Unboxing Millenials

7 July 2017


I have been recently asked to write an article for Visual Thinking’s Counter Culture magazine looking at the instant gratification behaviour of Millenials from a different angle.

The article is now published in the newest issue of the Counter Culture magazine.

It however had to be edited due to the size of the magazine so below you can also enjoy the full version.


I’m not a fan of putting people into boxes. As a psychologist, and more simply as a human, I know that boxes are never a holistic nor exhaustive description of a person. However, I do also understand that the way our brain records information is in some way similar to boxes with various connections to other boxes. Hence it doesn’t surprise me that in order to understand the next generation, we are trying to put it into boxes.

This interview with Simon Sinek, an author famous for describing the Millenials, shows however only one type of explanation, one viewpoint. One viewpoint is fine (not great) when you’re navigating your personal life, it is however less useful and often misleading when you’re looking at creating something for whole groups of individuals, e.g. a retail store. Then, only a multi-viewpoint approach can yield some useful results.

Sinek shows Millenials as impatient, dopamine-addicted generation incapable of thinking long-term. This certainly could be true of some of them but perhaps others APPEAR to behave that way but what drives them is actually very meaningful… FOR THEM.

This article on BBC by Nick Arnold shows another potential explanation for the Millenials’ supposed inability to delay gratification. They live more in the moment than for the future, which is what a lot of spiritual leaders, e.g. Dalai Lama, advocate as a way to achieve ultimate well-being. It can be in fact their CONSCIOUS CHOICE then to enjoy every moment now rather than hope that they will when they retire.

When we look at the macro social influences that shaped that generation, we can’t be really that surprised. Every parent wants their children to have more opportunities and better life than they had. Hence Millenials’ parents gave them plenty of things and experiences they never had. As a result, they are over-saturated with materialism and starting to reach for experiential pleasures and world-changing goals.

Let’s look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and compare it to what the Millenials and their parents value. Children born just after WWII (Millenials’ parents) have been raised in the world which was still in shock and often with limited basic resources, like food, water and shelter. People were therefore overjoyed with simple things in life, like having a meal with a family. Children had a handful of toys and were extremely happy if they could go to school rather than working on their parents’ farm. Hence education was valued the most as well as small luxuries, like new clothes or a lipstick.


                                   Source: Solomon, 2013


Millenials therefore were encouraged by their parents to invest in education, which they happily did but not necessarily in fields their parents considered safe. They rather went for arts and social sciences because they wanted to change the world for the better.

They however had another influence which shaped them – terrorism and violence. More and more frequent reminders of mortality subconsciously influenced them to focus on the moment and squeeze the most out of it, because there might not be a tomorrow.

Taking all these into account, some Millenials might in fact avoid life by further addicting themselves to technology or other mood-enhancing drugs and experiences. However, others might simply enjoy every moment to ensure they lived their life to the fullest while constantly trying to make this world a better place to live for their children.


What does it mean for your strategies?

1. Be curious. Never Assume. Ask. Listen to truly understand. (basically adopt a scientist’s mindset) – Millenials are happy to share their opinions and value those who listen to them, e.g. LEGO Ideas

2. Create (or hire) multidisciplinary teams to cover as many viewpoints as possible

3. Sell ‘WHY’ not what – people (especially Millenials) buy the symbolic meaning behind products/experiences, not the physical item

4. Help them – whether it’s changing the world, improving their self-esteem, learning new skills, or creating new relationships, add value to their lives, e.g. Apple’s seminars or Lole White Tour