It’s been three years since Dan Negroni traded in his life as a “CEO for hire” and started pouring his energies into his millennial-centric consulting firm Launchbox (launchbox365.com). And it’s been one year since that new life crystallized into his book “Chasing Relevance,” his take on how to get people over their generational hang-ups. We caught up with the 52-year-old
Q: Complaints about millennials have been common fare for years now. Are the lessons being learned?
A: I think the world is overbaked with the negative soundtrack for millennials. Everyone tells me “Oh millennials suck.” That’s not been my experience. I’ve meet 5,000 this year and 95 percent of them are amazing. The No. 1 thing they want is to learn and grow. And the next generation is coming up, Generation Z. Never before have there been five generations in the workforce, but you do now with the Gen Z. So I don’t think people can avoid it anymore.
Q: You cite figures that millennials make up nearly 40 percent of the workforce. Why has it been so hard to assimilate such a large group?
A: Let’s call Gen Z and millennials “digital natives.” That’s really what the distinction is. We’ve always complained about the generation beneath us — Socrates was complaining about Plato. What’s different now is they’ve grown up in a world where their every need has been served by digital. Tinder, Uber Eats, you can order anything from Amazon and get it within a day. Everything is much easier. But then they get out of college and go into the workplace and everything is archaic and old and nothing’s easy.
Here’s the challenge: the digital natives have no memory of what it used to be like. The people in power, they have a complete memory of what it used to be like, so they see the world as it was, which is not that relevant to the digital natives. So the disconnect is both sides. Young people need to get out of the me me me. They need to show up, be real and make it about others. Old people need to do the same thing. Stop complaining that you want it your way: that ship has sailed.
Q: Sounds like the older millennials are growing up…
A: They are our future, our employees, our customers and they’re even our bosses. So there’s this whole perspective that’s shifting. I mean, 37 is a grown-ass person right? You may be reporting to that person, they may be your boss and you may be my age, 52. So you better understand their perspective if you want to succeed in that workplace. Just as they should understand you, by the way. Both sides need to shift to making it about others, and stop whining and complaining.
Q: This has implications that go far beyond the workplace…
A: If we got out of our own way and started understanding millennials in the workplace, imagine the window they could give us to this next huge generation — 83 million strong — of consumers and buyers. That’s this huge thing that people don’t get; if I figure out how to treat my millennials right, there’s great insight into how my new next-generation customer wants to be treated. Isn’t it about time we start paying attention to what they want? They’re bigger, they want to be more innovative, and soon they will be able to afford to move to places like Del Mar.
Q: On that note, what impacts do you see millennials having locally?
A: Clearly, the corridor of Del Mar Heights has a lot of millennial professionals — service providers, accountants, the big law firms, a lot of high tech employers in that area, too. But local officials have a problem: they don’t want growth and they don’t want traffic, but millennials like urban areas. So therein lies the challenge for those towns. The other challenge is the cost: how does a millennial afford to live in Solana Beach or Del Mar or Rancho Santa Fe? What does that say about those areas: do they become less innovative, less hip, less cool? Yes is probably the answer.
Q: What does the future have in store for Launchbox?
A: Our dance card is getting really full. We’ve added coaches. We’re expanding our workshops. The next big project is a partnership for a huge summit here in San Diego for millennials. That’ll be in February, and it’ll be sponsored by one of the biggest companies in San Diego. We’re also launching a podcast next month and we’re working on a TV show for coaching. We’ve also figured out a way to create an app that is like a career/workplace coach, that creates self-engagement and encourages growth.
Q: It’s been a year since your book came out. Has that lived up to your goals?
A: The book was written for a bunch of reasons, mostly to get the messaging and the tools out there. It became No. 1 on Amazon in its category. To sell 6,000 copies within a year when you self-publish is pretty cool. But more important is the impact it’s had on people’s lives, where you get people coming up to you saying, ‘I tried what you said in this section and I did it and it worked,’ or ‘I understand how to be a better parent to these millennials.’ So I think it’s doing what it was supposed to do.