For the past 15 years, Matt Heller has been uncompromisingly focused on understanding the Millennial generation. He’s spent much of that time creating and executing successful brand strategies for companies targeting this unique generation — no easy endeavor, considering they are the largest, most diverse population of consumers in history. With a focus on bridging the gap between entertainment and branding, his experience includes significant work in advertising, marketing, publicity, as well as film and television production. Together with David Jensen and Cecily Chambers, Matt discusses Millennials’ behavior deeply rooted in fear from things out of their control, significantly affecting how they handle technology, politics, racial issues, and even suicidal thoughts.
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Matt Heller On How The Millennial Generation Handles Lack Of Control
Matt Heller, thank you so much for joining us.
I’m happy to be here, Cecily.
Matt, where are you? You’re in the Hills, in LA?
I’m in LA. I’m living the dream. I know you crossed the pond. It’s good for you to get a little Europe time. That’s awesome. We miss you. Things are sunny and beautiful here.
We’re under the pandemic pressure tests here all the way around. Cecily, how does Matt create structured mischief?
Matt, one of our favorite questions to ask is, what is your mischief-making personality? DJ has this idea of a hipster, hacker, and a hustler. When you’re performing structured mischief, you can fall into one of these personalities or a mixture of the three. I’m curious to know how you view yourself. Are you more of a hacker, a hipster, or a hustler?
I’m probably a bit of all three. It’s probably the best way to describe myself. I’m a hustler and have been my whole life professionally, going the unchartered path and making it work, moving to Los Angeles, and breaking into the content. Staying within the lines a little bit of reality to keep the money flowing and bring my passion and skillset to the corporate world. Growing two careers at once, but nontraditional careers on both sides. That to me means looking for another way in. It’s not just a tech play, but rather saying, “How do we get this done?” I’ve been seeing that because I never wanted to follow all the rules that didn’t make sense to me.
I understood what I was trying to accomplish and I understood there were some restrictions, some rules you had to abide by or the goal didn’t count. You didn’t score. I like to hack along the way. It’s funny when you use the word hipster. I live and die by the diffusion of innovation occur. We use different definitions when I try to explain to people how trends start. We’ve labeled those innovators and early adopters as influencers, or in many ways, we see those early adopters and we’d say, “Look at those hipsters.” I’m an early adopter influencer innovator when it comes to trends, but I don’t look like a hipster.
You’re a studier of hipsters.
I’m Jane Goodall in the jungle surrounded by those hipsters at all times.
We know that you are an expert on Millennials. We were curious how one comes to be an expert on Millennials and how you were attracted to that?
You have to be curious about the subspecies who we know is the Millennial generation. Playing off that metaphor of sociological and understanding human behavior. First and foremost, I started trendspotting and they were the target audience that mattered most. I was thrown into it because of where I was in the world and the period of time. It was that group of innovators and early adopters within that generation, that the brand I was working for cared the most about. That was their target audience.
You figure out upcoming trends by understanding what the cool kids are doing. This the innovation curve that I was talking about. The rest of the population will adopt the behaviors that they witnessed and get excited about what the cool kids are doing. I was studying that group and that group happened to be the innovators and early adopters within the Millennial generation. I’m only five years older than the oldest Millennials.
Can you define exactly what Millennial is for our readers?
It’s a generation. When we talk about Millennials, we’re talking about the Millennial generation. Millennials are those individuals within that generation, the generations that we always talked about. Before that were Baby Boomers and Generation X. We’re talking about this group called Gen Z, Generation Z. Those are generations. We group people so we understand them better. We stick them in cohorts. One way to develop a cohort or to define a cohort is by generation. It’s a way to separate people so we can understand them and studying them better.
The generation that we refer to as Millennials are defined by two things, their birth years and their shared experiences. That’s been the case with a generational theory for as long as it’s been a real thing. For this generation, their birth years are best defined and most widely accepted as the definition of 1980 to 2000. Now the oldest Millennials are 40 and the youngest Millennials are 20. Think of it that way.
