Millennials, Chaos, and Collaborative Consumption

I’ve been up in Boston for the past two days at meetings with some large asset managers talking to them about getting involved with the Estimize platform on several different levels. Last night I attended the yearly Longworth Venture Partners dinner, Longworth is one of the venture funds involved in our reent round of funding. At dinner there was a great guest speaker who recently wrote a book called “Hooked Up”, primarily about the post Millennial generation or what he calls the Internet Pioneers.

He shared a few insights that I’ve been thinking about this morning on my train ride back to NYC.

My generation and those after mine have known nothing but chaos. We’ve grown up in a world that is rapidly changing, not just year to year, but sometimes week to week. The pace of technological change is increasing at an exponential rate and that is having a profound impact on many different parts of our society, from jobs to personal relationships to simply owning things, or not owning them. A lot of people like to think of technology as gadgets and gizmos, but this isn’t about the hardware of the iPhone, it’s about all of the things that are being disrupted because of the phone.

My friend Josh Brown likes to call us the “Disruption Hippies”. For a while there I thought he was right in characterizing us in that way, but I’ve come to understand that in fact he’s not. We aren’t out to disrupt things for the sake of disruption, there is no war path, there is no “cause”. We are purely the outcome of a chaotic and quickly changing world, we just look at things much differently.

You can tell really quickly who sits just outside of our generation by asking them about jobs. The ones who complain or bemoan the fact that there is no longer job security, the ones who feel you need to put down roots at a company to build your resume, the ones who feel that my generation has in some way had something taken away from them, that we got a raw deal, those people are not from my generation, they are just a bit older, just old enough to have experienced what things were like before the chaos.

My generation doesn’t see it that way because we’ve never known anything else. We’re not out to disrupt things, we’re just better at bending in the wind whichever way it may blow. The generations preceding us are scared for themselves, as they should be, they have roots, physically and emotionally to certain structures, be it families, ownership of assets or in their jobs. But they shouldn’t be scared for us. The saving grace of my generation is that we have no structures. Remember we were the kids that were taught to collaborate in school, on the sports field, that no one was better than anyone else, that we all get a trophy, that being a team player was more important than being a leader. There are toxic aspects of that upbringing, but ironically it prepared us for the chaos.

Social media has had a profound impact on how we think about roles within an organization. We don’t see a ladder or a structure, we see a pool of people with ideas and the need for someone to organize and curate those ideas, the best ones being given precedence over the loudest or the most senior. Social media has democratized our voice, that’s all we’ve ever known as kids, and that’s not going to change once we go to work, as if we’re suddenly going to shut up for the next 10 years.

And as it relates to collaborative consumption, it’s not that we want cars but need to rent them because we can’t afford them. No, you’re looking at it the wrong way. We structure our lives to be flexible to change, which is why the whole idea of owning a car is so foreign. Why would I buy a car now when next year’s is going to be so much better. Why would I buy a car when I’m going to be locked into the payments. Why would I buy a car when I might want to move to a city, or move across the country for a few years. Why wouldn’t I just access one when I need it.

My generation isn’t afraid to put down roots because of how fast things are changing in our lives, we just naturally don’t need them. Older people look at us and think that at some point later we’re all going to settle down once we have money. That’s a fallacy, they don’t understand that the world is only going to get more chaotic as technology speeds up. People will get more flexible not less. Yes I do think that in our 30’s we will get married, even though I don’t believe in the institution of marriage, many will. But right now what’s the point for us as we have so much chaos in our lives.

We don’t look at sharing our homes, our cars, our things as a downgrade to make money, we look at it as a natural way to stay flexible. We join a social network and drop it 6 months later because something better was built. We have little loyalty to brands because we know something better will come next.

We aren’t disruption hippies, we’re just bending in the wind, building what we think should come next, not to disrupt things for the sake of disruption, but because we don’t know a world where you can’t do that. We have nothing to lose so we start our own things. We don’t want to climb the ladder of an organization where older individuals are scared to bend in the wind with us and give us a voice. They will get washed away trying to hold onto their corner office, but we’re not going with them.

We’re not disruption hippies, we’re just the sons and daughters of a rapidly changing chaotic world.


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