Millennials Matter Because Of Their Time, Not Their Money
There’s lots of talk about bringing young people to Detroit. To be honest, I agree with that. But there’s not a lot of talk about why it’s important to bring young people to Detroit. The story I usually hear is one of income. Young people can pay rents, go to local restaurants, patronize local businesses, and pay taxes to local governments. After all, the story goes, young people make good incomes and have few financial strings attached. Young people also have talent to work in local companies and the smarts to help them grow. In more ways than one, young people breathe life into cities and the ecosystems tied to cities.
All this is true, but I think it’s missing the point. The real value young people give to cities is their time, not their money.
As young people, we don’t really realize this, I think. I, as someone who wants to use his energy for public good for example, often become frustrated that I don’t have the money or influence to affect change in Detroit or elsewhere. What I forget about is how much time I really have compared to other people – especially compared to older people with lots of money and lots of influence.
Young People And Innovation The resource of time is not trivial, it’s absolutely core to growth in a city. Here’s what time allows young people to do:
Build Networks – developing relationships takes lots of time and energy if done right. There’s really no way around it. Young people have lots of time to cultivate relationships and they do. These networks do not only benefit the young people building them, it makes the city more efficient because thick networks move information and resources across the city more efficiently and with greater results. Young people break silos in ways that older adults cannot and don't have an incentive to do. (Power players in a network have an incentive to keep silos because it preserves their power. Young people have an incentive to break silos for the opposite reason – it allows them to break up concentrations of power.)
Try New Things – Young people have a lot of time to experiment, which is why it’s common to see innovative startups created by young people – they can blaze new trails easier because they can put in the time to figure out new, complex problems. In any company or city, young people always lead new experimental things because those young people have the time to mess around and learn. Because those learnings add up rapidly, young people can do amazingly creative things faster than people who are older.
Explore Ideas – Young people also have lots more time to “stop and smell the roses.” If they choose to, they can learn and explore and be inspired by new experiences. They can noodle on things and imagine the future because they’re closer to the mindset of children. Young people can be foolish because they don’t have families to feed. They can follow dreams because they have little to lose compared to people who are older.
You’ll notice that these three things: networks, experimentation, and inspiration are three fundamental components of innovation. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
Intergenerational Collaboration Is The Key The way I see it is this. Older people have experience, resources, and influence. Young people have the time to build networks, try new things, and explore new ideas. To me this is the perfect match for creating innovation.
I firmly believe that intergenerational collaboration is absolutely essential if we want to innovate successfully, in Detroit. But to be honest, I don’t really see that happening today. I think both sides want to lead the other. Of course, this is my opinion, but I don’t think I’m alone in believing this.
This is also my opinion, but, I think we can do a lot more if we have intergenerational collaboration. The real kind. It'll just take both sides stepping out of the spotlight and focusing on working together.
Disclosure: I am part of the “young people” so that’s where my biases are.