This is social science. There is a little bit of gray area. Some people think the birth years are ‘80 to ‘98. Some say it’s ‘81 to ‘96. People have different definitions. The first definition is the birth years. The second is their shared experiences. It’s not enough to be born between 1980 and 2000. If you don’t have shared experiences with other people, you’re not part of the same cohort. Those shared experiences for Millennials, we know about the coming-of-age post 9/11, being part of a digitally native generation, being part of what we call the trophy generation that refers to the way they were raised.
This is unique. Part of the reason we know that this is such a large generation is that many of them have so much in common, shared experiences compared to earlier generations. We know that Baby Boomers are defined as being born between 1946 and 1964. In that generation, if you were born in 1950 and you grew up in Toledo, your experience might have been very different than if you were born in Tokyo or Tel Aviv. Because of technology, the Millennial generation, it didn’t matter whether you grew up in Tokyo, Toledo or Tel Aviv or Tucson. You had shared experiences. Popular culture is what we’re referring to.
Do you think that there’s something unique about that generation, the first generation that has been technology-enabled? They grew up as a digital generation that makes them more predisposed to be mischief-makers, hence structured mischief-makers? I’ll put a second part to that question, which is we shared some materials in terms of your research about the increased rate of suicides, especially among young females. How does that wash? Why do we see that increase in some tragic characteristics that are impacting that generation? Are there tools that they need in order to manage this technology that they have been raised with?
Every generation is overwhelmed and empowered by of some kind. From the perspective of Baby Boomers, their technology was bigger and less available to them on a daily basis and less prevalent in their lifestyles. Boomers had the technology. The television, the telephone, the automobile becoming so much more available. A number of things were available to Baby Boomers, but it wasn’t as personal. It was much more a cultural Zeitgeist, underlying foundational level of capabilities versus the personal nature of technology, and the access of media. In many ways, the reason that Millennials are best positioned to embrace structured mischief or be excited by the idea of thinking outside the box and rethinking an existing structure.Millennials are protesting and demanding change, but there is not really much work to designing any change. Click To Tweet
It’s not conforming to something that parents or what they grew up with, but challenging it.
It feels like it’s all within their reach because frankly, it is. They’re carrying around supercomputers in their pockets that can do incredible things. Things that earlier generations would never have been able to imagine based on where the technology capabilities were in that day. Millennials don’t feel like there are a lot of restrictions on what’s possible. Part of that is the way they were brought up. We talk about them being the trophy generation. We talk about helicopter parenting, a number of other stereotypes that we always throw on top of the Millennial generation as we discuss them. The reality is that they were raised to think that they can do anything. They could be anything and were told, “There’s nothing you can’t do. There’s nothing you can accomplish. There’s nothing you don’t deserve.” That’s where that entitlement mentality comes from.
Why have Millennials been so frustrating to larger companies and traditional companies when they get into the workforce because they get there and they say, “Why can’t I be the vice president of a division in two years? Why would I have to follow these prescribed steps if I can get through whatever the process is? If I can achieve and beat the rubric, why don’t I move on? Why can’t I test out of this?” The idea of them charting a different course or taking a different way to get to a solution is very natural to them. It’s highly enabled by their ability to figure it out with their own technology because they’re incredibly innovative by nature because all these tools are right in their hands and they were left to figure it out on their own. A lot of the things that earlier generations said, “Do I have to do it that way?” That’s the software I have to use. Those are the steps I have to take. That’s the major I have to do in college to get work.”
All those roles were out the window. As we try to survive the year 2020, what you’re finding is tremendous frustration. This goes to the second part of your question, this frustration that none of the stuff that they were told seems to be working, but the world keeps shutting them down. Having come from childhood and being part of a generation that was pumped up and put into the hot air balloon as a baby and said, “Fly, you can do anything. You can go anywhere.” It’s like the balloons have been getting shot from the ground as they’ve been flying for as long as they can remember. They’re losing patience and they’re having a hard time seeing over the horizon and finding hope with that. They don’t know how else to deal with it. We’ve always seen that suicide rates are highest within that. This is the Virgin Suicides generation.
