Those winning the current game in capitalism are those who recognize and can cope with that everything has to be figured out. There are no right answers, proven-out formulas, connect-the-dots kits. The current winners - think Jobs, Murdoch, Eastwood, Drudge - are those who are custom-making solutions and brilliantly implementing them. The current losers - think Gates, Black, Oprah, Denton - are those clinging to formulas which they invented too long ago and which no longer yield awesome results.
So, how do Managing Partners in BigLaw, as well as other professional services firms and agencies, get members of the Millennial Gen to approach problems with a blank sheet of paper, be willing to take risks in proposing approaches, and keep trying, failing, and trying until success emerges?
Not easily. In his 2008 book "The Trophy Kids Grow Up," Ron Alsop chronicles how many of the 92 million born between 1980 and 2001 are entering the workforce. Thanks to their Ivy League education and record of accomplishments in athletics, volunteer outreach, and giving what were once the right answers, they have been able to penetrate prestigious institutions such as BigLaw, BigAccounting, BigPR. Now that they're there, they are found wanting in the cognitive ability and temperament to deal with ambiguity. They demand - yes this entitled gen makes demands - that employers, clients and customers spell out what is to be done.
For a while, stunned employers, clients and customers will put up with it. I did. In operating my communications boutique Genova Writing, Coaching & More, I hire contract writers and editors. Because of their digital savvy, the Millennials found their way into my enterprise. But not for long. They couldn't be coaxed or shaken out of their need for explicit and detailed instructions. You bet, I am back to recruiting my fellow Baby Boomers for contract work.
However, as a small business I have the option of ruling out the Millennial Gen. Not so fortunate are the large institutions. So, the challenge is: How do the powers-that-be motivate and train the Trophy Kids to think out of the box, stick with a messy problem, and eventually generate solutions which dazzle clients - and work?
To begin with, reality has to be superimposed. This starts with the recruiting, hiring, and orientation processes. The requirements of fresh thinking and the lack of spoon-feeding have to be spelled out. This will be a stunner to the Millennials. Therefore, the message has to be delivered a number of times.
Next, action speaks louder than words. The bright kids that they are, the Millennials will notice that their peers who can think in disruptive ways are getting the plum assignments, the attention from the brass and clients, and the bonuses and promotions. Those who are determined to find the right answers, they will also notice, are being regulated to routine and tedious tasks. Those tasks, these well-aware young people know, are vulnerable to to outsourced to India or to be contracted out to temporary workers. Continue to reward the breakthrough thinkers and ignore the order-takers. The message will get communicated.
And, most importantly, in future hiring screen aggressively for creative lawyers. They are out there. To identify those capable of imaginative problem-solving, in its prime Microsoft devised out-of-the-box interviewing tactics. BigLaw has to come up with something comparable. This won't be a wasted investment. The system BigLaw firms create which successfully identify those who rush to embrace ambiguity can be marketed as a new kind of profit center. IBM got it that there is more revenue made more easily in selling the services it invents than its earlier core competence in hardware and software. Put together the killer screening package, refine it for other professional services industries and corporations, and no law firm will be vulnerable to the machinations of the traditional cycles of demand for certain practice areas.
Incidentally, success implementing traditional formulas ate my creativity. When the world changed around the turn of the century, I became unemployable. But hunger and the need to continue to earn a living drove me to rediscover my inner wild child. Here is that story of career loss and comeback Download Geezerguts. If at 58 years of age, I could get a hang again of creative problem-solving, there's hope for those 20-somethings, even the most entitled ones.