I have been fortunate to spend a lot of time with millennial entrepreneurs. I myself lead a millennial-run organization, UnSectored, a community platform for re-thinking social change. Through my experience, and by observing the great work of my peers, I’ve noticed something inherent to the millennial generation that hasn’t garnered much commentary: We build distinct types of organizations.
There are three criteria of millennial enterprises (both nonprofit and for-profit) as I see them:
The folks at Viacomm’s Scratch blog have defined sidepreneurship as the tendency to pursue activities (paid or not) outside of a full time job. They claim this is inherent to the millennial generation: Many Millennials look for fulfillment outside of their jobs, whether that’s art projects or a nonprofit consulting firm or DJing on the weekends.
I disagree with Viacomm’s inclusion of creative projects in this definition (pursuit of creativity in youth may be the only consistent trait across generations), and I wonder if “sidepreneurship” rates are any higher today than they were in the past. Regardless of its uniqueness to the children of the 80s and 90s, many of us are riding the sidepreneneurship wave. I have met countless entrepreneurs who are slowly growing businesses, nonprofits, or loosely formed community organizations in late night sessions, or through surreptitious email by surreptitious email in between meetings at work.
Even though it may not be unique, this “sidepreneurship” is one important characteristic of the millennial organization. But to me it’s the least important.
Sidepreneurship creates the need for another characteristic of millennial-created organizations: Openness and connection.
If you are starting an enterprise in your free time, you can’t worry too much about control or responsibilities and you can’t waste time with in-person meetings. You just need to get things done. This need spawns organizations made up of people who communicate almost completely online through email or programs like Skype. I’ve met some people who manage staff they’ve never met because they are halfway across the world.
From this technological connectedness comes openness: Because millennial organizations are run through online channels, there tends to be less hierarchy. (It’s hard to exert control when your only tool is an emoticon or ALL CAPS.) And these enterprises tend to be cash-strapped and are willing to accept good ideas from wherever they come from, whether its from the founder or the new intern who is around for the summer just to run the Twitter feed.
This organizational trend is good for society for two reasons:
1. Traditional organizations could benefit from being run as an idea meritocracy. Openness to new ideas can help create innovation internally and help organizations adapt to new challenges—market or otherwise.
2. Being open and connected internally helps you be open and connected externally. As we are exploring over at UnSectored, the future of society will depend on collaboration between organizations. Organizations that tackle large problems can only be successful if they work with other organizations across sectors. It’s a lot easier to do this if you don’t have your own internal problematic silos and hierarchy issues.
It’s hard to ignore the current social consciousness trend—which is bleeding over from the Millennials to those more seasoned generations. You don’t have to work in the nonprofit sector or in a social enterprise to know that people are starting to care more and more about social impact. Edelman’s annual goodpurpose study found in 2012 than nearly 90% of consumers want businesses to place at least as equal focus on societal concerns as traditional business interests. Net Impact found that almost75% of students (Millennials) and 50% of employees (older folks, including some Millennials) want a job where they can make an impact.
Millennial-led organizations reflect this trend. Some businesses give profits away to charities as a part of their model; some develop products and services specifically for the underserved. Regardless of it’s a nonprofit or a for-profit, Millennial organizations have some component of social consciousness.
These three criteria—sidepreneurship, open and connected, social impact—define millennial-led organizations. It will be interesting to see if these characteristics continue, or that as we age, or our organizational structures age with us.
Generations are less distinct than people initially think they are. (It’s hard to watch Roger Daltrey sing “I hope I die before I get old” these days and not wonder if everyone just gets a little too worked up in their youth.) But Millennials have given us a new type of organizational structure that will drive innovation and help improve our communities. I hope to continue to research this topic, and that others begin to research it, se we can codify these criteria and produce data to back up the trends.
This post originally appeared on Achieve Consulting’s blog.
Photo credit: Ella Novak