Millennials. Has any other generation shouldered so many stereotypes? Just because “millennial” lumps me with others born in the 1990s, that single fact can't characterize my beliefs, experiences or ability to step outside my age cohort to relate to other generations. Being a millennial should not brand me capable only of contributing creatively to problems and opportunities facing other millennials. But that's how it feels.
At Ketchum, I manage a community of 400 college students from 50 universities around the globe who sign on to help solve our client's creative challenges. In the short time I've been recruiting university students from schools ranging from my alma mater, Northwestern University in Chicago, to University of Ghent in Belgium, University of Johannesburg in South Africa and Chinese University of Hong Kong, I’ve been consistently blown away by how little their age or college status affects their ability to add value to business challenges totally unrelated to “millennial” concerns.
As a member of a creative team, I preach the philosophy of creativity without boundaries. It's a belief that novel, attention-grabbing ideas can come from anywhere and that outside perspectives can only enhance the search for the next big idea. Yet, we still work in an environment that assumes millennials can only serve up ideas that reflect their generational bubble. "We need to reach working moms, so we don't see the point of asking millennials to help with this challenge," I've heard people say.
And yet, ironically, a brainstorm group of — dare I note — Gen Xers without kids seem somehow more qualified because of their years of work experience? "Those millennials have mothers, you know," I say in response. And occasionally, I persuade someone to give the college crowd a chance.
Not long ago, we put our "creativity without generational boundaries" theory to the test. We were gathering insights about post-menopausal intimacy issues for a client assignment and decided to turn to our Mindfire community of students for ideas. Out of their wheelhouse? Far from being intimidated or ill-equipped, the twenty-somethings came up with on-target insights like “Women should reward themselves post-50 for all their pre-50 accomplishments,” and “These are women who have years of experience, the ones who know how and should be able to enjoy intimacy the most. We need to tap into that emotion,” and ideas like “The Rx of Sex.”
Turns out, millennials can be just as creatively relevant as, you know, everyone else.
The opportunity to produce game-changing creative work lives in the willingness to debunk misconceptions. The opportunity to actually break through lies in the practice of that – even if it means giving a little credit to the college crowd.
Macaela Mackenzie is a creativity assistant at Ketchum.