The Millennial Saga: Why Simon Sinek is Wrong in Almost Every Way
A response to the video “Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Work Place” Available: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hER0Qp6QJNU
Simon Sinek was little known to most people a few weeks ago, appearing on the odd TED talk and internet video, however he has become a feature on all of our Facebook walls, Twitter feeds and YouTube recommendations over the last few weeks in the video “Simon Sinek on Millennials in the Workplace”. This was a video filmed for the series Inside Quest, a project that aims to investigate “people who have achieved success and breaks down how they achieved it”. This is a self-aggrandisement series which lists amongst its key aims to want to “crack” open the brains of the richest and most motivated people around to see what is held within their precious grey matter. The main reason this video has been shared so often is the way it tries to answer the “millennial question” and how it deconstructs the ways in which the current generation (generation Y) have failed so drastically in both their professional and personal lives. There is something extremely curious about this video when we take a closer look at Sinek’s claims: nearly everything he says is slanderously wrong. It works almost entirely upon a preconceived idea of the “selfish” “entitled” tags ascribed to the millennial generation, using false assertions and statistics to reinforce the prejudice that this generation is somewhat lacking an important part of what it is to be a functioning human. Within this article I aim to deconstruct his arguments and present a critical and measured response to this fresh attack on the most embattled generation of the modern age.
Sinek starts his attack by throwing out the obvious, and drastically overused within modern media, adjectives which have been engrained within the generational description of the millennials. They are “entitled”, “narcissistic” and “self-interested”, increasingly not happy or content and of course “missing a piece” within their lives. Obviously it is impossible to dispute these assertions and they have been latched onto the concept of this generation so tightly it is almost impossible to separate the concept of “entitled” from this generations descriptive parameters. However, Sinek then goes on to state the four characteristics which inform and underpin this generation, these are: parenting, technology, impatience and environment. Parenting has failed within our society, Sinek claims, and it is the parent’s fault that they have produced such entitled little offspring. Again this is very hard to prove wrong as it is in fact an opinion, regardless of what Sinek notes as the “science” surrounding this and cannot be quantified with any empirical study. The real facts are that it is better to be born within the last 25 years than ever before in history, child mortality has halved worldwide, youth literacy continues to rise and life expectancy increase still year on year. Sinek’s point about how parents have “failed” their children to not learn harsh life lessons, fails to acknowledge the state’s role and the fact that it is not a bad thing to instil within your child love, self-confidence and a desire to be better. A loving home, which makes the child feel important, and most notably, supported should not be scoffed at, but rather should be encouraged within our society.
The next sin on his list is the most pertinent question of our age: technology and its addictive nature. This is where we can really begin to deconstruct his comments and unpick his spurious argument. Sinek’s premise on the evils of technology rests on the idea that the drug dopamine releases a surge every time we check a text, contact someone or post a picture and that this constant reward breeds within us an addiction to a dopamine high, when we get a text we are rewarded with a dopamine hit etc. Sinek then claims there are addictive “numbing effects of dopamine” and it eventually becomes “hardwired” within our systems, this is mostly wrong. There have been several research papers which have focused on the release of dopamine as a reward system however, most of the empirical studies have not drawn conclusions between technology and dopamine release and have concentrated more upon small habits such as smoking etc. In fact the science is moving increasingly away from the “pleasure chemical” effect ascribed to dopamine and like most things in life it is slightly more nuanced than we would care to admit. In a recent Guardian article neuroscientist Dr Vaughan Bell deconstructed this obsession with dopamine within the media, heavily criticising the pervasive “dopamine stereotype” regularly peddled by pop scientists and newspapers. He claims it has become a lazy media tag line to “make your views scientific…it’s a simple formula – if you disagree with something, just say it releases dopamine and imply it must be dangerously addictive”. It is in fact not entirely a “pleasure chemical”, having a role in our brains motivation to do things as well as helping to deal with lose and sadness. However, as Dr Bell states this does not matter as the pervasive argument that dopamine is a hazard is “too useful a media prop to be tossed aside.” The truth is dopamine allows Sinek to perpetrate the view that technology is in fact at the heart of our modern problems and in the process absolving all of the other issues within our society.
