Want a better understanding of your Gen Y employees? Just spend an hour or so looking over the shoulder of any young person playing Minecraft.
At first glance, this multiplayer game looks like electronic legos. Players manipulate colored blocks to build rooms, buildings, farms and cities, gathering resources like iron and wood to craft tools and raising crops and animals for food. Random zombies and spiders crop up occasionally and gender-free animals inexplicably reproduce when they get together. (The way you know they’re making babies is a bunch of cartoon hearts appear over their heads.)
A recent Fast Company article outlined five Minecraft lessons for entrepreneurs. Writer Amber Cox described watching her young son play the game and said, “The more I watch him explore this new universe, the more I realize that there are secret lessons within Minecraft that can help everyone–especially us entrepreneurs.”
Minecraft also offers lessons on Gen Y in the workplace. Our two boys, born at either end of the Gen Y age cohort, spend a lot of time on Minecraft. The younger one started his own Minecraft server and is the administrator, which seems to mean he’s in charge of making sure people play by the rules. It’s been an interesting window into his style of leadership, which is quite typical for his generation.
In Tribe’s research with employee populations, we found some marked differences in Gen Y’s definition of leadership. To Boomers, a leader is the person at the top of the hierarchy telling everyone else what to do. For Gen Y, a leader is more about team building.
In Minecraft, the players often work together as a team. Sometimes I see my boys building some giant building or city with five or six people at once, communicating by Skype as they work. No one person seems to be in charge. Yet it’s remarkable to see what they create collectively. They get a lot done.
This more social approach to work is an attitude we also saw in the Tribe study with Gen Y. When asked what it means to be a leader, 76 percent of the respondents agreed with, “Inspiring others to do their best.” Over 63 percent agreed with “Helping to develop other members of the team.” And 59 percent said leadership was the “ability to build strong relationships with those above and below in the company.”
The global assortment of players is also typical of Gen Y. In contrast to Boomers and even Gen X, they’ve grown up in a world made small by technology. Some of the regular players on my son’s Minecraft server are kids he knows from school; others are sitting in front of computers in Canada and Wales.
There’s also an attitude of inclusion that seems unique to this generation. On Minecraft, anyone seems to be welcome as long as they abide by the rules. On my son’s server the rules are: Be respectful; Use common sense; No harsh profanity; No spamming or griefing. (In case you didn’t know, griefing means breaking or destroying others’ things.)
Gen Y expects to work with people who may be different from them. Our oldest is 24, and he plays alongside not only our 13-year-old and his friends, but also their friends’ little brothers. The population seems to skew heavily male, but females like the game too. When a female player was getting unwanted attention from a guy on the server, our son talked to the offending party privately to let him know that was not okay. He said something like, “Don’t think about her as a girl. She’s just like any other player and you need to treat her that way.”
That’s the kind of attitude Gen Y brings to the workplace. It will be interesting to see what they collectively create.