On Broccoli & Mangoes

How do you motivate Millennial creatives —
what do they want in their workplace?
How do you motivate Gen Z creatives—
what do they want from their work?
More time off? Flex hours, remote hours, health-plans?
Ping-pong tables?! Coffee/Beer bars in the basement?  What!?

We hear these questions all the time. It seems nobody older than 40 really knows that much about the new blood flowing into modern American business; they do hazard a guess or two, but still act surprised at some of the career choices/decisions of their younger employees.

These seem to be the great hand-wringing questions of the day. We hear it at dinner parties, or among business owners sharing a beer on outdoor patios.  It’s everywhere. Baby Boomers and Gen X workers chased money and promotions that lead to autonomy, security, prestige, and influence. These younger generations obviously don’t think the same way. As a creative/design shop who employs a sizable group of young professionals who fall into both demographic categories, we can only offer this as a base-truth: they want to be told the truth and they want purposeful work.

Because we work toward transparency every day, we disclose the state of the company, goals, difficulties, and talk about how we want to tackle process bottlenecks.  Inviting them into the conversation of how the company runs is both building into the leaders of tomorrow and empowering a generation that is “self-hacking” their way through a very malleable and dynamic world. We honor our people the most (our clients and our employees) when we are authentic and transparent.  We know that these younger generations appreciate being told things as they ARE, not as we wish they were. Nobody appreciates top-down pressure that comes out of the blue.  Nobody appreciates the BS of corporate speak — being told “we’re a family” when your cubicle mate got tossed away last month for reasons nobody fully understood.

(ASIDE: we always laugh when we hear someone say, “Brit just wasn’t a culture fit”  We know this to mean, “Brit demonstrates inferior culture traits. Brit’s culture is broken. We had to ditch Brit and his culture.  Pronto.”  But that sounds harsh, right? So business culture has figured out ways to say things so they sound better.)

Our shop believes that creative work is (by definition) FUN.  Taking the brain’s imagination and wrestling it to the ground to be something in the real world  — something that accomplishes, something that goes out and exists on the planet is a delightful enterprise!  To see a vision manifest is damn near intoxicating; creatives know this and move from inspiration to inspiration, project to project.

But. Creative work is called “work” for a reason.  We do hard things in our shop. That is why people hire us — they can’t do what we can do for them. That’s how we bring them value in exchange for dollars.  That hard work requires time and sweat from everyone. Some “work” is more exciting/invigorating than other more mundane work. There’s no use in ignoring this reality.  We try and say it like it is. They aren’t as fragile as older generations characterize them. Our young creatives have embraced the reality and (we hope) appreciate the candor.  One of our university students wrote this content for a blog post last week, and I was surprised that our “off-the-cuff terminology” and “throw-away remarks” seemed to land with some impact. The younger generations aren’t afraid of difficult tasks, they just need to see why they matter so much — what’s on the other side of the pain. See her post below:

On Broccoli and Mangoes

When I first started here, one of our owners and creative director, assured me that as a junior designer, I’d get my fair share of “broccoli” and “mango” work. At that point, I just remember smiling and nodding my head in confused agreement as I was leaving the job interview. But it wasn’t until my formal on-boarding two months later that I really understood what he meant. During those two months I saw the shop take on every new client with excitement. These were full-scope projects for us and the excitement was contagious. We built logos, business cards, print collateral sings, media, websites — you name it.  It took a whole team of us to do the work well. The shop leadership delegated the work, reminding us that the letterhead was as important as the advertising posters, and that stunning media isn’t just an add-on. “We’re in this together. When we win, we all win,” they reminded us, “and everything we make for the client is an opportunity to surprise them.” So, in time, I realized what the mangoes/broccoli represented.  Here are some examples of the categories: 

MANGOES: blank slate design (pull out all your creative stops and just go!), dynamic posters, innovative packaging, imagining all the ways we could integrate brand touchpoints in unusual materials, etc.  Ah! The sweet juicy tang of the ripe mango!

BROCCOLI: translating an established logo into multiple file formats (to package all assets for delivery – very tedious), generating multiple pages for websites for purely marketing purposes, going through quality check protocols before websites launch, etc.

Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Wash down the broccoli.

Fast forward to the annual company Christmas meeting, and this same owner/director is standing at the front of our studio:

We know that design projects fall into two categories: “fun” and “not quite as much fun”. The dream would be to only work on the projects that yield maximum delight. Of course, mango work is fantastic. That said, we do quite a bit of broccoli crunching around the shop because our clients need the broccoli.

He went on to say that “broccoli work” is good for us as creatives. It gives us a challenge to make everyday work extraordinary. This is our job here in the shop: to take things that are not-so-appealing, find the meaning in them, and show off  their best sides. I get to do this on a design-level, sure, but the leadership set this as the standard for any work they took on. The clients are invited into a relationship with a firm that cares about the “broccoli”.

In sum, the younger generations want authenticity; that’s why this young woman, in particular, appreciated the guidance.  She is graduating from university and leaving our shop to pursue a spiritual calling to do mission work. She is a fantastic person, talented designer, and sharp business mind, but she is leaving her field for deeply held, self-evident inner truths.  Now, you might suggest that this isn’t all that different from the Boomer’s involvement with the Peace Corps, or the Millennial’s go to post-college option: Teach for America. But I will offer this: I think this self-charting tendency, the deviation from the well-trod career pathways, will define these young people.  

Lastly, remember that these demographic category traits are driven by consumer research teams.  Nobody likes being saddled with all the negative traits of their “generational grouping” – I wonder how much of this is just another way of describing “immaturity.” I would have had the same critique of my 19 year old self as I do of the average 19 year old kid today. Everyone will be better off if we ditch the eye-rolls and disparaging remarks about the kids. Invest time and talk them through it.

I would have appreciated the mangoes and broccoli talk; it would have saved the younger version of myself some trouble!