That’s the Sofia Coppola film that you’re referring to.
It’s not unusual that we see that as a dramatic response. It’s the most dramatic response to frustration and a feeling of not being able to make something work.
Do you think that it’s a bit romanticized, the idea?
Yeah. Suicide has always been romanticized, but the psychology behind that is very much rooted in control. When you feel like you have no control in anything you do, you find ways to have some sense of control that is very dangerous. Everything from eating disorders to we’ve seen here people cutting themselves or knowingly becoming an addict, overeating and making themselves sick with obesity and other obesity-related drugs, all in an effort to feel a sense of control. The ultimate move there is, “I’m in control of my life. I need to have some control. I’m going to end it.” They know that the impact there and this is the romanticism, there are dramatic results in suicide as far as people waking up paying attention. We hear this all the time, attempted suicides being a cry for help.
There’s a flip side of that, which is taking a healthy, holistic living approach, which I know you’re very personally passionate about, but also seems to have attributed to Millennials. I don’t know the statistics as well as you, but adopters of natural foods, organic clothing, and fibers that they want in their lives every day. It’s not following the conventional wisdom of how we eat, how we exercise, and how we become spiritual. The flip side of that on the romanticization of suicide, do they take a more holistic approach to life? What does that mean from a structured mischief perspective in your mind?
It would be nice to think that they’re doing that for the right reasons because it sounds like they are when we talk about healthy living and wellness. It’s coming from the same place of lack of control. In the same way that they’re determining what they won’t eat, what they won’t wear, what they won’t do, whose brands they won’t buy. It’s all more exhibition of their control over their choices in a world where they lack control. These are their control opportunities. In a consumer consumer-driven culture, our sense of control is very much exhibited by our purchasing power. When you talk about wellness behavior, whether it’s going to SoulCycle or yoga every day, only buying and wearing brands that matter, eating certain foods, or shopping in certain places, we look at the innovators and early adopters within what we would call the wellness trend world.
That comes from innovation and early adoption of authentic place. David, when we look now at the youngest Millennials, who might’ve been the early adopters and innovators are now in their 40s and we look at the younger half of that generation, you have to wonder how much of that is authentic to the self and how much of that is the early majority now late majority behavior adopting what is a cultural norm for how I want to be seen. This brand says the following things about me because the cool kids did it several years ago. It’s now fully adopted.
I had a choice of whether or not I’m going to adhere to that because it says something or I’m going to rebel against it because it says something. Structured mischief gets interesting. I don’t see a lot of the younger half of the Millennial generation exhibiting innovative behavior when it relates to wellness. I see them adhering to or assuming behavior that we’ve recognized for the last several years when the first half of the generation was coming of age and pioneering some of that behavior. The younger half of the generation is either adopting it, opting into it, which says something, or assuming it and avoiding it, which says something as well as it relates to wellness.
Do you think that Millennials could be getting into wellness because they’re trying to tune out some of the noise? There’s inherent value in these wellness practices that get you deeper inside of yourself. That is vitally important to living a full life with everything that’s happening right now especially. I know that you are a consultant with a bunch of businesses and you help them understand how to hire Millennials, find the right Millennials, and retain them.
That’s something that I feel very passionately about, and I know DJ does as well. How can we look at these Millennials as not just vehicles that are without agency and are trying to control, but as full human beings and knowing that they’re emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental creatures? Not putting all this value on their doing selves, but also their being selves and how we can make them healthier within the context of business and build them up so that they are achieving more. They are better people in the world. They’re contributing to the company. They’re not going to kill themselves. My question is, do you feel like your tactics to businesses on how to get the best talent and retain the best talent may be in the Millennial generation will change pre-COVID versus post?
