Are Millenials the key to resolving government’s woes?

August 12, 2011

Reflecting on last week’s eleventh-hour deal that narrowly prevented the United States from defaulting on its public debt, some government employees and experts wondered if the Millennial generation might hold the key to solving the partisan gridlock that has gripped Washington more than once this year.

“Studies do quantify characteristics of Millennials that have some interesting points,” Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka said. In her experience, today’s young adults are, in many cases, “fantastic at ignoring the politics and jumping in with fixes, hacks, improvements, solutions.”

Not only do young people possess traits that could help break stalemates and broker deals -- they also have good reasons to want to do so.

After all, Millennials are the ones who “will have to pay the bills for the last 30 years of voodoo economics, greed and stupidity,” systems architect Mark Dixon said.

Bill Brantley, a human resources specialist at the Office of Personnel Management, was not convinced that any one generation is better at problem solving than others. “Way too many generalizations here,” he said. “I’ve met some pretty innovative and open-minded 60-year-olds.”

Most discussion participants charted a middle course and believed the most effective organizations are those that marry more experienced leaders with fresh-thinking up-and-comers.

“I think the problem is too many like-minded people in charge,” Department of Commerce employee Carol Davison argued. “Mix it up by ability, age, faith, gender, race, sexual preference... so we can see challenges and opportunities from many standpoints.”

Federal employee Susan Thomas agreed. “I don’t want to hire people who are mirror images of myself. I want diversity on all fronts and fresh ideas and viewpoints,” she said.

A few commenters offered creative suggestions on ways to incorporate Millennials into the decision-making process. Among the ideas was one called “reverse mentoring,” where junior employees take responsibility for the development of their more senior counterparts.

“While a baby boomer may not be willing to let a Gen Xer or Gen Yer call the shots directly, reverse mentoring would allow the baby boomer to learn some things from the Xers and Yers through a mentoring relationship,” Department of Homeland Security senior analyst John Sim said. This would give the ultimate decision maker “additional tools” and help Millennials’ perspectives to be taken into account.

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