Introducing The Author Who is Set to Empower Millennials: VIVEK IYYANI

We are extremely privileged to talk to Vivek Iyyani, CEO and founder of YOU training and development. Vivek is involved in leadership training in schools and corporations not only across Singapore but all over the world and his many years of being in the self development business has culminated in a book , Empowering Millennials : 5 Step Sequence to design a life of Fun, Freedom and Fortune. Among other things, we discussed the incredible potential that millennials hold,  how to publish a book in Singapore and he even gave us a step by step breakdown on how to make yourself marketable to employers. 

Millennials, out there, this is priceless!



You're a successful CEO and founder of a company that provides training to corporate leaders on how to shape their respective organisations. What made you want to write this book on millennials ?

Let me first give you some context .  After NS, I went directly into training students in primary schools and secondary schools. I was training part time and studying part time. So I worked with companies such as Adam Khoo. Different companies that do leadership training and programs . And I realized that this was something I am very passionate about. Training young people. Study skills. So in the course of my work, today, I realize that today's millennials were the same students that I had trained back in 2007. They are the ones who are entering the workforce now. 

So you were actually involved in training today’s millennials ?

Yes, I realized that  I was already working with millennials in schools back then and we're continuing that work today. So from interacting with them for such a long time , I realized that these millennials lack clarity in what they really want. . They have multiple options in life and are not sure which one to take.  They are brought up by their parents, the baby boomers. The baby boomers give you advice like study hard and tell you that if you get a respectable, reputable, rewarding job, you're set for life. And that's what the kids did. They studied hard and they went into a course that their parents thought was right for them. Then they graduated and got a job. But, they're not happy with the job that they're having. They feel that they don't have work-life balance. It's not really their passion.

This generation actually has the most number of university graduates. So, they also come into the workforce with college debt. Much bigger debt compared to our previous generations. So, for them, it's important that when they take up a job, it pays off the debt and also gives them the life that they want.  

Millennials were brought up by helicopter parents who protected them and satisfied all their needs and wants. So they really coddle you so that you can have a good childhood that they didn't have when they were growing up. As a result, when these millennials go into the workplace, they're expecting the same kind of care and attention. Which is not necessarily going to be there. So they will find it stressful, that they cannot get along with certain people. And because this generation comprises of digital natives, the necessary personal skills that they need to interact with others is lacking.

There's a lot of inter-generational conflict. Their emails are very short and made up of  curt sentences. It's interpreted as unprofessional. So it's a culture shock when millennials enter the workplace. They have been treated well by others their whole life. In the office, there are certain expectations of them. Sometimes too high for them to meet. They'll feel like they're not taken seriously ; that it's reverse ageism. So these are the kinds of challenges that millennials face and the end result, the symptom that we're seeing of them being unhappy is that they're leaving jobs every 2 years. So how can we help millennials feel empowered ? What are the necessary skills, and the mindsets that they need when they are entering the workforce? How can they build themselves up such that companies see them as assets and not as liabilities?

The reason that millennials find it stupid to stay in a company for 10-25 years is because their parents worked for such a long time in the same  job only to be passed over for promotions or just given a long term service award with a cash bonus. Which for them isn’t worth it at all . They don’t see why they should stay loyal. If I get a better offer, I'll jump ship . And they keep jumping. That's why employers are confused. What can I do to make you stay in my company?



This is a problem that employers are facing? 

Yeah employers are facing it but it's also affecting the millennials because you know what they start thinking? ‘ Oh I'm not really good enough.’ Or they're very confident. ‘Oh I'm very good and can go anywhere.’ In a way, the people that makes them feel guilty are their parents.  They’ll be like “How can you keep switching jobs? ” The parents' influence will still be there. So society has given certain rules that these are the kind of jobs are good. Let's influence parenting. And parents influence millennials. So millennials lack clarity.

They don't align themselves with their values . They align themselves with what society wants. So they end up doing things that they are not really passionate about but pays the bills. So that's also part of the problem . So you can see it's very multi-tiered. In my book, I talk about clarity, alignment and habit. It's been brought up many times that millennials today are impatient. Today, at the click of an app you can have an Uber waiting for you. You click another app, you can have a date the next day. You click, you can get food delivered to you. Everything is instant. Millennials are very technologically savvy but it's a double edged sword. It makes them expect fast results. So you expect fast promotions. You expect quick teamwork and instant relationships. 

You expect high pay?

Yes, you expect everything better, faster and stronger. So when they come into a working environment, they think something's not right here. This company's screwed up instead of thinking No. this is how it is in working life. And they're very outspoken about this. We talk about building patience through habits. If things come fast, they will also disappear quickly.

But if you work long for it, it will last longer. It's the kind of behavior that we're trying to inculcate. It's a slow meandering step by step process whereby you achieve little things one step at a time to get that big breakthrough. So we teach them about how you can inculcate habits rather than focusing on results. Focus on the process. Focus on making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, and doing it again. So you keep correcting course until you get what you achieve. We also teach them about resilience, One of the things that millennials are always labelled as  is the 'strawberry generation' .

Because strawberries look very nice on the outside but are very squishy on the inside. That comes about because people think millennials cannot handle difficult conversations, pressure or stress . That's why you see a lot of keyboard warriors among that generation. They can be your hater online but offline they are like “Ah I don't what to say, it's awkward.” They don't know how to forge strong relationships. 

Do you address this in the book as well?

Yeah I talk about how millennials can motivate themselves when they encounter failure. You cannot be expecting your parents or your teachers or anyone else to be motivating you . You need to learn how to motivate yourself when no one's willing to help you. So I talk about visualization and how that could help motivate you. Lots of people talk about visualization but I talk about exactly how to visualize. So when you visualize, you want to see yourself doing hyper actions. You know how when footballers score a goal, they go crazy.

