I’m a huge fan of Malcolm Gladwell and he recently said some things to say at a data analytics conference in Seattle. He had a number of points but one that interested me most was him discussing the trust levels between younger people today, versus older people in the baby boomer range. Here are his comments:
“Data can tell us about the immediate environment of people’s attitudes, but not much about the environment in which they were formed,” he said. “So which is right? Do people not trust others, as the polls say … or are they lying to the surveys?”
The context helps, Gladwell said.
That context is a massive shift in American society over the past few decades: a huge reduction in violent crime. For example, New York City had over 2,000 murders in 1990. Last year it was 300. In the same time frame, the overall violent crime index has gone down from 2,500 per 100,000 people to 500.
“That means that there is an entire generation of people growing up today not just with Internet and mobile phones … but also growing up who have never known on a personal, visceral level what crime is,” Gladwell said.
Baby boomers, who had very personal experiences of crime, were given powerful evidence that they should not trust. The following generations are reverting to what psychologists call “default truth.” In other words, they assume that when someone says something, it’s true … until they see evidence to the contrary.
“I think millennials are very trusting,” Gladwell said. “And when they say they’re not … they’re bullshitting.”
Why should you care about this?
Employment branding is marketing. In HR we get so concerned about making sure what we say is the honest to G*d truth and nothing but the truth. We can’t tell a candidate we ‘rock’ when we really don’t ‘rock’. Guess what? You can. Guess what else? They’ll believe it.
Why? Because the younger people today are a trusting lot. They’re already a bit naive based on their age and lack of experiences. Add this to what Malcolm says above and they are ripe to be picked off. Is that fair? No, probably not. But, hey, as my good friend Kris Dunn loves to quote from Jerry Maguire, “this is show friends, this is show business”.
Tell the story you want. People will listen. And skip the comments, I know this strategy is fraught with issues. The truth is, it doesn’t matter. The difference between great employers and average employers just isn’t that great in candidates eyes.