Since writing Understanding Y, I am constantly asked for my thoughts on the potential of the Millennial Generation.
To clarify – this is impossible for me answer – there are roughly 900 million Millennials in existence right now – and I haven’t met them all!
However, while I admit that I can’t answer that, I can tell you this: Millennials are like ants.
Want to know why I think Millennials are very much like ants? Here are my top ten reasons Y (see what I did there? You know, Gen Y? Can I get a high five or what?)
1. They are smart
Ants have the largest brain-to-body-size proportion in the animal kingdom, and are known to be the smartest species of insects, with about 250,000 brain cells.
Granted, having a college degree might not necessarily make Millennials smarter – but it helps! It also helps that with the blooming of the Internet Age, they have easier access to information to make better, more informed decisions.
2. They are well-connected and have global reach
Many ants are known to form large super-colonies.
These can stretch for hundreds of miles and include millions of nests. Scientists recently discovered that massive super-colonies in Europe, North America, and Japan all share the same chemical profile, meaning they are, in essence, a global super-colony of ants.
Rise Of The Planet Of The
And in many ways, social media has enabled Gen Y to exist as a super-colony of youth. Millennials’ access to vast social networks and their infinite connections allow them to have a voice that is louder, and more impactful, than that of any previous generation.
3. They are toler-ant (see what I did there, again?)
Scientists believe that ants from different nests of the same colony rarely show aggression toward each other when they cross paths.
According to Scott Keeter of Pew Research Centre, “[Gen Y are] a more tolerant generation than its predecessors,” as discovered by this survey.
4. They can carry things much bigger than them
You already know that ants can carry objects 50 times their own body weight, right? Millennials too are capable of carrying things that are much bigger than them, including their parents, the Baby Boomers.
Authors of Jilted Generation: How Britain Has Bankrupted Its Youth, Ed Howker and Shiv Malik argue that, for the first time in history, people are living long enough to produce a dangerous degree of demographic discrimination – a situation in which a large group of the old prosper unfairly at the expense of the young.
Worldwide annual spending on aged care is set to double over the next two decades, although demographer Bernard Salt has predicted that the demand for aged care services in Australia will not peak until 2020, when Australia’s 4.5 million retiring Baby Boomers will require more services.
Salt predicts a widespread skills shortage and a significant impact on the economy as the baby boomers head into retirement, where the onus will be on generations X and Y to support the ageing population by paying more tax.
It’s a good thing Gen Y are such strong little ants!
5. They are creatures of cooperation and collaboration
Ants are the masters of cooperation and collaboration. A colony can solve problems unthinkable for individual ants, such as finding the shortest path to the best food source, or defending a territory from neighbours. This is the basis of swarm intelligence.
According to swarm intelligence, so long as everyone cooperates toward specific goals, and everyone has the best interests of the group at heart, there’s no stopping — or predicting — the amazing things that can be accomplished – which applies equally to Gen Y!
According to the authors of Millennials Go to College, Millennials “are group oriented rather than being individualists, and have a propensity to excel in team-based working environments and have a strong desire to collaborate and cooperate among their peers and other generations”.
In the words of Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
6. They use their heads
Soldier ants have been observed to use their heads to plug the entrances to their nests and keep intruders from gaining access. Talk about taking one for the team!
Gen Ys on the other hand repurpose the potential of their heads – for innovation. A recent study from the United States, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, has shown that 18 to 24-year-olds are starting businesses earlier and at a faster rate than 35 to 44-year-olds.
Schools and universities are spurning countless entrepreneurs. A recent survey from Deloitte Global shows that a significant number of Millennials share a sophisticated understanding of innovation.
7. They are happy to have women take charge
Queen ants the most important members of a colony because they ensure the survival of their species, and the colony knows this. Queen ants are respected, and protected by the colony. When a colony’s first brood develops into adults, they retrieve food for their queens, so it’s safe to say, ants have no issue with a woman in charge.
As it turns out, nor do Millennials, with more than two-thirds of Gen Y men expecting that women will lead change in the world.
As stated by Ipsos MediaCT’s Audience Measurement Group, “Gen Y is a truly global generation of women… shaped by shared experiences of technology, social media, emerging brands, and the cultural narrative that preached ‘girls can do anything boys can do’.”
8. Sharing is caring
Recently, ants were found to actually show each other paths to food sources, slowing down if the following ants couldn’t keep up. This way, they teach each other routes to good food sources. Sharing this knowledge benefits the whole nest, and is an example of observational learning, which is seen as a rare phenomenon in the animal kingdom.
The fact that Gen Y like to share isn’t debatable. If anything, Gen Y are accused of over-sharing!
A whopping 84 per cent of Millennials have shared online articles/videos/links within the past month, and 1 in 3 shared content every day or almost every day, with the most popular reasons for sharing content revolve around making a positive impact on those they know.
Millennials have also taken sharing to a whole new level, with connected Gen Ys transforming sharing from something we were taught to do as children into a new way of saving and making money. It is predicted that the Sharing Economy is going to eat away at 10 per cent of traditional retailer’s revenue and generate more than $110 billion.
9. United and angry, they are a force to reckon with
There are ants that are capable of killing and consuming anything in their massed path.
Sometimes called driver ants, safari ants, or siafu, these ants are powerful hunters that can number over 20 million to a colony, and they use those numbers to their advantage.
When driver ants are on the march, nothing in their path is safe. They have been known to take down animals the size of a horse. Go stand next to a horse, it will sink in.
Millennials are proving to be just a serious threat, seeking (and attaining) real power.
Occupy is a great example of the potential of Y unleashed. The collective outcry of a generation rose to protest against social and economic inequality.
The first Occupy protest to receive widespread attention was Occupy Wall Street in New York City’s Zuccotti Park, which began on 17 September 2011. By 9 October, Occupy protests had taken place or were ongoing in over 951 cities across 82 countries, and over 600 communities in the United States.
10. They’ve evolved to adapt easily to a changing environment
Fossils show ants that are clearly related to today’s, and scientists have estimated that ant species have been around for about 130 to 150 million years, so it’s safe to say – they have nailed the art (or is it the science?) of adapting to changing environments.
And while Millennials haven’t been around quite as long as ants, they have grown accustomed to ever changing environments.
Our planet – our environment, the seasons and weather patterns, things that our predecessors could rely upon – has not been as stable for Gen Y.
Are we freaking out?
No. Millennials have been conditioned in a cocoon of change and are well prepared to adapt and embrace it. It is something thing we strive for, and something that we feel we have the ability to create ourselves.
Charlie Caruso is the Editor and co-author of Understanding Y, which she co-wrote with some of the world’s greatest thought leaders on Gen Y behaviours as well as some of the most successful Gen Ys in existence.