by Claire Schooley

Claire-Schooley This new generation of workers born between 1980 and 2000 is very different from those workers of previous generations. Millennials are naturally adept with technology. They figure out how a new application or a particular device works—and they like the challenge. They live in online communities and are remarkable in their outreach to others through microblogging, social networks, text messaging, instant messaging, etc. One Millennial said to me recently, “Email is too slow. I use it only when I have to write something formal.” They are not afraid to say what they think. They respect older generations for their experience and knowledge, but Millennials are fearless in challenging them with other perspectives.

So what do these Millennial characteristics have to do with innovation? Young people today are critically aware that they will inherit a world with major social, political, financial, and environmental problems and that solving these issues will demand living and working differently. They have ideas and are optimistic. They are the innovators of the future. Look at the recent Obama campaign and the way young campaigners networked using a brilliant communications workflow. People said such mobilization couldn’t happen—it did. Innovations often arise out of crisis situations. Rahm Emanuel, Obama's chief of staff was quoted as saying, "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before." Listen to Millennials’ ideas, and allow them to “run” with a project.

Innovation is not going to come from the products we make but rather from our intellectual ability to out-innovate and out-design the competition using the energy and unique ways of working of this new Millennial generation. The world will look different with the Millennials in charge and we won’t always understand their ability to adapt. Things change quickly and they easily let go of a process and take on another. Think of Charles Darwin’s words, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Adaptability is an essential skill of the 21st century. Processes change almost overnight. Many jobs that our young people will do in the future don’t even exist today.

The Millennials look for an environment in which they can learn, advance, and feel that they are contributing to society. Even in a deep recession, organizations must attract and retain this new talent. Innovation must be embedded into every layer of the organization. As this new generation takes hold, put strategies in place that support them, encourage them, and give them opportunities to innovate.

I will be leading a related session at Forrester’s upcoming IT Forum in Las Vegas, titled “A Phoenix Will Rise — Millennial Innovation Will Drive The New Economy.” If you’re interested in learning more about this topic— I hope you will join me there!