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Millennials have been getting a lot of bad reputation for their love of avocado toasts, their disdain for signing full-time contracts and for spending hours on end on perfecting their Instagrams. But research is showing that in contrast to what most of us have been thinking, they’ve actually been getting it right pretty much all along. Robin Teigland, also known as the start-up professor in Stockholm, explains why.
“Avocado toast” became one of 2017’s favorite memes after Australian millionaire Tim Gurner suggested that millennials’ obsession with the over-priced mushy green staple is the reason for why they can’t afford to buy their own homes. Gurner’s comment echoed other criticisms of millennials – our youngest workforce and typically aged between 18 and 35 years which has repeatedly been accused of being both lazy and self-entitled, with a general disrespect for workplace rules.
Robin Teigland, Professor in Business Administration at the Center for Strategy and Competitiveness at the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE), however, argues that we’re in the midst of a huge shift when it comes to the way the world operates. And millennials belong to one of the few groups that is not only accepting but leading this change, successfully applying it to both their careers and lifestyles.
“We’re going from a linear world to a very non-linear, ping-pong kind of a world that’s based on different kinds of networks and in which it all comes down to the people you know offline and online and the different skills and resources you can access within these networks,” Teigland explains. She expands: “In the linear world you think you have to solve the problem yourself, but with the non-linear mindset it’s more about: Hey, who do I know who could help me out with this?”
So how does the avocado toast fit into all of this? Well, when millennials take their Macbook Pros and hit their favorite cafés, most of them are actually networking and working – outside of the four walls and workhours enclosing the traditionally structured firm. It’s become part of their DNA to network both online and IRL (In Real Life), transgressing social structures, professional boundaries, geographical borders and age groups in a whole new, more inclusive, way. And they do so regardless of whether they are working or not. It’s become a lifestyle and it’s about so much more than just the $19 avocado toast they order while doing so.
In the workplace, Teigland says that getting stuck in a rut and insisting that the old-fashioned pyramid-like, top-to-bottom, unapproachable-CEO-in-the-corner-office type of company structure is the only way to go, “is probably the worst mistake you can make”. Why? “Because you close yourself off and isolate yourself with people who only think like you.”
Finnish telecoms group Nokia, American photo equipment maker Kodak and energy company Enron are just some examples of former enterprise greats who learned the lesson the hard way. Teigland says she often encourages companies to enlist “reverse mentors” – or young people – to teach babyboomers and generation X:ers about the power of using and integrating social media and crowdsourcing into their businesses and everyday ways of working.
One of the main criticisms targeting millennials is their perceived reluctance to strive for full-time job contracts. But Teigland, who is backed up by an increasing number of researchers, argues that it is actually less about being lazy than playing it smart in a labor market where more than 50 percent of the firms listed on the Fortune 500 in the year 2000 have already disappeared due to digitalization. “A full-time job doesn’t give you the securities it used to. So it’s about thinking ‘what ifs’ and about continuously developing yourself, refining your skills and building your networks on your own,” Teigland says, adding this is one of the reasons why we are moving into a project-based freelance economy.
Studies carried out by recruitment consulting group Challenger, Gray and Christmas back this up, showing how millennials have understood this, making them hungrier and better educated than any generation before them. But the biggest difference is, they understand technology, and they use it to build their careers and businesses.
“We’re seeing how some firms are flipping operations for example. Instead of having their R&D in-house and the production in a low-cost country, they use online communities to outsource the R&D to experts in places like Buenos Aires or New York. And 3D printing makes it possible to produce locally,” she says, pointing to the 3D-printed autonomous vehicle OLLI by Local Motors.
Gurner’s now infamous statement also underscores another outdated idea about our youngest workforce: That they strive for the same goals in life – a full-time job, a car, a house – that their parents did. The truth is, most of them don’t. “If I’m an entrepreneur, I can be a digital nomad and work wherever I want and need to be. And I don’t want to have to deal with having to buy a lot of things,” she says, explaining how this is driving the shared economy, including car-pools, Airbnb-style office and co-living spaces across the globe.
According to Teigland, we’re already at the beginning of the end of this change of perception of how we do things. And we should accept it, even if it comes from avocado-toast loving millennials. “It’s all about breaking assumptions. The change is already here and it’s what’s driving innovation and new strategies.”