Yes and no. Strategically and the underlying principles and approaches are probably not going to change. It’s rooted in psychology, sociology, and design thinking. That’s how I go about figuring out a solution or a strategy. I’m not going to change the way I approach the question. The tactics will change based on where we are in the world now because of the influences, the variables in the equation have changed. I have to account for that in the process of using psychology, sociology, and then a design thinking approach to figuring out what to do. I now have very different variables that I have to address with the same, we call it the same, but everyone changes every day.
You get a lot of suns yesterday at the beach. You went to the beach yesterday. You were a different person now when I’m talking to you than if you sat inside all day in the pouring rain. I don’t know what music you listen to in the car if you’re on a long car ride before you come and hang out with me. It will alter to some degree the experience we have when we’re together. That’s the energy we bring to some interaction. We all have to take into account where people are at the moment. That’s dramatically different now than it was in 2019, like spring 2019 versus spring 2020. We should talk about everything that happens over the course of a year or over the course of five years to influence who that person is in the workplace from day to day or generation to generation.
That’s where it gets interesting. Why were Boomers, X-ers, and Millennials so different at 29 years old, whatever the year it was that a Millennial born is now 29 versus an X-er? It’s because of the influence and impact of all the things going on around them whether it was the Cold War, 9/11 that made the world change, the recession several years ago, or the recession we’re now going to be facing. All of those things will influence who human beings are at the center of this conversation. We know a lot about what makes them who they are going into the spring of 2020. What we also have to know is what does that look like for the company trying to create a solution? Where is that company at? It’s very different trying to run an organization in the summer or fall of 2020 than it was in the summer or fall of 2019.
I want to interrupt because you’ve said a lot there. I want to ask you where were you on March 4th and the majority of people versus where they are now? Meaning COVID was a curveball that had a global impact and it’s being felt economically, socially, culturally, etc. We layer on top of that now a global movement of protest around equality and inclusiveness through the events of Mr. Floyd. The majority of people that have been in the streets protesting by and large fit the Millennial demographic. Was it COVID that pushed them to that moment of protest, or would it still happen without COVID?Millennials are hypersensitive and thus given a sense of safe space somewhere else to leave when things get ugly. Click To Tweet
I don’t think we would have seen the response. There are a couple of questions there. Where was I on March 4th, 2020 versus now? I’m such an outlier. I’ll be the first one to say that I was posting about a pandemic in January and the economic reality of that. I was coaching my clients, my friends, and family. The first week in March, I was telling them what they needed to be doing before we knew how bad it was getting or would get. My dad is a retiring dentist. I was saying to him in February, “You need to move your scheduling now so that you can damage control that.” I was coaching people for what was coming weeks beforehand, but I’m a trained trendspotter. I saw that coming.
This entire generation, most of us felt like we were blindsided from this. That reality goes back to the sense of control. That moment where it proverbially came out of nowhere, the feeling of that exacerbated by the donkey and the White House and his positioning of this is, “No big deal. What we know about this, but it’s nothing. Go about your business.” Within days, if not, maybe a week or two weeks later realizing it’s real. It all was like the rug getting pulled out from under people. On top of that, some very strict regulations being imposed, but truly the most influential piece of all of that was fear. First, feeling like you lost your footing because the rug got pulled out and an overwhelming sense of fear of a virus that you have no control over. It’s in the air. It’s on the stock, you’ve got to wipe down your mail. You can’t go anywhere. You can’t trust your friends, your family. It was awful. Breathing that sense of fear exacerbates all of that sense of no control.
It felt like there was no objective truth either. You would hear one thing and then the next day you would hear something else. Maybe because I’m a Millennial, when I feel like I don’t know how I feel or what to think about a certain situation, it creates a lot of stress for me.
We know all about safe spaces, get in a room. There’s no safer space than an academic classroom to have conversations. It wasn’t that long ago where there were bigger debates or whether or not you’re allowed to talk about things even in a classroom. I’ve done a lot of lecturing in the college environment. I should wear a shirt that says trigger warning on it because I’m going to make the Millennials feel uncomfortable. I’m like, “I’m coming in and we’re going to talk about stuff. I’m going to make you feel uncomfortable at some point. Why don’t we say that now? Those of you who are prone to trigger warnings can either take your pill, take a minute, and then we can get down to business, or you might want to leave.”
