By Emma Hackett, Staff Writer
This past Christmas break, I watched the movie The Intern, starring Anne Hathaway and Robert De Niro. The plot centers on a classy, retired businessman who has just hit 70. Finding his retirement dull, he signs up to be a “senior intern” at an up-and-coming company run by the quintessential millennial entrepreneur, Anne Hathaway. Aside from its interesting commentaries about marriage, family, and the nature of true friendship, the movie also brings into focus the occasionally dramatic differences between the Baby Boomers generation and that of burgeoning millennials, especially regarding the latter's sometimes untraditional ways of conducting business.
Millennials are creative, passionate, and highly energetic when it comes to finding innovative ways to set their businesses apart. A lot of these ideas are great, some of them are not, but they all have one thing in common - they are all strikingly new. And new ideas are always something that millennials will get excited about.
The Death of the Cubicle
When we hear the word “office”, images of endless rows of drab grey cubicles and faded desk calendars often come to mind, and bore us to absolute tears. However, that is not the way that new millennial business owners are structuring their offices - those often are converted factories or other kinds of industrial spaces, which have been widened and brightly lit and lined with tables and aerodynamic chairs and Macbook Pros. In general, this new office structure mirrors the millennial attitude - embracing freedom and openness and mistrustful of any confines, with an eye towards reinventing the old in a cool, hipster way.
That’s partly why we’ve redefined what it means to “settle down” - millennial business people are getting married and starting their families later and later, largely because they love the freedom of singleness. Move to Milan for a year to head up your company’s new branch? No problem. Millennials pride themselves on being able to live out of a suitcase, and that is doing fantastic things for their businesses. There is almost nothing left of the cubicle in the millennials’ vision for what a career means, and that can definitely be a good thing.
The New Briefcase
In the movie The Intern, a brief (but honestly, pretty cute) side-plot features the titular character - Ben’s - briefcase - a classic 1970s brown leather attaché, an artifact from his former days as a business executive, which he proudly carries into work with him on the first day of his internship. In a humorous but interesting vignette, Ben’s tidy briefcase, which is designed to hold - yes - actual physical pieces of paper, is contrasted with the sleek and modern technological gadgets of his millennial-aged fellow interns. They make his flip-phone look absolutely antediluvian.
In general, millennials are more likely to read from a glowing screen than a printed page, and that is greatly impacting the business world. Meetings are done via Skype more often than not, and there are literally hundreds of apps built for keeping up with the demands of business. Planners are digitized, communication is virtual, and the corporate world moves at the speed of light. We often don’t have time for the charming, classic world of attaché cases and Moleskine planners.
Our briefcases are now condensed and synthesized and digitized and crammed into our iPads and tablets and smartphones. While this is definitely allowing business to advance more rapidly than ever before, there is something nostalgic which ends up being lost in the sauce, as it were. There is something about the American professional which exudes tailored suits and hot black coffee and early mornings and - yes - actual real-life briefcases. Preserving some of those things would also preserve a refreshing (and grounding) continuity with the past, which would probably do a lot towards preventing us lightning-speed entrepreneurs to get ahead of ourselves.
What to Learn
Millennials can never be accused of being too confined by previous generations - in fact, sometimes, it almost feels as if we’re chucking everything from the past simply on principle. Millennials are dramatically changing the way the world works (because we are the most numerous, the most financially impactful, and the most innovative generation), and other generations would probably do well to pay attention and adapt accordingly. However, it would be a mistake to assume that just because something’s old means that it’s obsolete - as we all know, some of the best things in life take time, and it would be ultimately better for everyone if we tried not to reinvent the wheel simply because a Boomer invented it.
Boomers can teach us how to strike a good balance between home and work - something which is increasingly difficult in our technological age, when everything that we need to run our business can come with us to the kitchen table encased in a smartphone. Boomers can show us how to dress to impress, how to be timely, how to be respectful. They can show us how to gently and persuasively lead a telephone conversation, how to stick it out in a boring job, how to navigate workplace politics with finesse and grace.
But it’s also important that we as millennials don’t lose sight of all of the innovative things - our creativity, our freedom, our spontaneity, our passion - which are fueling our ability to have such a huge impact on the world. All we need to do is learn from the past, embrace the present, and head into the future with no reservations.