If you’ve been thinking that “millennials” are the “me generation,” think again.
An IBM study shows that far from being self-centered, today’s college students see the fault lines in our shared planet as their generation’s call to action.
Is the millennial generation, a “me generation” or a “we generation?”
Reviews are mixed, but as we prepare for the future it’s important to sort out where this generation is heading. Sheer numbers will make them a potent force — within the next few years they will hold roughly half of jobs in the world. I find good reason to believe that millennials will marshal their raw demographic power in pursuit of positive change.
Teaching college students for the last decade, I’ve often thought of them as the “screen generation”. They’ve grown up surrounded by TVs, laptops, cell phones and iPods. Vivid, exciting and constantly changing, images from these screens are hard to ignore. What’s more, they bring viewers close to events they would otherwise never see — war and famine, tsunamis and earthquakes, social and environmental disasters.
What’s the cumulative impact?
Psychological research indicates that our empathy is aroused when encountering those we know well, those who’ve had an experience similar to our own, and those we can see right in front of us – even virtually. Despite a recent study suggesting that millennials are much less empathetic than previous generations, I’m not convinced that a surfeit of technology, or overexposure to images of suffering, has inured them to a sense of shared responsibility.
In fact, here’s the good news: business research shows that, in thinking about business and careers, today’s college students are concerned about people who live and work in distant locations. What’s more, they are ready and eager to act on their concerns.
A new kind of global sensibility
IBM’s recent study, “Inheriting a complex world: future leaders envision sharing the planet”shows that today’s college students are much more focused than today’s business leaders on globalization and sustainability issues. And when asked how their careers will differ compared to previous generations, they overwhelmingly express their desire to do a better job of addressing these challenges.
Over the past decade I have noticed a subtle, yet powerful change in my students: they have elevated the role of business. They readily embrace the notion of the triple bottom line – people, planet, profit – and are seeking companies that share these same objectives. A few years ago this meant corporate philanthropy and community service. But now students want to make a difference by what they do every day in their careers. They want to work for organizations that weave sustainability into their core strategy.