For Millennials, they are hypersensitive and they’ve been allowed and encouraged to behave that way. They’d been given space or a sense of safe space somewhere else to leave when it gets ugly. There was nowhere to go and they were like, “What do I do? Who do I listen to? What’s going on?” In that, we then started April 2020 with this stark reminder that Coronavirus is why we had to shut everything down. By the way, the economy is completely destroyed and your job is probably not coming back. If you have a career that a lot of people under the age of 30, for example, is struggling to get their career started, forget about that. We’re going to start a ticking clock. If you weren’t nervous enough by the end of June 2020, you could get evicted from your home. By the end of July, this livable wage we’re providing is gone.
Is George Floyd giving them a sense of purpose?
If George Floyd happened a year ago, we wouldn’t have seen the level of protest. A unifying cause is helpful. They needed to get out and feel like they were doing something. This is an admirable cause to get them out to the streets, but they’re protesting much more than racial injustice and social injustice.
It’s economic injustice. What I’m amazed by is Black Lives Matter in the US has spread globally, but also a diverse group of people that are there supporting and saying, “We’re all suffering from this. We are suffering from economic, social injustices that have been built into a system that we’re not going to participate in.”
You hit it right there. Going back to control and the psychology behind this, they’ve lost trust in the system, whether it’s the guy getting choked out by a cop on the street on video or a black man going for a jog in a neighborhood and getting shot by a racist. It’s like, “What is going on here?” You add in some of the more mundane, but equally as traumatic to a lot of people, the economic reality of like, “What do I do now? I’m going to get evicted.” Eviction and all these things feel completely out of control and they don’t trust that anyone’s behind the wheel. This is where the leadership question comes in. I wouldn’t want to be in the White House when all of this was going down. The reason it’s as bad as it is and the reason we saw the reaction that we did is the utter lack of leadership in all of this. When you think of trust, there are leaders who would have inspired far more patience and competence than the guy we’ve got right now. That hasn’t helped quell any of the fear.
Going to the trigger metaphor that you use, they were all triggered by all of these things.
It’s been one after another. Anecdotally, they ran out of pills. When this was all going on, they’re like, “I can’t even get my prescription refilled. I’m not allowed to go anywhere. I’m scared to go everywhere. I’m twenty-something years old. I’m stuck inside of a one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartment with my roommates who I could have lived with, but I wasn’t around them very much.” It’s bad. They were in a scenario. Many Millennials were in a life phase where they didn’t have a lot of control over things in their lives because of the inevitability of their age anyway. All of this came at them and then on top of that, they’re a uniquely disadvantaged generation when it comes to handling this stress, which is why we see the levels of suicide have doubled.
As a group of non-rule followers, of rule-breakers, do you think the combination of all of these triggers will help them create new rules, meaning they’ll reset the rules altogether?
We hope so. They’re going to demand a reset. The question is whether they drive the answer themselves. They’re looking for leadership and I don’t think that they’re going to be autonomous in the approach. They feel right now a lot of despair as a generation, as a population, and that they’re protesting and their action is to demand change, but not design any change. I haven’t seen a lot of good ideas, for example. I’ve seen a lot of demand for change. I haven’t seen a lot of what I would have expected from an entrepreneurial innovative place, not the 25-year-olds, but maybe the 35 to 40-year-olds within the generation introducing solutions.
We’re seeing that on the liberal left from a lot of the political people that work their way into Congress in the 2016 and 2018 elections. Those freshmen in Congress are loud and proud about making change happen, but we’re not seeing roadmaps that feel like they’re real. They’ve got tremendous support for change behind them. Dismantling the police is a very easy flag to fly right now, but I want to see what that map looks like. We’re not seeing any plans. Everyone agrees that what we’ve got sucks and it’s not working. There are a lot of people who are suffering, but that’s not enough. What we’re seeing is Millennials agreeing, we’ve got to change. We’re not seeing people introduce a lot of options.
