My single largest #MCON2012 take-away

Last week the folks at Achieve and the Case Foundation put on another stellar virtual conference around engaging millennials in nonprofits, social change and more.  There were the expected buzz words, info-nuggets and sound bytes but also an abundance of new intelligence shed by rising stars in social innovation.  The sessions/speakers were fantastic (all of which attendees and new registrants can still access) and the discussion in chat rooms and on Twitter was vibrant.

There was one session that I took more from than any other, though I don’t think it’s what he intended.  So as try and not to take things out of context, in Scott Gerber’s opening keynote, he was charged with walking up (and firing up) the audience. Mission accomplished.  Scott’s a dynamic person with a passionate delivery but overall he took, what I felt, was an abrasive approach to advocating on behalf of millennials and their engagement in organizations – to the point of dismissing any thought to the contrary.  In the days since, he’s been (mis)pegged as anti-millennial, when in reality, he’s an incredible hyper-advocate. I love what he stands for but lost it in the delivery.

See? This guy is obviously not happy.
See? This guy is obviously not happy.

I’m not going to give you a line by line synopsis or rebuttal.  However, in speaking about those individuals, companies and organizations who may have trouble understanding, engaging or connecting with millennials, he essentially said ‘screw ’em’.  ‘Those companies and organizations will die’.  “I’m tired of ancient board members, kick ’em off”.

My biggest take-away from #MCON2012 is that the bull-in-a-china-shop mentality and language doesn’t work if you truly want to make lasting change.  

It’s something that I’ve known for a while but I, admittedly, haven’t practiced terribly well.  Three years ago in a conference session around generational workplace there was literally almost a fight between generations.  Groups of experienced professionals were yelling “put your time in like the rest of us” while millennials heckled back “get out of the way so we can get some work done”.  It was appauling but it put the passion into words.  No, I didn’t join in but came close. What it really represented was an incredible fear – from both sides.  A fear of failure. A fear of not having control. A fear of being wrong. A fear of unemployment in a horrible economy.  A fear of being ‘to old’ to have value. A fear of being not old enough to provide any.  A fear that (as Scott eloquently stated) “the promise of work hard, do well in school and you’ll get a good paying job is broken”.

I think it’s those fears and thoughts that arise when any person – of any generation – speaks their mind or holds their position in discussion a bit to long.  When it’s no longer about the correct answer but about winning the argument.

See? These people are much happier.
See? These people are much happier.

What’s the correct answer? I’ll always believe it’s open-minded dialogue.  It’s wearing your age or generational label like a badge of honor but understanding the value (and passionate belief in it) that other ages and generations bring too.  It’s using welcoming language and avoiding divisiveness. Seeking true cross-generational understanding to move a culture towards openness and greatness.

At the end of the day, you get more flies with honey rather than with vinegar, right?

Funny. My grandma taught me that.

7 thoughts on “My single largest #MCON2012 take-away

  1. Seems to me that this is an argument as old as Socrates. And especially ironic in the Age of Celebrated Diversity as we are supposedly in. Turf is one thing, but there is wisdom on both ends of the age spectrum (he said with grey-haired optimism). Then comes the most powerful tool since the Gutenberg press in the Internet, with which the Young have learned to wield far more effectively than their Elders. Hence the rub.

    1. Hi Chris – you’re right, it’s a dated argument but one worth continuing. Now if only we millennials can wield a tool like tact or discipline as well as we use the Interwebs – we’ll get somewhere!

  2. Nathan!
    Thank you for this thoughtful post! You know I came away feeling the same as you did, but didn’t want to write something sounding like the experienced, hurt, threatened fundraiser. Cause honestly I am not. It came to me after a thoughtful weekend that if back in the day, I behaved in the way Scott suggested ALL Millennials act, I would have been called a spoiled brat and better get my stuff together. In addition, as posted by others on blogs – lumping all Millennials together is NOT fair – stereotyping of any kind is not useful. I have hired some GREAT Millennials who do fabulous work – needless to say I didn’t hire Millennials that agree with Scott’s version of the new workplace – although I am sure there are places they fit right in and do just as fabulously. I have great colleagues, like you, who are Millennials and whom I respect tremendously. I am honored to know, learn, do, act with all of them. Millennials are the next generation of nonprofit leaders – we need them to continue to carry the torch and make a difference – cause us veterans won’t be here forever and because they have new, better ideas!

    Thanks again for your post!

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