational mix suggested by the categories: problem solving, entrepreneurial, adaptable, “collaborative” (meaning works well in groups), and relationship builders.

Boomers are hard-working, cost-effective, and look like executives, but are otherwise eclipsed by the young and restless. They are basically incapable of learning critical new skills, new practices, and adapting to a new tech-dominated world. And you have to imagine that these are the biggest brake on the transition out of a restrictive, slow-and-tight operating model for business.

Basically, as Gen X and Millennials assume leadership roles, the Great Work Shift will fall into place, and all at once. And then the Gen Xers will be complaining about those cost-ineffective Postnormals, the generation born after 2000.

Identified doesn’t want to be your father’s job site

With the announcement that they’ve raised $21 million in Series B funding, a startup called Identified shows there’s a market for their youth-oriented competitor to LinkedIn. The service uses Facebook data, game-like scoring and recruiter analytics to helps 20-somethings kickstart job searches and identify career goals.