Entry-level digital professionals have received quite a bit of abuse lately, particularly that we allegedly feel entitled to be “digital strategists” just because we belong to our specific generation.
What can we do to counter those concerns? We can put in the work to become better strategic thinkers.
Here are five ways millennials can become better strategic thinkers in the digital space:
1. Hack your brain to think in terms of opportunities.
A recent Forbes study noted that millennials are more “irritated, tired, and anxious” about their careers than other groups. Perhaps that’s partly due to “taking work home” in the sense that mistakes or criticisms you get on the job affect your thoughts more than they would later in your career.
In your 20s, you’re still learning how to handle negative emotions that might come from failures or criticisms. But let’s be realistic—an honest mistake or constructive criticism isn’t the end of the world.
Try “hacking” your brain to approach hurdles opportunistically rather than negatively. So what happens if you made a mistake on a project at work? As long as the mistake was honest, you now have a crucial new piece of data to refine your approach for next time.
2. Control information overload.
If you work in digital public relations, you have your finger on the pulse of all the latest digital trends—from new social media platforms to tech news to the latest tweets from your favorite celebrity.
Millennials spend an average of seven hours and 38 minutes on digital media every day. With mobile as an increasingly important channel for information, we’re constantly absorbing data, forcing our brains to triage large amounts of information all the time. That leaves little room to think proactively and creatively.
Try to get away from the computer once in a while. John Cleese of Monty Python fame describes a solution in a hilarious 1991 speech. Making time for the open mode gives your brain the opportunity to become a producer of innovative ideas rather than simply a consumer, which is an essential part of moving from digital tactician to digital strategist.
3. Learn from your mentors.
A common criticism of our generation is that we act as though we’re entitled to success. The backlash against a recent Cathryn Sloane article is a perfect example. But despite our “native” comfort with social media and digital media, we have to learn the industry and business skills that only come from experience.
Millennials in digital careers can jump their careers forward in a big way by making the effort to build strong relationships with their mentors. Ask smart questions, and use the advice they offer you—the best advice comes from experience.
Most important, give back—the greatest relationships are two-sided. They’re investments in both parties’ futures.
4. Cross-pollinate your interests.
You might think that so much work is on your plate that you barely have time for interests outside work. Maybe you even compartmentalize your life—work and play should stay separate, you might believe. Think about this: Some of the greatest innovations of all time have resulted from people “cross-pollinating” different interests: Physics and engineering combined to start computer science, for example.
Your outside interests are completely valid in a digital career. Read widely about linguistics (my personal interest), blog about classic films, and absorb life outside the workplace. You never know what kind of innovative ideas might come from an unexpected place.
5. Think in stories and narratives.
Think of the best storyteller you can remember. Chances are it was a friend, a colleague or a family member. It was someone you knew who told riveting stories. They didn’t speak in business jargon, “leet” speak, or texting slang. They spoke like real people telling human stories.
Whether you’re copywriting for a multi-platform campaign, pitching an idea to your team, or engaging with a brand’s community, the essential underlying thread is storytelling. Learn to write like a human being—the way your favorite storytelling uncle speaks—and you’ll get your ideas heard.
We millennials have vast resources available to us in the form of information, access to thought leaders, and few barriers for getting more strategic ideas out there. All it requires is that we put in the elbow work in the way we think about our world, and that we discipline our thinking about how we approach opportunities.
How have you worked on becoming a more strategic thinker in your career?
This article first appeared on EdelmanDigital.com.