Editor's Blog

Think like a millennial

A lot has been written about millennials – much of it by older people in condescending tones. We are told they – millennials – are lazy, narcissistic, entitled, and easily seduced by identity politics, whilst failing to engage in the wider political process. The irony is that much of this criticism demonstrates the same traits it claims to decry. For the most part it is clichéd rubbish; lazy, entitled rubbish. And galling when voiced by those who enjoyed the high watermark of late capitalism and all its attendant privileges: free education, jobs for life, affordable housing followed by ever-rising house prices, triple-locked pensions etc. They should be so lucky.

I write as a member of Generation X – the generation between the Baby Boomers and millennials, and my sympathies tend to lie with the latter group. On top of a whole list of challenges – just look at privileges above and think of the opposite – these ‘digital natives’ – whose brains have been quite literally wired differently to ours – are having to make sense of a world that, in so many ways, still works in analogue. And this is the real challenge for associations struggling to recruit younger members. Not to come up with a goody bag of enticements, but to think like millennials think. This is much harder than throwing material incentives at their feet.

I think the clue is to think not so much about products and services, but process. A millennial’s expectations of what can be achieved quickly, through direct action, or online, is probably the biggest point of departure from previous generations. I was listening to the radio this morning ahead of the UK general elections and the issue of the ‘generation gap’ was being discussed. A man in his early twenties was being asked to explain why so many of his peers abstained from voting, and it was clear from his answer that there was a complete alienation from the political process itself, the clunky machinery of party politics, the compromises and fudges, the branch meetings, the internal hierarchies, and the whole old-fashioned business of aligning your beliefs under one banner.

Many associations, too, must seem like rather fusty, arcane institutions to young people who are used to communicating with like-minded souls online and organising themselves, like crack squads, to meet and change the world. ‘We want a system where, if something needs changing, somebody will step up and just put it in place’, said the millennial on the radio. Put it in place. How often do politicians fail to live up to their promises, how often are they unable to just ‘put it in place’. But this is the expectation of the younger generation who have been trained to think like that. And it is the challenge of older generations to meet that expectation, not heap scorn on those who had the temerity to be born in a period of enormous social, political and, perhaps most significant, technological upheaval.

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