Sinek then claims that the science is overwhelming in the argument that people who use Facebook suffer from more depression, claiming “we know this” and it is a solid fact. Again, like with technology, this is using pop science to forward the argument that social media is somehow detrimental to our health and well-being and only face to face social interaction is important. Luckily this has been studied extensively with the most comprehensive study being publishing by the journal PLOS (public library of science) in 2013. The conclusion can be summed up by saying that yes some use of Facebook can in fact be detrimental to the wellbeing of certain individuals however, this is a deeply flawed conclusion with the effect of Facebook use being “relatively small” and that a solid conclusion cannot be drawn as there are too many variables. In truth a lot of the depression arguments levelled against social media rest on the concept of “social comparison”, where we compare ourselves to our online friends and depression breeds from the resulting envy of this comparison. However, this is a media wide problem, exasperated by endless make over shows, magazines and advertising, readily tapping into our envy complex and making us feel inferior in the process. To only complain about social media in this respect completely advocates the rest of the media industries in their manipulation, this of course should not be the case.
To round off his argument he states that the levels of job satisfaction within the millennial generation is incredibly low, we are not, according to Sinek’s anecdotal evidence, fulfilled and satisfied with our jobs. Now it is at this point where I must confess that I am not a statistician or a social scientist, however, even the shortest Google search proved this statement wrong, with one study in fact putting generation Y (millennials) above both the baby boomers and generation X in job satisfaction with other studies finding the differences too little to find much of a pattern between the different generations. Another quick search also dispels his assertions that this generation has an increase in suicide rates, although these rates are in fact on the rise according to data for 2016 by the Samaritans charity, the people actually at most risk were men aged “50-54” while the other age brackets have shown no data change for the last few years.  The data also shows that when Sinek claims that there is an “increase in drug overdoses” he is in fact correct, however, the office for national statistics state it is the over 35 – 40 age bracket who have taken the brunt of this increase with the 40 – 49 bracket closely second. These statistics are easily found and heavily dispute his assertions that it is generation Y who are really to blame for the peak in these statistics.
So what is going on? Well, it isn’t Simon Sinek’s fault, it in fact lies in the way the media is hell bent on hammering home the deficiencies of the millennial generation, we are too hedonistic, we are too entitled and even too protected. We are being penalised for raging against the inherent contradictions apparent in the neoliberalism capitalist society. Why should we be grateful and satisfied with a society that has countlessly failed to provide what was promised to us? Or to have job satisfaction when a lot of this generation are drastically underemployed and pitted against each other for the small amount of jobs available? Generation Y is at the butt of a finical crisis, an ecological nightmare and will, unwillingly, inherit a mass immigration problem. It is not technology, parenting or our own personal motivation which has failed us but it is society itself. Capitalism is in its later stages and if this generation is failing to live up to the mantra set forth by these systems then it is for the best. What Sinek fails to grasp is that these deemed “failings” within the millennial generation are merely a reaction, and rejection, of the perceived orthodoxies of the generations before. How are we, as a generation, meant to be thankful for an oversaturated work place, degrees which have become meaningless and a sniffy attitude to the technology we rely upon for meaningful relationships? This feeds into wider media narratives written by 35+ year olds “beating down” the future of a generation that they helped to put in the dubious position they are in.
What can we hope to draw from this then? Well firstly we must draw on something we deeply believe in here at Apathetic Academics: be critical, question the media’s bias and never take “science” like words and concepts at face value. The second is to change society itself, it is not the millennial generation who are the ones in the wrong, but when a system fails so many people in such a short time it surely is the system which we have to change. It is very easy to like, agree to and share a video that seems to think it has all of the answers, however, we cannot change this all just by turning off our mobile phones and finding pleasure in our crap jobs. We have the ingenuity, the intelligence and the means to make a break with the orthodoxies which are restraining this generation’s potential and with organisation and a clear message this might come to fruition. However, this is for a different article, we must first become aware of the manipulation of the media and should not become a complicit tool in its shaming, fear mongering and beating down of this generation. Rather if the millennial generation do not fit into the strict neoliberalism defined parameters of success then these parameters need to change.