Just about any news source regularly mentions the phenomenon of the millennial generation. It seems that 5-6 years ago it was the rage to write about them. I suppose this is first and foremost because of the sheer size. This generation is the largest in U.S. history, numbering in excess of 92 million. This in itself is noteworthy.

Dave Gilmore, president and CEO of DesignIntelligence

Consider that the U.S. baby boomer generation, now the second largest in U.S. history, was approximately 77 million and under its domination the past forty years, the world has dramatically changed. From international monetary policy to globalization to military doctrine to ubiquitous Internet access to exponentially accelerated developments in technology, medical science, space exploration and more, baby boomers’ leadership has dominated the world stage.

Now it’s the millennials’ era. Goldman Sachs wrote about the millennial economic impact:

The millennial generation is the largest in U.S. history and as they reach their prime working and spending years, their impact on the economy is going to be huge. Millennials have come of age during a time of technological change, globalization and economic disruption. That’s given them a different set of behaviors and experiences than their parents. They have been slower to marry and move out on their own, and have shown different attitudes to ownership that have helped spawn what’s being called a “sharing economy.” They’re also the first generation of digital natives, and their affinity for technology helps shape how they shop. They are used to instant access to price comparisons, product information and peer reviews. Finally, they are dedicated to wellness, devoting time and money to exercising and eating right. Their active lifestyle influences trends in everything from food and drink to fashion.

The Power of “Why Not?”

Imagine what might occur under the leadership of the millennials. Since coming of age (2000/2002), millennials have been directly responsible for:

  • Dramatic shifts in societal norms (example, marriage, sexuality, entertainment, etc.);
  • Mainstreaming of sustainable construction, alternative energy, hybrid cars, electric cars, etc.;
  • The world-changing millennial leadership are leading such companies as: Facebook, Pinterest, Theranos, Instagram, Dropbox, Box, Airbnb, Quora, Snapchat, Asana, Stripe, Ipsy, Dropcam, Thrive Capital, Vostu, Oscar, Honest, Oculus VR, TechCrunch, Tinder, Y Combinator, uBeam, Eventbrite, Formation8, Palantir, Uber, Blue Apron and more.

Traditional decisioning, which is a mix of facts, speculation and gut, is being dramatically enhanced, if not altered, by accessibility to intelligent data used in non-intuitive ways to arrive at conclusions not available to earlier generations. The use of intelligent data is pervasive in the day-to-day decisioning of corporate boardrooms today for the simple reason that millennials have developed intelligent systems yielding intelligent data.

The seemingly wholesale buy-in by Americans to the use of their behavioral data by both physical and online commerce channels is in itself extraordinary. The fuel for Google, Facebook, Twitter, Visa, MasterCard, AMEX and other titans of consumer data is given freely, without restraint by willing social media devotees, shoppers and deal seekers far and wide. Shopper incentive programs at retail channels from Kroger to Target and myriad others allow shoppers to share their behavioral data through the goods and services they purchase. Smartphone apps can even track shoppers as they browse through the store, much like a web browser can track online shoppers. This is a direct and growing impact of the millennial effect.

The millennial mantra is “Why not?” This mindset has accelerated functional advances and solutions to problems from multiple domains. From high technology to medical science to trade and beyond, the millennial mantra is being applied.

In 2016, Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced an intent to cure, prevent or manage all diseases by the end of the century. They have committed billions of dollars to the effort. The “why not?” mindset is the worldview driving such effort.

The Era of Unprecedented Change

At the end of the day, the architecture, engineering and construction industry (A/E/C) will be led by passionate millennials driven to make the world a better place as they define it. They demand integrity in design and experience-based relationships within their context that’s not only aesthetically pleasing, but functional, responsible and sustainable. They require sea change action in the way buildings and interiors and landscapes are designed, built, managed and maintained. The millennials will drive functional sustainability through the built environment as a rule rather than the exception.

It should be noted that the millennial generation is not a revolution away from prior generations, but rather the next logical advancement from the foundations of prior generations. Without the prosperity of the baby boomer generation, access to education, commerce, ubiquitous Internet access and globalization would never have been possible. This prosperity served as the seedbed for the millennial effect which is now occurring and which will continue for the next 20+ years, altering the world in ways we have yet to imagine.

So What?

All this being said, the “why not?” mantra isn’t a thing constrained to a given generation, personality grouping or demographic distinction. It is the fundamental stuff of realistic optimism that sees opportunity first and foremost. It is the mindset that looks at the day-to-day challenges and inconveniences of life and living and isn’t satisfied with a “that’s just the way it is” posture. This way of thinking, speaking and behaving is both pragmatic and promising, offering practical solutions to fundamental problems while raising promising expectations of even better ones just ahead.

Regardless of which generation you are from, each of us has the choice to make about adopting this “why not?” perspective … or not. Our legacy should be written, “Nothing was outside their realm of possibility. They never stopped learning, never stopped applying, never stopped stretching toward the better.”

For the A/E/C industry, this mindset is an imperative. The world is poised on the knife’s edge of global risk and societal advancement. The World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2016 summarized the primary global risk categories as economic, environmental, geopolitical, society and technological–all of which are directly related to our industry. We have the power to make substantial and positive impacts on all five of these categories. So why not?

Dave Gilmore is the president and CEO of DesignIntelligence and a scholar member of the American Institute of Economic Research.

Excerpted from DesignIntelligence Quarterly.