Simon Sinek is a British-American organizational consultant, ethnographer, motivational speaker, and author. Sinek also teaches graduate-level strategic communications courses at Columbia University. He has published five best-selling books that focus on how leaders can inspire others, how leaders can build a company that people want to work for, and how to discover one’s true purpose. His first book, Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action (2009), led to his popular TED Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action, which is one of the most popular presentations in that forum. Sinek introduces the concept of the Golden Circle: “a naturally occurring pattern, grounded in the biology of human decision-making, that explains why we are inspired by some people, leaders, messages and organizations over others.” One of the most common questions that Sinek answers in interviews is the infamous “millennial question” — that is to say, how do you manage millennials that pose a bit of a challenge to most company managers? During an interview with Tom Bilyeu, host of the web-based talk show, “Inside Quest,” to promote his third book (Together is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration, an illustrated and scented quote book to inspire human interaction), Sinek answered the millennial question this way:
“Apparently, millennials — as a group of people, which are those born from approximately 1984 and after — are tough to manage. They are accused of being entitled and narcissistic, self interested, unfocused, and lazy — but “entitled” is the big one. Because they confound the leadership so much, leaders will say “what do you want?” And millennials will say “we want to work in a place with purpose, we want to make an impact, we want free food and bean bag chairs.” Any yet when provided all these things they are still not happy. And that is because there is a missing piece. It can be broken down into four pieces, actually — 1. parenting; 2. technology; 3. impatience; and 4. environment.
The generation that is called the millennials, too many of them grew up subject to “failed parenting strategies.” Where they were told that they were “special” all the time. They were told they can have anything they want in life just because they want it. Some of them got into honors classes, not because they deserved it, but because their parents complained. Some of them got A’s not because they earned them, but because the teachers didn’t want to deal with the parents. Some kids got participation medals. They got a medal for coming in last. Which, the science we know is pretty clear, is that it devalues the medal and the reward for those who actually work hard and that actually makes the person who comes in last embarrassed because they know they didn’t deserve it so that actually makes them feel worse.
[So] you take this group of people and they graduate and they get a job and they’re thrust into the real world and in an instant they find out they are not special. Their moms can’t get them a promotion. You get nothing for coming in last and — by the way — you can’t just have it because you want it. In an instant, their entire self-image is shattered. So we have an entire generation that is growing up with lower self esteem than previous generations.
The other problem to compound it is we are growing up in a Facebook/Instagram world, in other words, we are good at putting filters on things. We’re good at showing people that life is amazing even though “I am depressed.” Everybody sounds tough, and everybody sounds like they have it all figured out, [but] the reality is there’s very little toughness and most people don’t have it all figured out. So when the more senior people say “well, what should we do?” they sound like “this is what you gotta do!” But they have no clue.
So you have an entire generation growing up with lower self esteem than previous generations — through no fault of their own, they were dealt a bad hand. Now let’s add in technology. We know that engagement with social media and our cell phones releases a chemical called dopamine. That’s why when you get a text, it feels good. In a 2012 study, Harvard research scientists reported that talking about oneself through social media activates a pleasure sensation in the brain usually associated with food, money, and sex. It’s why we count the likes. It’s why we go back ten times to see if the interaction is growing. And if our Instagram is slowing we wonder if we have done something wrong, or if people don’t like us any more. The trauma for young kids to be “unfriended” is too much to handle. We know that when you get the attention it feels good — you get a hit of dopamine… Dopamine is the exact same chemical that makes us feel good when we smoke, when we drink, and when we gamble… [and] it’s highly, highly addictive.
We have age restrictions on smoking, drinking and gambling but we have no age restrictions on social media and cell phones. Which is the equivalent of opening up the liquor cabinet and saying to our teenagers “hey by the way, if this adolescence thing gets you down — help yourself.” [So] an entire generation now has access to an addictive, numbing chemical called dopamine through cellphones and social media, while they are going through the high stress of adolescence.
