Are Millennials Not Ambitious Enough?

millennials need more courage

Illustration by Christian Laborin

Technology and millennials get a bad rap. But, whether or not people believe it to be true, rather than being a tool that eliminates jobs and disrupts people’s livelihoods, technology is a tool for progress. But have we millennials, the generation that is often stereotyped as leading the tech revolution, become complacent? Are we doing more than enough?

Tyler Cowen, a top economist says Americans are not nearly as ambitious or innovative as they think on his new book The Complacent Class.

As others have also pointed out, Cowen argues that technology hasn’t really brought much progress to society beyond the internet, and that technology is making us more complacent.

Recent data show that millennials are also less likely to start new businesses—a trend that has contributed to the lowest number of US startups since the 1970s.

Research is mixed on this issue, but what is true is it’s all in the eye of the beholder. There are still many tech challenged people who simply don’t want to deal with technology, so these people are usually for whom tech solutions are not designed for.

Then there’s also the issue of preference. Most if not all tech companies serve developed markets as its easier for startups to build tools for early tech adopters; the type of people who can drive word of mouth.

There are certainly businesses who create products for the under-served, but it’s still very much an anomaly.

Brilliant thinking is rare but courage is in shorter supply

There are many ideas out in the world that have yet to be invented and commercialized. What is true today is there is rampant imitation across the world. In Mexico, for example, you see a lot of tropicalization; where people create businesses that mimic what already works in other parts of the world. Is that ambitious, or opportunistic?

Does it take courage to copy and adapt what already works elsewhere?

I don’t think so. As Peter Thiel says, brilliant thinking is rare but courage is in shorter supply.

Which takes me to the next point…

Most entrepreneurs are not innovators

There is a growing sense that millennials are the most entrepreneurial generation ever. But research is mixed. If you judge millennials by the number of tech companies they start, then you can assume we’re the most entrepreneurial generation ever. But, not all millennials are in Silicon Valley or starting tech companies elsewhere.

We can’t say millennials are less entrepreneurial than other generations either, because the biggest impediment is the economic one. Millennials are also called the lost generation, as there are still a large percentage that lives with their parents because they can’t access good paying jobs. The next best thing is to become an entrepreneur, but that doesn’t mean they are one.

As a millennial, I kind of agree with Cowen’s argument. In my context, where I’m from, I definitely see an ambition deficit; but not just from millennials. I certainly hang out with other millennials, but my experience is mixed. For example, I can honestly say I’m the most entrepreneurial out of my generation of friends and former classmates; at least from the perspective of technology.

But, this has more to do with my personality than me being a millennial.

With that said, most entrepreneurs are not innovators; they do business as usual. So, when asking whether or not millennials are ambitious enough the answer is no because most businesses are not “innovative” in nature; rather they are copies of what already works elsewhere.

But, I think the ambition goes deeper though…

Millennials are not interested in squeezing every single dollar out of society

There are various types of entrepreneurs, some are after money so they can live a certain lifestyle, others simply want to be their own boss, while others do it as calling to achieve something greater than themselves.

I fit in the last category.

Ambition is relative, so you can’t compare us to previous generations. I believe millennials are not complacent, we are ambitious but it’s a different type. I believe we’re of the motto, less is more.

We’re called selfish and entitled, I don’t believe that to be true. If defending our identity, values and ideals, wanting a different world, being conscious and considerate and not fitting in with the rest is called being selfish then so be it.

Unlike previous generations, one thing is for sure: we’re not interested in squeezing every single dollar out of society.

We’ve seen what that mindset has done, it’s unsustainable; and most of us are paying for it. And our family and future generations will pay for it dearly if we keep on living a life of hoarding stuff.

We’re more worried about the state of the planet and the ideals by which we live than by how much money we’ll make and the amount of stuff we’ll buy in our lifetimes.

If that isn’t ambitious enough for you then I don’t know what is.

Also published on Medium.