Is Happiness the New Productivity?

“Oh man, I’d make a career out of the Muppets if I could. That’s my real dream job…” — Jason Potteiger, comment on  The Next Great Generation Blog

When the Founding Fathers wrote “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” I think they must have had Millennials in mind. For the framers, ‘happiness’ meant the freedom to pursue prosperity and wealth as each individual saw fit.  Millennials are turning the pursuit of happiness into their life goal. Their biggest fear is having to sell out or trade off their passions for an ordinary job, an ordinary life.

Millennials seek to be extraordinary, or to use their word for it, “awesome”, in every area of their lives, but especially their careers.

Of course, every generation strives to be great. What makes this generation different is the intensity of their commitment. Chip Walker describes their aspirations this way an article last year:


“In a world of almost infinite lifestyle choices, Gen-Y activism is about young people knowing their own inner priorities and making a vow to live by them — even in the face of adversity.” — Chip Walker, Head of Planning, Strawberry Frog

When the New York Times wrote about unemployed Millennial, Scott Nicholson, turning down a $40,000 a year job in insurance because it didn’t meet his idea of a fulfilling job, Gen Y’ers understood. They saw nothing wrong with having high standards and admired Nicholson’s willingness to wait for the right opportunity.

Nicholson’s choice, and those of many others, suggest Millennials are looking for more out of work than just a job. They are looking for a place they can grow, and where their work will have meaning. Little surprise that the Great Place to Work Institute Survey identified Google, EBay, Starbucks, Container Store, ScottTrade, UMPQUA Bank, and CarMax as among the top 25 companies that people under 25 give exceptionally high marks. (For more on what makes these companies “Millennial Magnets”, read Neil Howe’s article, “Models for Managing Millennials.”

MindValley is a publishing company with a Millennial heart.

The company describes its mission as “to bring together marketing and technology to help spread enlightened ideas. We work with authors, thinkers, teachers and leaders who have pioneered new ways of doing traditional things: parenting, entrepreneurship, spiritual growth, self-development and more.” Here’s how the web site describes their attitude toward work:

“J-O-B is a dirty word. Work—we believe—needs to be fun, educational and something that makes you so excited that you jump out of bed each morning. Screw the traditional 9-5 job. Instead, get paid to play, create, learn and grow. It’s like being a child again. But with a salary.” MindValley Career page

Employees come from 22 countries and show an impressive diversity of backgrounds. MindValley has an award winning culture and who wouldn’t love their policy of flying all employees and their families to a paradise setting each year? Last year it was Bali, this year Costa Rica. I was especially impressed by MindValley’s recruiting video, titled “Is Happiness the New Productivity?“. These are REALLY happy employees! (This video is worth watching if you want to see what happy Gen Y employees look and sound like.)

Alex Cattoni is one of MindValley’s 35 employees. On the TNGG blog, she describes herself as “Personal development junkie. Marketing diva. Thrill-seeker.” A 2007 business school grad, she was headed to law school when “… like a cold hard slap in the face, I woke up one morning completely and utterly terrified. I had finally listened to that voice in my head telling me law school was not for me. I then had to ask myself probably the scariest question of all “What do I REALLY want in life?””

For Cattoni the answer was a hard shift that brought her to a dream job that involves a lot of travel, managing four businesses and launching a fifth. When asked what is most inspiring about her job, she said it was the company’s drive to think big:

“I would have to say it’s been witnessing my team achieve some incredibly outrageous and scary goals. We like to think BIG. In fact, this is the top value on our “Code of Awesomeness.” In the past 1 year alone, we have grown an outrageous amount – all because we dare to dream big. I love being part of a team that believes we can achieve anything and pulls together to make it so.” – Alex Cattoni, MindValley employee

Not all companies are as Millennial-friendly as MindValley. Increasingly, Millennials are sensing that they will have a better chance of pursuing their passions by entrepreneuring or intrapreneuring their way to jobs they love.

An October 2010 Junior Achievement survey of high school students asked why they admired entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey. The top answer was their ability to make a difference in people’s lives (31%). Their reasons for wanting to be an entrepreneur, however, focused on independence – working for yourself and controlling your destiny.

If you are a Millennial looking for entrepreneurial inspiration, check out The site features dozens of video stories of “innovative young people who love what they do.”  The common thread in each of these videos is a profound desire to do something that reflects their individual passions. Here’s just a sample:

So I decided to start my own company to deal with it… and it just became my passion.”– Emily Doubilet, Oberlin graduate, founder Sustainable Party

It was extremely exciting because it was so interactive. That was something I really fell in love with. I got really excited about bringing a craft that seemed so dusty to new life.”   — Nora Abousteit, Harvard graduate,  founder of social network sewing site,

In the last year, I have had the pleasure of working with many young people who have a vision for a new company. They include Matt Cheuvront (Proof Branding), Mark Sawyier (Off Campus Media), Sam Davidson (Cool People Care), and Jon Levin (ClearPoint Communications).

Mark Sawyier started Off Campus Media and its sister company, Moving Off Campus,  in the noble tradition of the ‘dorm room start up’ while studying at Washington University. Today, OCM has 5 full-time employees, an admirable client list, a network of campus ambassadors on 18 college campuses and is looking for office space in New York City. The company does great work helping local and national businesses connect with college students. Starting this month, my firm, Brand Amplitude, is partnering with OCM on a project for one of our clients.

Are they happy? I would venture the Founding Founders would approve.

More research on Gen Y and Job Expectations

Meet the Millennials: Our Most Educated Generation Faces a Most Challenging Time Seattle Times article profiles 11 Millennials who are looking for work as well as provides statistics on Millennial (un)employment

Seeing Eye to Eye… or Not? Research by Citrix on how Gen Y Views work meetings.

Millennials Have Their Own Take on Ethics in the Workplace Research by ERC Shows Millennials Share Interest in Fairness and Respect With Older Co-Workers; Concerns on Privacy and Calling in Sick? Not So Much.