Go West, Young Man!

On a recent trip to California, I was informed multiple times that as of last month, California edged out France to become the fifth largest economy in the world. Last year California’s GDP grew 4.1%, and the list of new company field offices and new start-ups who open their doors throughout the Golden State seems to grow every day.

As early as the gold rushes and cattle drives of the 1840s there has always been either a monetary or cultural euphoria surrounding “The West.” That same excited buzz that drew miners and cowboys still exists today, but in the business world it has been largely distilled to focus on California and the technology boom of the Silicon Valley and the Greater Bay Area. Tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook have put small towns like Menlo Park and Mountain View on the global stage, and millennials are flocking to these campuses in droves. We may have done away with the covered wagons, but the famous trek out to California is still very much alive with freshly trained computer scientists, engineers, consultants (and more than a few aspiring actors) riding caravan style right after graduation. 

The pull out west is not simply a millennial phenomenon, decades-old companies open new offices every year, and more than a few have shifted their headquarters from the east coast to the west. But from the standpoint of the 18-35 generation (25% of California’s population!) the mass movement of top graduates to go out west is worth exploring. In our earlier post “Why Are We Where We Are,” we explored the reasons why millennials selected their first jobs. The most shocking find from our survey in that post was that zero percent of participants considered location as the main factor that led them to select their first job. So assuming that our survey has some merit, millennials are not moving to California solely just to be in California. So if that is the case, what is pulling so many top graduates west?

In order to examine that, let’s first look at some of the tech giants that many college students (and current working man/woman) wish they worked for: Apple, Google, and Facebook. Even without knowing anything about the corporate structure of these companies, you know from just hearing their names that they are a desirable place to work.  Why is that?

An initial thought that always springs to mind is that the big California companies must pay pretty well. Yet, while a cursory search on Glassdoor confirms that these companies offer very competitive salaries, the cost of living in the Bay Area is also remarkably high. Nearly all of the millennials I know who live in and around places like Palo Alto have several roommates and do not always have the same spending power as someone on the east coast. Our survey also revealed that only a quarter of participants were motivated by their salaries in excepting their first job. So if millennials are not being drawn to California simply for its beaches or their starting salaries, perhaps the answer lies more intrinsically within these companies. 

 I would argue that company culture is the most prevalent factor drawing millennials to California. That may seem obvious at first, but let’s stop to consider a few things as to why it should actually matter. In our survey (results below) we intentionally did not give participants the option to select company culture, because we initially considered the term itself to be overarching and something that would mean something different to every individual. Yet, it is also possible that a company’s culture is arguably a collection of each of the categories we offered to participants. Company A might operate at a faster pace because of the industry it’s in, Company B might have a great work-life balance because its salaries are higher, and Company C might be able to offer great benefits because of the state it’s located in.     

None of the categories we offered were overwhelmingly dominant, so what is the common linkage driving millennials to start their careers in the Bay Area? Returning to Apple, Google, and Facebook, even those of us who do not work for these companies know something about their company culture through social lore. “Google has nap pods!” “Netflix has unlimited paternal leave!” “Facebook has the dentist, the doctor, and the barber right downstairs!”

When you consider that the majority of us have heard something about the culture of the California tech giants without most of us setting foot on one of their campuses, that is very impressive. I know what the color of some of Google’s common rooms are, but I have no idea what it’s like to work for the other companies that reside in my own office building. That kind of company awareness is unique, and it makes a sizable impact. 

In college, I honestly didn’t really know what Google did apart from answering literally any question I thought of long enough to type into the search bar. Yet, I thought it would be cool to work there. That is a very powerful lure.  So if culture is really what is pulling so many millennials westward, what exactly does that mean for companies who aren’t out west? There are a multitude of companies on the east coast with great company culture, yet the first place new coders, engineers, and salespeople think/dream of working are almost all on the west coast in some form of capacity. If culture alone is indeed enough to pull the new workforce westward, is it possible that the uniqueness of the tech giant culture will become the norm? Tell us what you think!         

Gotta Connect ‘Em All!

