Gen iDistracted? Business the Millennial Way


NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The struggle to bridge generation gaps is as old as time itself, but the disconnect between Millennials, their parents and grandparents is one of the widest ever.

Born between 1980 and 1995, most Millennials don't know a world without the Internet. Eighty million strong, they're now entering the workforce, and employers find that they're just different.

Many of those differences are good. Others are a bit more challenging, but most of them stem from the Millennials' immersion in technology.

Technically Social

Whether it's networking, sharing information, or just keeping in touch, Millennials often turn to social media.

"When I'm reviewing documents and I need to send a PDF real quick to myself, or to edit, or to make sure that a client has an important document, I have an app on my phone that's great for that," Karla Soloria, an attorney and a Millennial, said. "Because I follow social media, you hear about all of this innovation that can make the work process easier."

But to an older generation, constant use of social media looks more like a distraction. As a consultant and professional speaker, Doña Storey has often looked out over her audience and found them focused on their phones instead of on her.

"It's pretty horrifying when you're on that stage, or you're giving a presentation and you look and half of the audience is doing that thing they do," she said.

She later found out that while some may have been distracted, others were sharing her speech through Twitter. It's a simple miscommunication, but one that's becoming more common as older generations try to grasp the technology.

Employers say they see the benefits of technology and how Millennials use it in the workplace. But they also fear those benefits come at a cost.

"The texting and communication without face-to-face seems to become problematic in the sense that our business is based on relationship building," Jeff Karr, a certified public accountant, said.

Experts agree. Author Thom Rainer's book, The Millenials: Connecting to America's Largest Generation, takes an in-depth look into the world's largest generation.

"I believe that this will be one of the greatest challenges in the millennial generation going forward," Dr. Rainer said. "There's never going to be a time that you can replace face-to-face conversation."

Spreading the Difference

It's not surprising that this strength, a tech-savvy, multi-tasking approach, can also be a weakness. But Rainer said employers should work with Millennials on their shortcomings and not discredit their strengths.

Take Mark Slagle and Alex Cox, both 25 years old, for example. Out of college they started working with Mana Nutrition, a company that makes therapeutic food.

"It's peanut butter for children who are severely malnourished," Slagle said. "And its amazing because it can rapidly change the effects of malnutrition. It can bring kids back from the fatal stage of malnourishment to healthy living children who can grow up to be healthy adults."

Their mission: to spread the word about Mana's therapeutic peanut butter.

"We stopped at churches and we stopped at colleges and high schools, anyone who would basically let us come in and talk," Cox said.

Eventually they decided they could do more.

"It would make sense to make a consumer product that is in a similar form so people could buy the product and through that purchase essentially be doing their donation also," Cox said.

"We didn't have any money to start with. We didn't have a rich uncle and, you know, we didn't have peanut experience. But we had a good audience from the people who believed in Mana's mission and our mission, so we started an online, crowd-funding campaign," Slagle said.

The Millennial Way

Slagle and Cox decided they would need about $65,000 to get their company off the ground. People were so receptive they over-funded, raising about $70,000. That was the start of their company, Good Spread.

"Every time we sell a packet or a jar of our peanut butter we give away these packets of therapeutic peanut butter to kids who are malnourished," Slagle explained.

Their peanut butter is mixed with honey, but whenever someone buys that kind, they're giving away peanut butter mixed with milk and vitamins.

Not only did technology play a huge role in starting Slagle and Cox's business, it's also helping them keep it going. Slagle is based in Nashville, Tenn., while Cox is in Washington, D.C.

"Ten years ago this would have never worked," Slagle said. "But Alex and I literally every day, it's like a long distance relationship. We can talk on the phone, we can video chat, we can text and just within seconds, we can make decisions for our little peanut butter company."

In November, Good Spread sent its first batch overseas through a partnership with World Vision. The total: 33,000 packets.

It's a business run the Millennial way, and it's making a difference.

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