In December, bestselling author Simon Sinek gave a 15-minute speech on the “millennial question” that sent tsunami-sized waves through the Internet, racking up over 5 million views on YouTube. Sinek, a corporate consultant and TED phenomenon, tapped into something big when he explained — in his clear, compelling and humorous way — why social-media obsessed millennials are having such a rough time adapting to the workplace. Now, as Sinek’s new book “Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team” (Portfolio) hits the stands this fall, The Post has adapted an excerpt from his talk:
‘Apparently , millennials, as a generation, which is a group of people born approximately in 1994 and after, are tough to manage. And they’re accused of being entitled, narcissistic, self-interested, unfocused, lazy. But entitled is the big one. And because they confound leadership so much, what’s happening is leaders are asking the millennials, “What do you want?” And millennials are saying, “We want to work in a place with purpose, we want to make an impact, we want free food and beanbags.” So, there’s lots of free food and beanbags and yet for some reason, they’re still not happy. That’s because there’s a missing piece. What I’ve learned: I can break it down into four pieces, four things, four characteristics: parenting, technology, impatience, environment.
The generation, too many of them grew up subject to “failed parenting strategies.” Where, for example, they were told they were special, they were told they could have anything in life, just because they want it. Some of them got into honors classes, not because they deserved it, but because their parents complained. Some of them got participation medals. You got a medal for coming in last. The science we know is pretty clear — it devalues the medal and the reward for those who deserve it and work hard. It actually makes the [other] person embarrassed because they know they didn’t deserve it, so it makes them feel worse.
You take this group of people, they graduate school and they get a job, they’re thrust into the real world and in an instant they find out they’re not special, their moms can’t get them a promotion, that you get nothing for coming in last and, by the way, you can’t just have it because you want it. In an instant, their entire self-image is shattered. You have an entire generation that’s growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations.
The other problem is we’re growing up in a Facebook/Instagram world. In other words, we’re good at putting filters on things. We’re good at showing people that life is amazing, even though “I’m depressed.” Everybody sounds tough, sounds like they’ve got it figured out. The reality is there’s very little toughness, and most people don’t have it figured out. You have an entire generation growing up with lower self-esteem than previous generations through no fault of their own.
Now, let’s add in technology. Engagement with social media, and our cellphones, releases a chemical called dopamine. That’s why when you get a text, it feels good. We’ve all had it — when you’re feeling a little bit down or lonely, so you send out 10 texts to 10 friends, “hi, hi, hi, hi, hi.” ’Cause it feels good when you get a response. It’s why we count the likes, it’s why you go back 10 times to see . . . and if it’s going . . . “My Instagram is growing slower! Did I do something wrong? Do they not like me anymore?” The trauma for young kids is to be unfriended.
Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink, when we gamble. In other words, it’s highly, highly addictive. We have age restrictions on smoking, gambling and alcohol. We have no restrictions on social media and cellphones.
When stress starts to show up in their lives, they are not turning to a person, they’re turning to a device.
Almost every alcoholic discovered alcohol when they were teenagers. When we’re very, very young, the only approval we need is the approval of our parents. As we go through adolescence, we make this transition, where we now need the approval of our peers. Very frustrating for our parents, very important for us. It allows us to acculturate outside of our immediate families into the broader tribe. It’s a highly, highly stressful and anxious period of our lives. We’re supposed to learn to rely on our friends.
Some people, quite by accident, discover alcohol and the numbing effects of dopamine to help them cope with the stress and anxiety of adolescence. Unfortunately that becomes hard-wired in their brains. For the rest of their lives, when they suffer significant stress, they will not turn to a person, they will turn to the bottle. Social stress, career stress, financial stress, that’s pretty much the primary reasons why an alcoholic drinks, right?
What’s happening is, because we’re allowing unfettered access to these dopamine-producing devices and media, basically what we’re seeing is as they grow older, too many kids don’t know how to form deep meaningful relationships. Their words, not mine. They will admit that many of their relationships are superficial. They will admit that they don’t rely, can’t rely, on their friends. They have fun with their friends, but they also know that they will cancel on them if something better comes along. Deep, meaningful relationships are not there because they never practiced the skill set.
Worse, they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress. So, when stress starts to show up in their lives, they are not turning to a person, they’re turning to a device, they’re turning to social media, they’re turning to these things which offer temporary relief. We know, the science is clear! We know that people who spend more time on Facebook suffer higher rates of depression than those who spend less time on Facebook. These things balance. Alcohol is not bad, too much alcohol is bad. Gambling is fun, too much gambling is dangerous. There’s nothing wrong with social media and cellphones. It’s the imbalance.
If you’re sitting at dinner with your friends, and you’re texting someone who’s not there, that’s a problem, that’s an addiction. If you’re in a meeting, and you’re sitting with people you’re supposed to be listening to, and you put your phone on the table, face up or face down, I don’t care, that sends a subconscious message to the room: You’re just not that important to me right now.
That’s what happens. The fact that you can not put it away? That’s because you are addicted. If you wake up, and you check your phone before you say good morning to your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse, you have an addiction. And like all addiction, in time, it’ll destroy relationships, it’ll cost time, it’ll cost money and it’ll make your life worse. So, you have a generation growing up with lower self-esteem that doesn’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress.
