5 ways millennials can become better strategic thinkers


Chris Rooney

Entry-level digital professionals have received quite a bit of abuse lately, particularly that we allegedly feel entitled to be “digital strategists” just because we belong to our specific generation.

What can we do to counter those concerns? We can put in the work to become better strategic thinkers.

Here are five ways millennials can become better strategic thinkers in the digital space:

1. Hack your brain to think in terms of opportunities.

recent Forbes study noted that millennials are more “irritated, tired, and anxious” about their careers than other groups. Perhaps that’s partly due to “taking work home” in the sense that mistakes or criticisms you get on the job affect your thoughts more than they would later in your career.

In your 20s, you’re still learning how to handle negative emotions that might come from failures or criticisms. But let’s be realistic—an honest mistake or constructive criticism isn’t the end of the world.

Try “hacking” your brain to approach hurdles opportunistically rather than negatively. So what happens if you made a mistake on a project at work? As long as the mistake was honest, you now have a crucial new piece of data to refine your approach for next time.

2. Control information overload.

If you work in digital public relations, you have your finger on the pulse of all the latest digital trends—from new social media platforms to tech news to the latest tweets from your favorite celebrity.

Millennials spend an average of seven hours and 38 minutes on digital media every day. With mobile as an increasingly important channel for information, we’re constantly absorbing data, forcing our brains to triage large amounts of information all the time. That leaves little room to think proactively and creatively.

Try to get away from the computer once in a while. John Cleese of Monty Python fame describes a solution in a hilarious 1991 speech. Making time for the open mode gives your brain the opportunity to become a producer of innovative ideas rather than simply a consumer, which is an essential part of moving from digital tactician to digital strategist.

3. Learn from your mentors.

A common criticism of our generation is that we act as though we’re entitled to success. The backlash against a recent Cathryn Sloane article is a perfect example. But despite our “native” comfort with social media and digital media, we have to learn the industry and business skills that only come from experience.

Millennials in digital careers can jump their careers forward in a big way by making the effort to build strong relationships with their mentors. Ask smart questions, and use the advice they offer you—the best advice comes from experience.

Most important, give back—the greatest relationships are two-sided. They’re investments in both parties’ futures.

4. Cross-pollinate your interests.

You might think that so much work is on your plate that you barely have time for interests outside work. Maybe you even compartmentalize your life—work and play should stay separate, you might believe. Think about this: Some of the greatest innovations of all time have resulted from people “cross-pollinating” different interests: Physics and engineering combined to start computer science, for example.

Your outside interests are completely valid in a digital career. Read widely about linguistics (my personal interest), blog about classic films, and absorb life outside the workplace. You never know what kind of innovative ideas might come from an unexpected place.

5. Think in stories and narratives.

Think of the best storyteller you can remember. Chances are it was a friend, a colleague or a family member. It was someone you knew who told riveting stories. They didn’t speak in business jargon, “leet” speak, or texting slang. They spoke like real people telling human stories.

Whether you’re copywriting for a multi-platform campaign, pitching an idea to your team, or engaging with a brand’s community, the essential underlying thread is storytelling. Learn to write like a human being—the way your favorite storytelling uncle speaks—and you’ll get your ideas heard.

We millennials have vast resources available to us in the form of information, access to thought leaders, and few barriers for getting more strategic ideas out there. All it requires is that we put in the elbow work in the way we think about our world, and that we discipline our thinking about how we approach opportunities.

How have you worked on becoming a more strategic thinker in your career?

This article first appeared on EdelmanDigital.com.

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Do you suffer from ‘office ADHD?’

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Jessica Levco

Like most journalists, my inbox is loaded with press releases.

Like most journalists, I tend to delete each one.

But this subject line caught my eye: “Do you have Adult ADHD? 20 Tell-Tale Signs—Interview/Byline Opp”

Immediately, my mind started racing: OMG (my inner voice now texts me), what if I have adult ADHD? I get distracted a lot! Hold on. I should be writing webinar copy right now. Oh, shoot—I need to tweet an article from our health care website. I wonder when the FDA is going to release its social media guidelines. I really need to come up with something clever to say when people ask me my opinion about health care reform. Have I called Mom today?