I’m going to play devil’s advocate for one moment, then have Cecily get in on this. What I would say is from a political right perspective, the conventional view is the police need to keep law and order. This is out of control. If we go back to the 2016 election, that wasn’t an election for change. Where does that wash with your views about the change that Millennials in general, be it liberal or conservative, are demanding?
We saw incredibly low voter turnout from this generation in 2016. It’s shockingly low compared to what we had seen in the earliest Millennials voting for Obama in ‘08 and in 2012. If you looked at the graphs, you’d say, “Where did they go?” There was a way to rile them up to some degree in the midterm elections a little bit, but still, nowhere near the level of engagement, you would have expected.
Why do you feel like they checked out?
I don’t think they were engaged properly is the answer. They are engageable. You can engage them and they will show up. Hillary was a terrible candidate to motivate that demographic, the wrong candidate. Joe Biden is a terrible candidate. It’s that Trump is so terrible of an option and this was the question. Would they be angry enough to come out and vote against Trump? That’s what the whole Biden play was versus a Pete Buttigieg play, which is a far more exciting candidate for Millennials than Biden, who is a Millennial, and a number of other reasons. Trotting out old Joe for 2020 was looking risky. I know they’re going to show up because they can’t wait to see the evil emperor get marched out.
They’re hoping that he tries to shut himself in the White House and that he gets escorted off the ground. There are a lot of people who want to see him burned at the stake and that’s because of 2020. If you’d asked me last spring 2019 as we were starting to get our head around who the candidates might be running against Trump, I was saying, “I hope it’s not Joe. I don’t think that’s going to do it.” He’s talking about Kamala Harris. The transparency is there to check some boxes. I don’t even think that’s an exciting choice for a VP.
I wasn’t going to go down a political path, but now that we’re on it, and you’re also so stewed on this. It’s been interesting with George Floyd watching Michelle Obama on Instagram changing her posture a bit. She said very clearly, “No, I don’t want to be a candidate.” Do you think that could change?
I do. In many ways should, I don’t know how you live with yourself. Here’s what I would tell you. The caveat here is the numbers are looking so bad for Trump right now that she could live with herself and not run and still feel like there’s a win there. Joe is going to get. It was looking like it was closer. If this had been a Coronavirus economic scenario, if we hadn’t seen the social unrest, I would have said she’s on the fence, but she was going to speak up because we’ve got to get this guy out of there. She would have served as a vice president to make that happen.
I don’t know if she feels like she needs to anymore. If she feels like, Kamala will get it done. It’s looking more and more like Kamala is going to be the VP pick and no Michelle Obama. If Michelle Obama wants to, the Obamas and the Democratic Party wants to truly get this done, then Michelle eats it and gets on the ticket. It’s not the life she probably wants to have. I get it. She should take one for the proverbial team and send the loudest message ever heard around the world.
What do you think, Cecily?
I love her. I read her book. I’m a huge fan of her, so I would love it.
Is that realistic from your perspective and also as a Millennial, what is your view about Joe Biden? Who would be the best running mate beyond Michelle Obama?
Choosing a woman of color, a black woman specifically is a great choice. I understand that you were saying you feel like it’s checking some boxes, but these boxes need to be checked. It’s gone far too long where we don’t have a representation of our society fully in politics. People are needing that. I know there’s a negative look on Millennials. I understand your perspective on that. I tend to agree in some cases, but I do feel like there’s a lot of empowerment that Millennials are feeling right now to push for change. That’s how things are going to happen. How things are going to shift is that if we keep pushing, then there’s no choice but to listen to us.Millennials love to color outside the lines, but lines must be present, or else there will be free-thinking and coloring all over the page. Click To Tweet
The fear there is that it will slow down. If this momentum continues and can be translated into political action, 100%. How exciting is that? I’m very cautious to be optimistic around that. Millennials have not earned my trust when it comes to political activity. They get excited about stuff and then it’s like, “Where were all those kids that were out here?”