Now you add in the sense of impatience. They’ve grown up in a world of instant gratification. You want to buy something? You go on Amazon, it arrives the next day. You wanna watch a movie? You log on, you don’t check movie times. You wanna watch a TV show? Binge. You don’t have to wait week to week to week. Right? I know people who skip seasons, just so they can binge at the end of the season. Instant gratification. You wanna go on a date? You don’t even have to learn how to be like, “Hey . . .” You don’t even have to learn and practice that skill. You don’t have to be uncomfortable. Swipe right! You don’t have to learn the social coping mechanisms.
Everything you want, you can have instantaneously. Except job satisfaction. And strength of relationships. There ain’t no app for that. Slow, meandering, uncomfortable messy processes. I keep meeting these wonderful, fantastic, idealistic, hardworking, smart kids. They’ve just graduated school, in their entry-level job. I sit down with them. I go, “How’s it going?” They go, “I think I’m gonna quit.” I go, “Why?” They’re like “I’m not making an impact.” I go, “You’ve been here 8 months.”
It’s as if they’re standing at the foot of the mountain and they have this abstract concept called “Impact the world,” and it’s the summit. What they don’t see is the mountain. I don’t care if you go up the mountain quickly or slowly. But there’s still a mountain.
What this young generation needs to learn is patience. That something that really, really matters, like love, or job fulfillment, joy, love of life, self-confidence, a skill set, any of these things, all of these things, take time. Sometimes, you can expedite bits of it. But the overall journey is arduous and long.
And if you don’t ask for help, and learn that skill set, you will fall off the mountain. The worst-case scenario? We’re already seeing it. Increase in suicide rates. In accidental deaths due to drug overdoses. We’re seeing more and more kids drop out of school or take leaves of absences due to depression. This is really bad. The best-case scenario? You’ll have an entire population growing up, going through life, never really finding joy. They’ll never really find fulfillment in work or in life. They’ll just waft through life. “It’s fine.” How’s your job? “It’s fine. Same as yesterday.” How’s your relationship? “It’s fine.” That’s the best-case scenario.
Which leads me to the fourth point, which is environment. We’re taking this amazing group of young, fantastic, kids who were just dealt a bad hand. Through no fault of their own, we put them in corporate environments that care more about the numbers than they do about the kids. They care more about the short-term gains than they do about the long term of this young human being. We care more about the year than the lifetime.
We are putting them in corporate environments that are not helping them build their confidence. That aren’t helping them learn the skills of cooperation. That aren’t helping them overcome the challenges of a digital world and finding more balance. That aren’t helping them overcome the need of instant gratification and teaching them the joys and impact and the fulfillment you get from working hard on something for a long time that cannot be done in a month or a year.
So we’re thrusting them into corporate environments, and the worst part? They think it’s them. They blame themselves. They think it’s them that can’t deal. It makes it all worse. It’s not. I’m here to tell them: It’s not them. It’s the corporations, it’s the corporate environments. It’s the total lack of good leadership.
There should be no cellphones in conference rooms. None. Zero.
In our world today, that’s making them feel the way they do. I hate to say it, but it’s the company’s responsibility — sucks to be you. But we have no choice. Right? This is what we got. I wish that society and their parents did a better job. But they didn’t. So we’re in our companies, and we now have to pick up the slack.
We have to work extra hard, to figure out the ways to rebuild their confidence. We have to work extra hard to find ways to teach them the social skills they’re missing out on. There should be no cellphones in conference rooms. None. Zero.
When you’re sitting and waiting for a meeting to start, this is what we all do [pantomimes intense texting]. That’s not how relationships are formed. Remember we talked about it’s the little things? We’re sitting there and we go, “How’s your dad? I heard he was in the hospital . . .” “Oh, he’s really good. He’s actually at home now.” “Oh, I’m really glad.” “Thanks for asking, it was really scary for a while.” That’s how you form relationships. “Did you get that report done?” “Oh, I totally forgot.” “I’ll help you out with it.” “Really?” That’s how trust forms. It doesn’t form in a day. It’s the slow steady consistencies.
We have to create mechanisms where we allow for those innocuous interactions to happen. When you’re out for dinner with your friends . . . I do this with my friends: We leave our phones at home. Maybe one of us will bring a phone, in case we need to call an Uber or take a picture of our meal. I’m an idealist, but I’m not insane. We’ll take one phone. It’s like an alcoholic. The reason you take the alcohol out of the house is because we cannot trust our willpower. We’re just not strong enough.
But when you remove the temptation, it actually makes it a lot easier. [And] if you don’t have the phone? You just kinda enjoy the world. And that’s where ideas happen. The constant engagement is not where you have ideas. Ideas happen when our minds wander, and you see something and think “I could do that.” That’s called innovation.
We’re taking away all those moments. None of us should charge our phones by our beds. We should charge our phones in the living room. Remove the temptation.
You wake up in the middle of the night because you can’t sleep? If it’s in the living room, it’s relaxed, it’s fine.
“It’s my alarm clock,” you say! Buy an alarm clock. It costs $8. I’ll buy you an alarm clock. The point is, we now, in the industry, whether we like it or not, we don’t get a choice, we have a responsibility to make up the shortfall. And to help this amazing idealistic, fantastic generation build their confidence, learn patience, learn the social skills. Find a better balance between life and technology. Because, quite frankly, it’s the right thing to do.
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