Millennial Leaders
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Millennials are Driving me Crazy, and It’s Awesome

This past summer, my nephew and his friends – recent graduates from colleges on the east coast – stopped at my home in California for a few days. A few days turned into ten days with these carefree, fun-loving kids in their early 20s. Our home was at the end of their graduation celebration, which was actually a bike trip from Canada to Mexico along the west coast.  They regaled us with stories of sleeping under overpasses, resting in public parks, and eating 6,000 calories a day to go with their 20 to 40 miles of bike riding. We had a blast.

What I didn’t expect was the education that I received. We talked politics, religion, business, and culture. There were different perspectives and vibrant discussion and, in the end, it always ended with laughter. I was left hopeful for the future after their visit.

When we started talking about my recently-launched business, I was even more surprised. Questions like, What is your reason for existing?, Why is it important to solve those problems?, and If you’re successful, what will the world look like? were presented to me.

Wow, talk about pressure. Luckily for me, this is my third entrepreneurial venture. I’ve read and listened to everything I can from Simon Sinek, so I was ready. They approved of most of my answers.

But here is where the lesson kicked into high gear.

Can we see some of your messaging? What messaging? You know… your website, LinkedIn page, Twitter, and YouTube channel. Now, I was feeling pretty good because I had most of this in place already. So, I started walking them through my digital assets and here is what my millennial influencers taught me.

Communication has Changed

This may fall into the category of “No, duh” for some of you, but I didn’t fully realize just how much communication had changed.This group of college grads showed me exactly how much over the course of their visit.

We receive the Wall Street Journal to our house every morning. Not one of the six millennials did anything more than a cursory perusal of the paper. I was left to wonder where these well-informed kids were getting their news. The answer? Podcasts and Reddit. They consume on average about 2 hours of news a day, listening to podcasts at 1.5x speed – a skill that I haven’t yet been able to master.

Keeping Up With the Times

They convinced me to create a podcast that was consistent with our mission.  In January, we launched This Week in Health IT as an effort to keep people in healthcare current and informed on news, information, and emerging thought. We do so by having a discussion with influencers in the industry, focusing around current events. We keep it to 30 minutes so that the busy healthcare worker has time to consume the whole episode. Our goal was to produce the one show that a health system leader would want those interested in technology to listen to.

They also told me that I needed headlines and soundbites, because some people weren’t going to read a 1,000-word blog post or listen to a 30-minute podcast. The podcast quickly became a video podcast and our YouTube channel was launched – a move I made reluctantly, as I have a face that was made for radio. The video podcast, however, enables us to break the show into 1-, 2-, or 3-minute soundbites, which we can then place on social media for consumption.

Imagine two minutes of John Halamka speaking about cloud-based, FHIR-enabled EHRs. Two minutes of Dr. David Bensema talking about the role of IT in tackling physician burnout. Or maybe three minutes of Aneesh Chopra talking about CMS announcements on Interoperability. My millennial house guests taught me not to fight this cultural trend, but instead figure out how to deliver valuable, bite-size content of my own.

They had a bunch of other recommendations (some of which I still receive at all hours of the night), but this is a sampling.

Authenticity is Central to the Message

The millennial generation is ultra-sensitive to hypocrisy. They can spot the inconsistency in your message very easily. It is a gift: an annoying one at times, but also extremely helpful.

How is this service offering consistent with your mission? Why are you blogging about this topic? You may want to take a more encouraging tone. Seriously, I was being schooled by people who know Cliff Claven’s voice as the potato from Toy Story and not the postman from Cheers.

Since this lesson from my millennial consultants, I now see websites and social media posts through a different lens. For instance, I noticed a recent post on LinkedIn had a picture of 15 people that included just two women.  The caption read, “Just completed a great strategy session for our health system.”

Hmmm. Your staff is 60% female, and 55% of the population you serve is female, yet your strategy session represented their voice with 2 out of 15? Not exactly an authentic message from a health system that was founded by women.

For goodness’ sake, have the millennials review your messaging.

The final point is not necessarily tied to messaging, but it made a strong impression on me.

Enjoy the Ride

The lesson I enjoyed the most came from watching them have fun. They enjoyed the journey of life. They had just completed a fantastic trip with friends that many in my generation have only dreamed about. Work will not be central to their existence. These guys will not let politics get in the way of a strong relationship.  They will not let their desire to enjoy life get in the way of making a strong contribution to our world.

Lazy? I don’t think so.

On the last night, we sat around on the patio enjoying one of my wife’s fantastic home-cooked meals. I was captivated by the camaraderie and fellowship they had created. At one point, we pulled out a map of the United States. After they got over the fact that people actually had paper maps of the US, they started to dream, plot, and map out their next journey together.

I was inspired. The next morning, I woke up and started planning a Ryder Cup golf trip with my friends.

I’m sure I’m not done learning from my new team. My hope is that I always remain open to the wisdom of the next generation.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter @ThePatientsCIO, or connect with me on LinkedIn. Listen to our weekly show at This Week in Health IT.