The place that we are in, in the world because of COVID-19, has pushed us to our limits in a way where it’s incited us and it’s made us angry because we don’t feel like we have leadership. We also feel like there are an outsiderness and an otherness that was created with COVID-19 where all of a sudden, it’s like our human-to-human connections are taken away. We’re solely reliant on social media for our good chemicals and that doesn’t help because then there’s more comparison. There are all the things that come with social media that are negatives too. All of a sudden, we’re taken away from our loved ones. We’re taken away from social situations, which are inherently good for our chemistry.
We’re walking down the street and someone’s walking towards us, and then we’re afraid we’re going to get Coronavirus. Everyone looks at you like you’re the enemy. In a way, white people got a taste of how black people have felt where it’s like they are looked at as an enemy walking down the street. There’s been this outsiderness or otherness that has pulled people apart from each other. What’s happening with all the social protests and all the unrest is that I feel like as a people, we’re deciding that we need to be more united and we need to not see the other as other. We need to figure out this oneness between each other because otherwise, what’s the point to life?
Life is not going to be worth living. We’re going to be divided. We’re going to be attacking each other. People are now starting to realize the time inside has been able to make them go inside. They’re being self-reflective. They’re understanding, “What do I want in my life? What energy do I want in my life? Where have I been out of line?” This whole thing over the last few months is showing us where we have been out of line and where the order needs to be restored in our personal lives, business lives, political lives, the economy, in the greater environmental worries. We have pushed Mother Nature to the nth degree, and there needs to be some order that is restored.
Millennials have taken this time to go in and have come out feeling like they have more purpose. Maybe they saw where they were selfish before and they’ve decided that they want to shift. What I would love to have is more conversations about how we can get Millennials to continue on this path, feel empowered to make decisions, and push for the greater good of mankind. Part of the reason why Millennials have spun off and been selfish before is that they saw the world was fucked up. They didn’t know how to interact with it in a way where they had control. It’s exactly what we’re coming back to that. There need to be discussions on how Millennials can move forward in the world, make a change, be healthy beings, and integrate everything that they’ve learned over the last few months.
Maybe simply put, isn’t it there maybe realization in this period of self-reflection and also unrest that they participated as they’re finally seeing that their dreams could be realized and they’re making plans? Matt, you talked about that from a political perspective. You haven’t seen the activism historically, but is this an inflection point? Is this a turning point where Millennials will say, “I do see a path to have my dreams realized?”
The answer is we’ll find out. I’ve seen pops of excitement from this generation for many years now. We’ll find out whether or not there’s any staying power in the behavior we see exhibited around these issues and the demand for change and what could be perceived going back to structured mischief as demand and excitement around a new approach. That’s cool because it would say, “There’s never been a better time to introduce a way to make change happen.” For the same reason that they’re out in the street, yelling for change. They want this badly. I don’t see them showing a roadmap. Part of that is I don’t think this generation is confident in their ability to map their way in or out of anything.
How do we help that?
Introduce standards, process, and discipline. If you want change to happen, you have to get to a shared sense of definitions, standards, something we all can point out and say, “Do we all agree that the sky is blue?” With climate change, you can’t get to addressing climate change unless you have a consensus around the fact that the world’s getting hotter. It took a while to get to that. We had standards that we could finally agree with or in the arms race of mutually assured destruction of the early ‘80s around the Cold War. We got to a place where it was like, “Can we all agree this is a bad idea, a bad place to be? Now we can start addressing how to change it.” Standard is number one.
Once you’ve got people invested in agreeing that there needs to be a way to change and that there is an urgency to change, then you’ve got to work through sometimes it’s a process that was invented that everyone can adopt, a technology that can be adopted going back to the diffusion of innovation. Sometimes it needs to be created, but a process has got to be introduced that people can use and adhere to, to make that change happen. Not everyone using their own process to get it done. This goes back to where we’re at and why this is around continued noise around social injustice, but I’m not seeing anyone introduce a process that everyone’s ready to work from. Everyone is agreeing, this status quo has got to change, but my question is great. What’s the plan? You’ve got some people talking about defunding and dismantling police and other people that why don’t we outlaw chokeholds.
