2017 will be a bad year for pessimists

Executives see a lot to be hopeful for in the coming year.

By Thornton May
Nov. 11, 2016


I think that we can all agree that the 2016 presidential election cycle was brutal, an overwhelmingly negative attack on the attention spans of the global population. Call me a delusional optimist, but I forecast that despite all the sturm und drang of 2016, 2017 is going to be a bad year for pessimists.  

One reason that I conclude that things are going to improve is that society may have passed peak negativity in 2016. Peak oil, says Wikipedia, is “that point in time when the maximum rate of extraction of petroleum is reached, after which it is expected to enter terminal decline.” And, at least in the circles I run in, we are running out of negativity. More precisely — since even a chronic optimist will admit that we may never totally run out of negativity — we are suffering from negativity fatigue. 

I spent most of 2016 talking to executives with the word “chief” in their titles about what to expect in the near future. They pretty much agreed with Franklin Roosevelt, who said in his first inaugural address that “only a foolish optimist can deny the dark realities of the moment.” The inhabitants of the C suite tend to be realists, and they recognize that there are a lot of things that need fixing. But they are also confident that we have the tools to do that. Here are some of the things that these executives are optimistic about for 2017. 

The end of demographic stereotyping

Millennials will come into their own in 2017. For the past decade, millennials have been on the minds of senior executives in every vertical market and discipline. We’ve seen a cottage industry set up to explain how millennials aren’t like anyone else, but the commentators often seem intent on stoking baby boomer generational anxiety. The truest observation is probably that what makes millennials unique is that no other demographic cohort has inspired so much misinformation. In fact, millennials are no less understandable, manageable and leadable than any other cohort in the history of man.  

What do we know about millennials? There are a lot of them. While the demographic line regarding millennials is less than precise, there is general agreement that millennials were born between 1980 and the mid-1990s. That translates to some 76 million millennials in the U.S., accounting for a full third of the workforce. By the time the next election comes around, they will make up half of the U.S. workforce. Most millennials want career progression, seek competitive wages and financial incentives, and prefer working at enterprises committed to training and development. Does that sound weird to you? 

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