Why can’t Gen Y just grow up?

Animation of an MRI brain scan, starting at th...

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I hear the complaints every day … from managers, from parents and most people in their 40’s on up … “They are lazy, entitled, spoiled …. why can’t this younger generation ‘just grow up?'”  Well, if you did a functional MRI of the brain of a Millennial or Gen Y employee, and a functional MRI of your brain (provided you are of an older generation, a Gen X, a Baby Boomer or a Traditionalist), that Gen Y employee’s brain would look like it belonged to an entirely different species. It’s not going to change because you want it to, or because of the concrete logic you offer … that brain is wired completely differently than your brain.

Because of neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change and form neural pathways in response to information), this brain is hardwired to engage with what is familiar, what it knows … this generation grew up with video games, computers, cell phones … it knows not a life without an electronic device that gives it what it wants when it wants, and if this brain doesn’t like the information …”Control+Alt+Delete” works every time.  Otherwise known as “I’m outta here.”  And that employee doesn’t come back from lunch … no explanation, nothing.

Human beings just do what works … and repeat that behavior in the face of anxiety, discomfort or just the plain “unknown.”

So next time you feel frustrated at your Gen Y employee’s behavior … perhaps you might instead be inspired by the brilliance of the human brain’s deep desire to avoid pain … and it’s willingness to just “do what works. Now.”  Better yet, first seek to understand, then seek to be understood …

About the Author Christina

Christina Haxton is the Chief Potential Officer & Founder of The Center for Sustainable Strategies, a business strategy & executive advisory company, assisting technology and life science entrepreneurs, business owners & CEOs to build a strong, purpose-driven company, achieve sustainable growth & avoid burnout. Contact Christina at (970) 387-8935 or christina@sustainable-leaders.com to inquire about speaking, training, coaching and consulting solutions for yourself or your company.

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Gen Y, Are You Ready to Reinvent Yourself? Necessary Sacrifices by Baby Boomers | Rebel Political Observer says September 9, 2010

[…] Why can’t Gen Y just grow up? (christinahaxton.wordpress.com) […]

Heart says May 27, 2012

Could you please offer me some scientific data defending the statement above, “that Gen Y’s have a different functional MRI. I would like to use information, but can’t unless I can back it up with sound science.

    Christina says May 29, 2012


    Here’s one research article “Neuroplasticity, cultural evolution and cultural
    difference” by Bruce E. Wexler in the World Association Journal of Cultural Psychiatry that discusses neuroplasticity and generational/cultural differences:

    The most fundamental difference between the human brain and those of other mammals is the extent to
    which development of structure and function is influenced by sensory input. Evolutionary changes led to a marked
    increase in the number of neurons in the human brain and in the length of time after birth during which
    interconnections among neurons are easily shaped by environmental input. The importance of these changes is
    amplified by the fact that humans alone shape the environments that shape their brains. This cultural evolution
    creates adaptive population variability, cumulative intergenerational change, and cross-cultural differences in brain
    and mind. A homology is created between internal neurocognitive structures and features of the environment by the
    developing brain shaping itself to the environment, and then is maintained in adulthood by people acting on the
    environment to keep and make it consistent with established internal structures. Marked changes in the environment
    like bereavement, immigration and incorporation of one culture into another create disjunctions between internal
    and external structures that are of clinical and public health significance.
    Keywords: nature; nurture; endophenotypes; gene environment interaction
    WCPRR 2010 Summer: 11-22. © 2010 WACP
    ISSN: 1932-6270

Heart says May 29, 2012

Thank you for taking your time, I very much appreciate the courtesy.
And while I understand the description you offered it really doesn’t suggest
that the millennials have a different brain chemistry, only that the mammalian brain evolves. Nor can I find the assertion that Gen Y functional MRIs are different than previous generations.
I am in agreement with you, antidotally it would make sense that their exposure to the myriad of sensory input would change their brains capacity. We certainly know that our ability to imagine has been markedly improved since human beings have been watching television and movies.
I guess my question is has any done any MRI study that demonstrate the difference in Gen Y.
has someone like Daniel Amen, MD studied this?


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