Anyway, the press release listed 20 symptoms of a person with ADHD. I’m pretty sure most Raganites (including me) identify with at least half of these traits. For example:

  • Organizationally challenged
  • Difficulty being subtle
  • Hyper-focused to the point of losing track of time
  • Easily bored
  • Naturally rebellious
  • Addictive personality
  • High energy
  • Highly creative
  • Good problem solver, innovator, inventor
  • When interested love to learn, share and teach new things

I’m not stopping there. Because I consider myself “highly creative,” I’ve come up with a list of 10 symptoms that could mean you have “office ADHD.” And yes, I just made that malady up—screw you, medical community; I can’t help it if I’m “naturally rebellious.”

1. You haven’t deleted an email since 2002. You have no Outlook folders. Who cares? You’ve got better things to do—but you can’t remember any of them.

2. There’s an alarm on your phone to remind you to eat lunch. You can’t help it if you’re more consumed with your work than a ham and Swiss on—hey, look, someone RT’d my blog link!

3. If your boss asks, “How high can you jump?” you say, “I don’t like to jump. I’d rather do tai-chi.”

4. When someone asks you what you did over the weekend, you scream, “It’s none of your goddamn business!” and promptly throw coffee in their face. “Just another Monday,” you mutter, as you scurry to the break room for a refill.

5. When you talk about your love of social media, it sounds like you’re talking about your significant other. You dream in Instagrams.

6. Your co-workers think you have a severe bladder issue because you go to the restroom so much. You don’t. You just can’t sit in one spot for more than 12 minutes.

7. When someone approaches your cube, you can’t listen. You’re too busy blogging, pinning, and tweeting to deal with someone IRL.

8. You’ve decided you’re going to hold a contest to send an employee to the moon. You send out this email, complete with a PowerPoint and logistical information to your team at 2 a.m. (Note: A version of this story happened at Ragan.)

9. All your best ideas come to you when you’re not at your desk. For example, one of your most successful company events is referred to internally as, “The Toilet Bowl Summit.” (Note: Again, referencing another true-life Ragan story.)

10. It’s really hard for you to finish writing lists, so No. 10 tends to be kinda lame.

Do you have any symptoms you’d like to add? 

This article originally ran on Ragan.

3 reasons how an OTB parlor helps a PR pro out of a rut

By Jessica Levco

I wanted to have a non-millennial birthday.

No downtown bar hopping this year. I’ll skip that fancy fusion dinner. Hold the cake.

Instead, I invited (read: dragged) a group of girlfriends to an Off Track Betting parlor on a Thursday night.

So, why would I spend my twenty-something (you’ll just never know) birthday watching simulcast racing?

It’s simple: It was time to develop a vice.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud to be a millennial and love to hear all the great things people say about our generation: We’re team players. We’re smart. We volunteer.

But where’s the fun in that? Where’s the madness? Where’s the debauchery?

Our generation needs to take risks—with ourselves, our money and our Thursday nights.

I’ve been playing it safe for more than two decades. It was time to shake things up.

I put down two dollars to win on Shamrock Susie in the eighth race at Yonkers.

And then I promptly lost it—along with a few more dollars throughout the night.

But man, oh, man—was it a rush. My adrenaline soared, while my wallet deflated, as my friends and I picked horses based on silly names and yelled words like, “trifecta!” and “exacta!” at the TV screens.

We were having fun.

And if you’re working in the PR and communication field, there’s a lot you can learn from a trip to the OTB parlor, too.

Don’t believe me? Let’s make a bet:

Creative names. We’re not talking about Black Beauty. We’re talking about “Ebony on Ivory,” “Buzzies Best,” and “Cereal Lover.” If you look through a racing form, you’ll be delighted with all the puns and alliterations for the names of the thoroughbreds. This might spark some ideas for your next big headline or project.

Math woes. Yeah, yeah, we know—you hate math. But gambling won’t remind you of the Pythagorean Theorem. Instead, you’ll be calculating odds and reviewing statistics. Becoming more comfortable with numbers might help you measure the ROI on your next social media campaign.

Get out of your comfort zone. When you and your girlfriends walk into the OTB parlor, immediately, you’ll think, “Wow. I’m out of place.” It’s going to be awkward for the first 20 minutes. But if you can make chit-chat with the regulars, surely—you’ll have the confidence to waltz into your next networking event.