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Millennials and the Innovation Process

Oh, the hours we Gen Xers and Boomers devote to endeavoring to understand the elusive Millennial/Generation Y mindset. Why do they buy what they buy? Go where they go?  What makes them tick? And how might we make certain that when we’re innovating products, services, jobs, and communications for Millennials, we’re innovating in a way that rings true to them?

A few years ago, I lead a business team comprised entirely of Millennials. Our mission was, very broadly, to “hack” our company’s current ways of doing business—to identify one area of improvement per quarter and then put together an action plan. Easy, right?

Full disclosure, I am Generation X…and not from the cusp. I am hard core, true blue, John Hughes, Generation X. In fact, I think I still have my parents’ front door key hanging on a necklace somewhere. I knew I had to tread carefully or my Gen Y colleagues would smell the self-loathing all over me. I read articles and studies about successfully managing Millennials to prepare, and ended up in a cold sweat. These kids were going to eat my lunch!

What actually happened was an amazing, rich, learning experience for me. I decided I couldn’t be too overbearing; I gave them a suggested structure for how to conduct their hack-a-thons, a timeline for execution, and then got out of their way. Here’s some of what I learned:

Millennials really like being asked to participate.  They’re hungry for recognition and a quick climb up the ladder, so we’ve heard. That means they say, “Yes!” when asked to contribute to exciting, worthwhile projects! My experience was that they were engaged and productive. Their generational mindset lends itself to finding the good in new ideas, which can make Forness® thinking feel more natural to them.

They have zero problems articulating what would make it better for them.  They’re soooo great at insights! The criticism here usually is, “Millennials are so selfish.” The positive is that they are in closer touch with their wants and needs which can make teasing out benefits and reasons to believe a quicker process.

The rumors are true—they love working in teams.  Much has been made of the fact that Millennials grew up in an environment where “everyone gets a trophy,” and many valid points have been made on why that can be problematic. Here’s what’s great about it:  when they’re doing group ideation or convergence, there’s less competitiveness and angling for power, which ultimately can increase decision-making and efficiency.

Environment really does matter.  The hype is that Millennials are so high-maintenance that they only want to work in cool spaces that don’t require them to come in before 10am. Let’s be honest: That’s what everyone wants. Millennials are just the only ones honest enough to say it more than once and above whisper volume! Same thing is true for what they want from innovation—the process AND the results. We at Ideas to Go have long espoused the notion that environment is crucial to creativity. Millennials may be the first generation to universally agree with us!

I leave you with a Buzzfeed article on a cool life-hack/product innovation. Because there’s nothing that says Millennial louder than Buzzfeed!

Author: Dina Pancoast is an Innovation Process consultant at Ideas To Go, an innovation agency that works with Fortune 500 companies in ideation and concept development to incorporate the voice of the consumer.

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