There may be no greater commercial symbol of the 90’s generation than Pokemon. And thanks to the recent USA release of Pokemon GO, the little pocket monsters that so many of today’s millennials sought to befriend and train are now out and about in the real world! Through The Pokemon Company’s revolutionary technology, the GPS and camera functions of our smartphones have rekindled the fading spark that was once the main fervor that surrounded millions of childhoods. Pokemon are now in our parks, our supermarkets, and some even seem to be taking advantage of our services industries. SW&A discovered this morning that Pidgeys are especially interested in improving their spoken communications skills! 

But what value does all this excitement surrounding the new game really mean? Is it just a way for Nintendo and Game Freak to recapture the attention of their now aged audience, or is there a discernible lesson to be learned from Pokemon GO’s mammoth success? Not everyone loved Pokemon growing up and although there are people of every age group who did love the original games, the majority of The Pokemon Company’s original fans are in their early thirties and mid-twenties, a traditionally fickle seller’s market to say the least. Yet within its first week of launching, Pokemon GO made a staggering $8 billion and made headlines all over the world as people went to ridiculous links to invade their neighbor’s yards to catch a Scyther, or in more than a few towns the game rapidly became so popular that it forced police departments to issue “don’t catch Pokemon and drive” campaigns. 

Whether you grew up a fan or not, Pokemon GO’s success is something to marvel at. A game brand that was based on a capture, train, and battle formula that was becoming tired after seven release generations, suddenly revamped our old original 151 digital friends and gave them back to us in a way that reignited our old passion. Last night while I was walking my dog I passed fourteen people out walking with their phones open, scanning a local creek for water Pokemon, three people running around a construction site because a rare Eevee was supposedly in it, and just this morning there were five people standing outside of our office building playing the game because our office building is apparently a Pokemon gym. 

So what do Pikachu and the rest of the gang’s success have to teach us, particularly about millennials? It’s a fascinating topic and it goes far beyond merely the popularity of Pokemon. Connecting with either an individual, a small group, or a large audience is one of the hardest things to master in any industry. Connection goes beyond subject matter expertise and is an art form that allows good data points to align with the brain, and good stories to align with the heart. People who can engage both their audience’s head and heart have a much greater chance of getting results. 

In our previous posts I’ve talked a lot about how Gen-Y operates differently from previous generations and about the challenges involved in engaging an easily disinterested millennial audience. Pokemon GO however, offers a unique chance to examine a company hitting a grand slam in trying to connect with the millennial market. Millennials may be difficult to engage, but in the case of Pokemon GO all it took was someone to focus in on something that was important/nostalgic to millennials, add in their own innovation, and the company made over $8 billion in one week.

Now, in fairness, there are plenty of case-specific reasons why The Pokemon Company’s success can’t be replicated exactly. For example the gaming industry pretty consistently holds millennials’ attention more so than most industries, and the release of Pokemon GO was in part a re-release of a product that already possessed instant brand recognition and excitement. Yet there are still lessons that other companies can learn from this success.

The energy surrounding Pokemon GO is unprecedented even within its own branding. Pikachu on an original GameBoy was cool, but never before have stores had to post “Pokemon are for paying customers only” signs on their windows, and social media, news networks, and public recreation spots are being overrun by the enthusiasm surrounding the game. People who haven’t played Pokemon since grade school are now suddenly being pulled back into The Pokemon Company’s market long after they might have been considered “aged out” of the company’s product. I myself felt compelled to download the app just to see what all the noise was about. (For those of you curious, I chose Squirtle as my starter. He is hands down the best one. End of discussion.)

If nothing else, Pokemon GO shows us just how powerful the energy of Gen-Y can be once it’s focused. While I’ve watched several people play the game that I never would have expected, the heart of the game’s success is being driven by the millennial generation. A small population of Pokemon GO subscribers are loyal fans who’ve played every game since the beginning, but the real reason for the game’s all-encompassing appeal is its ability to bring back long-lost fans as well as attract people who have never played the game before. The gaming industry may capture more immediate customer attention because it’s interactive and entertaining, but these lessons can be applied far beyond gaming platforms. 

Connection is a powerful tool. And when you are able to connect with a generation that is quick-acting, mobile, and socially connected, results can spread like wildfire. Millennials are eager, driven, and more than a little self-focused. We are a large generation with far reaching potential, but if you want us to bring you success, take a lesson from PokemonGo and Connect (with) ‘Em All!    

