Behold the Muppie.
She wears Lululemon to Soul Cycle each morning before heading to the office of her Big Name consulting/banking/law firm, a role she started after completing her liberal arts degree at a prestigious university and moving to NY/SF/LA with two sorority sisters to replicate a lifestyle she learned about from "Sex and the City." She spends an hour of each workday on blogs, 30 minutes online shopping, 40 minutes thinking about finding a new job and a cumulative hour considering in equal parts what she's going to eat for lunch, her next vacation and how much her job is a waste of her talent. She will shortly leave said name-brand firm for a start-up or company run by someone under the age of 40, but will take a month off beforehand to go travel abroad and find herself.
When Baby Boomer bosses talk about Millennials in a derogatory way -- when they call them self-absorbed and lazy and entitled -- they are, in fact, talking about the Muppies. Or, rather, that swath of highly-educated, social, outspoken 22-35 year olds that might, in a previous era, have been called "Yuppies."
Like the Yuppies of the 1980s, the Muppies of today are driven by ideals of success, status, power and the search to do and be what is "important" (read: "cool"). And were it not for the financial crisis, the Muppies might very well have uneventfully followed their Yuppie predecessors up the corporate ladder and out to the country clubs in the suburbs.
But when Lehman collapsed, it brought with it the Yuppie Path as one that fulfilled these ideals of success, status, power and cool-ness. Slashed bonuses, media vilification and a stagnant economy made it clear to the millennial sitting in the Yuppie seat that he would not reap the monetary and societal rewards experienced by his predecessors. And all of a sudden, the Yuppie path became not very cool, and, as a consequence, not very Yuppie at all.
And so the would-be-yuppie did a very Yuppie thing: He tossed out the old path like a pair of flared jeans and set about establishing new guidelines for what constitutes the Desirable Life.
A few conversions:
- Professional Services Organization → Start-Up: Start-ups provide the same hundred-hour work week and mind-numbing grunt work as the Investment Banking gig, but for the privilege of the "Oh, that's awesome" you get when you say, casually, "I'm working on a start-up" and the possibility of a1billion payout if it works. Bonus: you get to design your own corporate fleece.
- Getting a Promotion → Getting Funding: Does anyone care that you're an MD? Nope. A $50 million valuation, though, says something to today's people-who-matter.
- YPO → Summit Series: Nothing says cache to a Muppie like getting an invite to Eden.
- Davos → SXSW: Switzerland is for Après; and Texas's existence can be justified by liberal Muppies because of this two-week mind-meld of the best-and-the-brightest. Go to some talks, listen to some music, make 500 new Facebook friends and be inspired by the reminder of your own significance amongst other cool kids with great ideas and the guts to pursue them.
- Cash → Social Influence: Why pay for a private jet when you can convince a private jet company to give you one for free in exchange for exposing their brand to your 10,000 Instagram followers?
- Brand Affiliation → Personal Brand: It makes no sense to latch on to someone else's brand when social media makes it so easy to create your own. Muppies listen to enough Ted Talks to know establishing your personal brand starts when you're 8, and is worth the navel-gazing.
- Foreign Imports → Locally Sourced: Paying lots of money to import caviar from Russia is nauseating to a Muppie; paying lots of money for organic-raw-locally-sourced kale chips? That's status.
- Making Money → Changing the World: Don't panic over this one, Just as Yuppies were great at finding ways to manipulate markets for a healthy payout, Muppies are great at finding ways to get their businesses a #ChangeTheWorld. New app for finding craft beer bars? You're supporting local business! Throw in a 2% kickback to your favorite charity, and it's totally world-changing. #Disruptive #Innovative #Social #Awesome.
These new definitions seem ridiculous to Baby Boomer bosses. They roll their eyes and say it will never work. The thing is it will work, because the Muppies are just as talented and driven and intelligent as the talented, driven, intelligent members of the generation that preceded them. And that means that, like in the 1980s, good businesses and bad businesses will emerge, but the good ones will eventually rise and the economy as a whole will benefit.
The reason Baby Boomer bosses get upset with Muppies is not because Muppies won't work hard, but because they won't work hard for them. Those who get so riled up about the incoming generation are acting out their own struggle to come to terms with the fact that the Yuppie Path they put so much faith into -- the one that said "If I follow these rules, I will attain this power, lifestyle and prestige" -- is over. They've done everything right according to what they were told to do, and now that they've finally made it to the seat where they're supposed to have power over lots of smart, talented people who want to work for them, those people aren't there. And that can either make them lash out at Muppies for not playing by the rules, or do a very Muppie thing and question why they were pursuing that path in the first place.
It's this questioning that is at the root of the Muppie world order: If the outcome of what one does is not certain -- which, the financial crisis proved, it isn't -- then there must be some other reason to do what you do, be it passion or fun or the pursuit of what's cool.
If Boomers start to see Muppies through that lens, they'll be a lot less frustrated. And if Muppies can take a breath to recognize the experience and wisdom of the Boomers who went before them, they'll learn a lot. And if the two generations can then cooperate instead of treating one another with malice or indifference, they'd probably really rapidly create a new ecosystem that suits both their needs to feel successful and important, but in a way that's also sustainable and inclusive. Which would, y'know, be pretty #Awesome.
Michelle Miller is author and creator of The Underwriting, a serial corporate thriller about Muppies on Wall Street & Silicon Valley, available exclusively on www.theunderwriting.com. T: @ammiller1012