Why is this important? Almost every alcoholic discovered alcohol when they were teenagers. When we are very, very young the only approval we needed was the approval of our parents and as we go through adolescence we make this transition where we now need the approval of our peers. Very frustrating for our parents; very important for the teenager. It allows us to acculturate outside of our immediate families and into the broader tribe. It’s a highly, highly stressful and anxious period of our lives and we are supposed to learn to rely on our friends.
Some people — quite by accident — discover alcohol, the numbing effects of dopamine, to help them cope with the stresses and anxieties of adolescence. Unfortunately that becomes hard wired in their brains and for the rest of their lives, when they suffer significant stress, they will not turn to a person, they will turn to the bottle. Social stress, financial stress, career stress — that’s pretty much the primary reasons why an alcoholic drinks. But now because we are allowing unfettered access to these devices and media. Basically it is becoming hard-wired and what we are seeing is that [as] they grow older, too many kids “don’t know how to form deep, meaningful relationships” — their words, not mine.
They will admit that many of their relationships are superficial. They will admit that they don’t count on their friends; they don’t rely on their friends. They have fun with their friends, but they also know that their friends will cancel on them when something better comes along. Deep meaningful relationships are not there because they never practiced the skillset and worse — they don’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress. So when significant stress begins to show up in their lives, they’re not turning to a person, they’re turning to a device, they’re turning to social media, they’re turning to these things which offer temporary relief. [The] science is clear, we know that people who spend more time on Facebook suffer higher rates of depression than people who spend less time on Facebook.
These things balanced, are not bad. Alcohol is not bad, too much alcohol is bad. Gambling is fun, too much gambling is dangerous. There is nothing wrong with social media and cellphones, it’s the imbalance. If you are sitting at dinner with your friends, and you are texting somebody who is not there – that’s a problem. That’s an addiction. If you are sitting in a meeting with people you are supposed to be listening and speaking to, and you put your phone on the table, that sends a subconscious message to the room “you’re just not that important.” The fact that you can’t put the phone away, that’s because you are addicted. If you wake up and you check your phone before you say good morning to your girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse, you have an addiction. And like all addictions, in time, it will destroy relationships, it will cost time, it will cost money and it will make your life worse.
So we have a generation growing up with lower self-esteem that doesn’t have the coping mechanisms to deal with stress and now you add in the sense of impatience. They’ve grown up in a world of instant gratification. You want to buy something, you go on Amazon and it arrives the next day. You want to watch a movie, logon and watch a movie. You don’t check movie times. You want to watch a TV show, binge. You don’t even have to wait week-to-week-to-week. Many people skip seasons, just so they can binge at the end of the season… Instant gratification. You want to go on a date? You don’t even have to learn how to be socially awkward on that first date. You don’t need to learn how to practice that skill. You don’t have to be the uncomfortable person who says yes when you mean no and no when you mean yes. Swipe right – bang – done! You don’t even need to learn the social coping mechanism.
Everything you want you can have instantaneously. Everything you want, instant gratification, except, job satisfaction and strength of relationships – their ain’t no out for that. They are slow, meandering, uncomfortable, messy processes. And so millennials are wonderful, idealistic, hardworking smart kids who’ve just graduated school and are in their entry-level jobs and when asked “how’s it going?” they say “I think I’m going to quit.” And we’re like “why?” and they say “I’m not making an impact.” To which we say, “you’ve only been there eight months…”
It’s as if their standing at the foot of a mountain and they have this abstract concept called impact that they want to have on the world, which is the summit. What they don’t see is the mountain. I don’t care if you go up the mountain quickly or slowly, but there’s still a mountain. And so what this young generation needs to learn is patience. That some things that really, really matter, like love or job fulfillment, joy, love of life, self confidence, a skillset, any of these things, all of these things take time. Sometimes you can expedite pieces of it, but the overall journey is arduous and long and difficult and if you don’t ask for help and learn that skillset, you will fall off the mountain. Or the worst case scenario, we’re seeing an increase in suicide rates in this generation, we’re seeing an increase in accidental deaths due to drug overdoses, we’re seeing more and more kids drop out of school or take a leave of absence due to depression. Unheard of. This is really bad.