Let’s get a process. Once you’ve got standards and you’ve got a process that everyone agrees and says, “Let’s do it,” then it’s all about the discipline around that in reinforcing discipline, “Nope, stay on it. Don’t lose patience. It’s going to take time. Give it time.” We explained that early. This is why I’m so nervous about this, Cecily. We had a virus that people got very early on aware of. All things considered, by the end of March 2020, everyone was on the same page, “This thing is trouble.” Forget the leadership of who should have driven some of the processes, but there was a process. We’ve got to have extreme social distancing and other precautions.
We’re going to shut everything down. We need everyone to behave a certain way and we’re going to get through this. Because people lacked confidence and leadership and other reasons, there are lots of reasons why people couldn’t get disciplined about staying on that process. A process was introduced and people did not all adhere to it. We had states saying, “Not us, tattoo parlors should open.” You had California, in LA County, the head of the health efforts here said, “We’re not getting out of lockdown.” It was all over the place. It takes the process and then it takes discipline around it. That will be the same in innovating our way out of social injustice. It will be the same if we want to have real political change. There are processes that have been introduced. Let’s see if we get people to vote. That’s the discipline.
There’s the idea of what we do about the economy and getting back to work, which is where it’s most exciting to see structured mischief tackle that question, which is now what do we do? We know that nothing we were doing was going to work the same way. All these companies are used to looking to experts internally or externally and saying, “We all agree. It’s a shit show. You seem to have a process. You call it structured mischief. We’d like to investigate that. Is it process ready to go in and implement? If it is, can we drive the discipline around it? Can we build consensus excitement and then drive that discipline from all the participants?” I’m very optimistic that that can happen on an organizational level.
Those who are excited to participate and figure out a solution within the Millennial generation will have more. Driving that discipline around it will take some time, but I can tell you from what I know about structured mischief, it is very Millennial-friendly. There are standards. There is a process. There can be discipline around it. All of the solutions to be introduced, this is the one on how we get Millennials back earning and drive our economy. I can see that structured mischief has huge potential in that space. We need the organizations to recognize that and invest in it.
Matt, this has been such an incredible conversation. I want to give you a moment to either summarize your thoughts, maybe you did, or give us one last bit of inspiration about how structured mischief can help drive change. How can we help integrate some of your great insights about Millennials in a generation that there are specific things that structured mischief could do in an attempt to help create change and systemic change?
Time rollback, there’s fear and the sense of lack of control. A great map gives everyone on a journey a lot of confidence. Developing that map is what structured mischief should be focused on right now, defining what that is, how it works, how people participate because right now, people need a greater sense of confidence that there’s a way out of this. Even though structured mischief is inherently a way forward without a ton of definition going into it, meaning there’s a lot of room for definition and defining it as you go, that in and of itself is very exciting to Millennials. They need to see where the lines are.
As I always say, they love to think outside the box and color outside the lines, but there’s got to be a box and you got to have some lines where they’re free-thinking and coloring all over the page. What I would point your energy towards with structured mischief is a greater definition of what it is and how it works so that you can introduce it and get them involved, and they can start feeling how good it is to be part of driving the solution.
Thank you so much. This has been fantastic, Matt Heller. Cecily, any closing comments for Matt or questions?
I don’t feel like I have any questions, but I want to thank you for your time and insight. I look forward to discussing the process more with you in the future.
Have a great day.
Thank you so much, Matt.
About Matt Heller
For the past 15 years, I have been uncompromisingly focused on understanding Millennials.
I’ve spent much of that time creating and executing successful brand strategies for companies targeting this unique generation — no easy endeavor, considering they are the largest, most diverse population of consumers in history.
With a focus on bridging the gap between entertainment and branding, my experience includes significant work in advertising, marketing, and publicity, as well as film and television production.
Content Marketing Leader, Marketing Speaker, Expert on Millennials