Cuddled of Coddled?

If you had to boil down anti and pro-millennial sentiments into a single word each, you could get pretty close to understanding either camp’s perspective with the words “cuddled” and “coddled” respectively.

Cuddled is the easier of the two to generalize and it’s the argument that we’ve already addressed a few times in our earlier postings. Gen-Y is the generation that grew up with everyone getting a trophy and whose parents still haven’t kicked them out of the house yet. The belief is that millennials are spoiled because they haven’t had to work as hard as previous generations, and they are entitled from growing up in era of iPhones and Netflix.

Coddled is perhaps a little more challenging to understand. Age and experience have traditionally been synonymous with wisdom and success, and the very real argument against giving millennials greater responsibility in companies is that they are young and have not yet had the work experience necessary to be successful. That’s a fair argument to make. However, from the millennial perspective, it’s one that may be growing increasingly dated.

When I graduated college it was far more difficult to find a job than I had anticipated. I had a dual degree from a good university, but I found myself in the same position that so many millennials find themselves in as well: “well we’d like to hire you, but we really need someone with more experience.” For an entry-level position? Seriously? Each job search is unique and with its own professional goals and encounters, but it seems that more and more college graduates find themselves frustrated trying to even find their first job.

And that’s an interesting paradox. If Gen-Y is the most diverse and highest educated generation to-date, then why have so many of us heard our friends lament the difficulty of finding a job. We’re tech-savvy, worldly, (and very humble!), so wouldn’t you think employers would be jumping at the chance to hire us?

From the millennial perspective, older hiring and promotion systems that don’t immediately recognize the energy and time that went towards graduating college amidst a swirl of academic, social, and personal growth can feel unfairly restrictive. As we mentioned in our previous post “Ready, Set…Done,” millennials are the most energetic and ready to perform right at the onset of their new careers. But when those new careers don’t immediately offer gratification or growth, it can begin to feel as though we are being held back, even coddled.

“I know I can do that! Just give me a chance to show you.”

And that’s the juxtaposition we’re trying to examine. For employers, they want their employees to be trained and experienced before being given greater responsibility. It’s in their best interest to ensure that their best people are calling the shots. Yet, internal systems that promote slowly and offer little feedback, or involve large teams that offer only minimal individual contribution, are not going to be appealing to Gen-Yers who’ve studied International Business abroad in Hong Kong, and went to college on a bull-riding scholarship (real guy! very nice). The workforce is now more worldly and specialized than it ever has been, and a by-product of this is that these new employees who’ve already had a plethora of learning experiences, want to hit the ground running and be given more responsibility and exposure than previous generations.

It might sound a little silly to think that just because you have a piece of paper that says you’ve graduated from college that that makes you an expert in a certain field. And of course, you’re not an expert after only four years of school. But a friend of mine who is an engineer three years out of college offered an interesting perspective on this matter that I think is worth considering:

“It’s the inconsistency that’s the most frustrating. Sometimes it seems like I’m a vital player, helping design a lifting system that can raise pipelines thousands of feet in torrential weather, but other times I feel like I’m just twiddling my thumbs at my desk, waiting until enough time has passed that I’m deemed experienced enough to take on a certain project.”

So therein lies the issue. In the case of this particular engineer he feels that he is being coddled at times by his management, but it’s very likely that that kind of attitude will cause him to be viewed by his management as being a cuddled millennial. Everyone wants to feel like they are valued in their employment, and I’d argue that the majority of millennials don’t believe that they really know everything about how to do a particular job. Their rub instead comes from being able to do more than they were expected to be able to do early on, which leads to an awkward period (weeks, months, or years), where they can feel unchallenged and unappreciated.

“I have a degree in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics. Why am I filling out spreadsheets all day?”

Cuddled or coddled is a question that doesn’t get asked often, but it’s one that clearly defines another gap between the established workforce and millennials. The “most-driven generation” wants a chance to prove themselves because they believe they have the skills necessary to make an earnest attempt, but it’s not inherently in a manager’s best interest to “gamble” on a new employee not making costly mistakes. Gen-Y may have a larger knowledge base than previous generations, but the question remains just how much of that knowledge base is relevant and can be trusted as untested professional experience.

It’s a difficult question. What do you think, cuddled or coddled?