So, there was this guy who was kind of good at everything. He read a lot, he was on lots of committees, he tinkered with stuff, he designed things, he argued—civilly and politely—and he always puzzled about how the universe (and people) worked.
He was fascinated by electricity and he hoped the metal rod planned for the top of a new church’s spire would draw lightning and give him more data. But the building, as it usually does, fell behind schedule.
He became impatient. He noodled around, plotting other ways to run his experiments. And that’s why, during a June thunderstorm, he went out with a kite, a length of silk, and a key.
That moment in 1752 has become American legend. We know many of his other accomplishments—printer, ambassador, statesman, inventor, and university founder—and yet the kite and the key compress all those stories into a single icon.
The “American Experiment,” was how Franklin, Adams, and other founders spoke about this country. Like most experiments, they didn’t know if it would work. With zeal and optimism, though, they decided to see what would happen. His ingenuity, contradictions, thrift, and boundless curiosity remind me of the best of the Millennials.
Thrift, you say? Thrift in those coddled, spoiled youngsters? The generation that says it’s all about the “Benjamins”? The generation up to its eyeballs in debt? The generation of young adults still living at home with their helicopter parents?
Yep. Those are the ones. Because their flip side is independent, optimistic, and cognizant of the need to be disciplined about money. (Not saying they succeed at that discipline, but 62% claim it—higher than any other generation.) Remember, this has also been the decade of “Occupy,” the tiny house movement, and knitting.
Take, for example, how Millennials feel about marriage. They’re not getting married at the pace other generations did. Are they too independent? Too disillusioned? Nope. Too practical.
According to Pew Research, “Most unmarried Millennials (69%) say they would like to marry, but many . . . lack what they deem to be a necessary prerequisite—a solid economic foundation.”
And I can look to Pew for solid demographics research because Franklin published a pioneering work on population studies three years after his frolic with the kite. He also published the first work on mapping the Gulf Stream currents in the Atlantic (to help mail ships get to Europe faster while he was postmaster). Data—the guy was obsessed with it. But he didn’t just gather it—he thought about it, he designed experiments, he sought insight and analysis, and he wanted to apply his results.
So, in this month of weddings, graduations, primaries, and thunderstorms, remember that insight and generalizations need to be bolstered by data. When you understand your audience completely, the contradictions may be as compelling as the confirmations.