The best case scenario, you’ll have an entire population growing up and going through life and just never really finding joy. They’ll never really find deep, deep fulfillment in work or in life, they’ll just waft through life and it things will only be “just fine.” How’s your job? “It’s fine, same as yesterday.” How’s your relationship? “It’s fine.” [And] that’s the best case scenario.
Which leads to the fourth point which is environment. Which is we’re taking this amazing group of young, fantastic kids who were just dealt a bad hand and it’s no fault of their own, and we put them in corporate environments that care more about the numbers than they do about the kids. They care more about the short-term gains than the life of this young human being. We care more about the year than the lifetime. We are putting them in corporate environments that are not helping them build their confidence. [Corporate environements] aren’t helping them learn the skills of cooperation [or] helping them overcome the challenges of a digital world and finding more balance [or] helping them overcome the need for instant gratification and [teaching] them the joys and impact and the fulfillment you get from working hard on something for a long time that cannot be done in a month or even in a year.
So we thrust them into corporate environments and the worst thing is they think it’s them. They blame themselves. They think it’s them who can’t deal. And so it makes it all worse. It’s not them. It’s the corporations, it’s the corporate environment, it’s the total lack of good leadership in our world today that is making them feel the way they do. They were dealt a bad hand and it’s the company’s responsibility to pick up the slack and work extra hard and find ways to build their confidence, to teach them the social skills that they’re missing out on.
There should be no cellphones in conference rooms — none, zero. When sitting and waiting for a meeting to start, instead of using your phone with your head down, everyone should be focused on building relationships. We ask personal questions, “How’s your dad? I heard he was in the hospital.” “Oh he’s really good thanks for asking. He’s actually at home now.” “Oh I’m glad to hear that.” “That was really amazing.” “I know, it was really scary for a while there.” That’s how you form relationships. “Hey did you ever get that report done?” “No, I totally forgot.” “Hey, I can help you out. Let me help you.” “Really?” That’s how trust forms. Trust doesn’t form at an event in a day. Even bad times don’t form trust immediately. It’s the slow, steady consistency and we need to create mechanisms where we allow for those little innocuous interactions to happen.
When we are out with friends, as we are leaving for dinner together, we leave our cell phones at home. Who are we calling? Maybe one of us will bring a phone in case we need to call an Uber. It’s like an alcoholic. The reason you take the alcohol out of the house is because we cannot trust our willpower. We’re just not strong enough. But when you remove the temptation, it actually makes it a lot easier. When you just say “Don’t check your phone,” people will just go to the bathroom and what’s the first thing we do? We look at the phone.
When you don’t have the phone, you just check out the world. And that’s where ideas happen. The constant, constant, constant engagement is not where you have innovation and ideas. Ideas happen when our minds wander and we see something and we think, “I bet they could do that…” That’s called innovation. But we’re taking away all those little moments.
None of us should charge our phones by our beds. We should be charging our phones in the living rooms. Remove the temptation. We wake up in the middle of the night because you can’t sleep, you won’t check your phone, which makes it worse. But if it’s in the living room, it’s relaxed, it’s fine. Some say “but it’s my alarm clock.” Buy an alarm clock. They cost eight dollars.
The point is: we [who are] now in industry — whether we like it or not — we don’t get a choice — we now have a responsibility to make up the shortfall and help this amazing, idealistic, fantastic generation build their confidence, learn patience, learn the social skills, find a better balance between life and technology because, quite frankly, it’s the right thing to do.”
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For further reading: https://impacttheory.com/blog/simon-sinek-millennial-question-tom-bilyeu/
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Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek
Together Is Better: A Little Book of Inspiration by Simon Sinek
Find Your Why: A Practical Guide for Discovering Purpose for You and Your Team by Simon Sinek
The Infinite Game by Simon Sinek