You need to start imagining yourself after achieving something, celebrating crazily afterwards. Like taking off your shirt and swinging it around. So I give a step by step breakdown on what you need to include in your visualization for you to get the kind of motivation you need. And the last thing I talk about is productivity. If you open any millennial’s internet browser, you will most likely see multiple tabs open. Because they like to multitask. And I think it's a misconception that multitasking is more productive. In fact, to become more productive, you need to stop multitasking and focus on one thing at a time. Focus on one thing, finish it and then move on. But because they are impatient, they want to finish all their work at once.

That lowers their productivity at the workplace . So you see lower performance among millennials because they are multitasking ; You see that they're impatient which leads to inter generational conflict due to the lack of communication skills; You see that they are not going in the direction that they want. Sometimes they are doing what their parents told them to do, what society tells them to do. So they are not even in the job that they want to do. So this generation of millennials, they have all the potential to be very successful and very powerful. But they don't have the right skills and lack the focus that they need to achieve what they want.

So this book talks about how you can become a champ with clarity, habit, alignment, motivation and productivity. So when you combine these five things, it kind of puts in a space of strong focus, you know where to go, you know what to do, you know how to do it.



Sounds like you tackled a lot of issues. In the process of writing this book, what were the challenges or the problems that you faced?

I think one of the challenges when I started writing this book was in overcoming my own demons. Why would people want to read my book? Who am I to write a book? I'm not even 40 years old yet. So how I overcame that was to believe that as long as you have done something that someone else has not done, you have some kind of value to provide. So I have done a psychology degree, I have extra knowledge on the area of behaviors and motivation. Through my job as well as my degree.In that sense , I have the subject matter knowledge and expertise. I may not be able to apply this to people who are more experienced than me, like people who are older than me, the Generation X or the baby boomers. But I can definitely help those who are younger than me, by being a role model to them, I can teach them what I've learnt through my experiences.

Compared to other people who call themselves millennial experts but they're from a different generation. Their thinking, behavior could be different from how the millennials see it. So one of the challenges I faced was to identify in what way I could add value by writing a book .Who am I to write a book? So once I identified that, it became clear what I should focus on and talk about.

The next challenge was procrastination . I think everyone goes through procrastination, even the CEOs. For me, my procrastination came about when I found that whatever I was writing was not good enough. Then it felt bad to read it and I started thinking like who's going to read this. It came to a point where I procrastinated for around 9 months. I started in September 2015. I wasn’t too happy with what I was writing. And I didn't have a clear direction. But I eventually came to a point where I told myself , I need to stop criticizing my own writing. I'm  just going to let it out. All authors know this. The first draft is always a bit poor. It's something you're embarrassed about. But as you continue writing, it kind of develops itself and turns into what you want it to be. So I stopped criticizing and told myself to just write whatever comes out even it's nonsense. Then automatically your subconscious mind comes up with stories, metaphors, quotes. All those things started popping up naturally. Because I was no longer judging my work. I was no longer confined. I started meeting people whom I could include in the book. All that happened when I stopped judging myself. I stopped criticizing myself.



You run your own company. So how did you fit your writing into your daily schedule? Was it hard to make that work-life balance work?

I naturally got carried away with work. And I didn't have much motivation to start because I didn't like what I wrote. I started in September 2015 and when I hit June/July 2016, it started dawning on me that it was going to be a year and I haven't really started anything. I didn't even have a proper chapter. So I told myself I need to change my environment and get down to writing. The first thing I did was to take up a challenge. To write 1000 words a day. Be it good or bad. So I started by breaking it down, from a big book to just thousand words a day. Not even a chapter. So I created an excel sheet and day 1-30, I kept a count of how many words I wrote daily and made sure I hit at least a thousand. In terms of work-life balance, I would wake up earlier in the mornings and I will plan what are some of the pointers I need to talk about. And whenever I got breaks , I will write on my phone using Evernote. Which automatically syncs to my laptop. I can continue from where I left off when I’m back home . So any new ideas I had, I just popped them into Evernote.

Even when I'm waiting for  a meeting, I will just start writing. Sometimes I get inspirations to write entire paragraphs. This helped me to hit the thousand words a day. Any pockets of time  I had was focused on this. That I think forced my mind to really start searching for ideas and inspiration. I did this for 60 days and at the end of 60 days, I had more than 60 000 words. Which completed the book.. Normally, a typical book is around 30 000 words. I went overboard actually. So I realized the trick is to break down a mega task into minute achievable tasks which builds up momentum and gets the job done.



Most of the millennial generation today is worried about how we are going to get get a job in the future, especially with the current state of the economy. My question is what are some practical things that millennials can do to impress employers and move up in organisations?

I think the first thing millennials need to do is realize is that they need to add value to an organisation first before they can demand for value . This is actually one of the key complaints of many employers. That millennials are very demanding. So, instead of just demanding for things that you want, prove yourself and show your employers that you deserve it. Of course , in an interview, you need to bring across your attitude that you're willing to give first and wait to receive. What millennials are very wary of is that if they give and they don't receive. Which happened to a lot of their parents who put in a lot of work but never enjoyed the benefits. Once bitten, twice shy. But I think they should just focus on giving first, especially at interviews, then work towards what you want . Don't be demanding upfront. Be a bit more giving.

Another thing is millennials don't necessarily have the experience to be able to demand a certain pay or to take up the work in a certain company. So what they should do is invest in the experience of internships. So don't just do one internship for the sake of college requirements. During your holidays, do a couple. Make those experiences into a report and add them into your portfolio. It's these kinds of experiences that shows companies what you have to offer. Go and volunteer. Take up projects that will give you that experience. Lead a team. Write a report for it and say how it went well, how it didn't go so well. That's what people want to know. That's what CEOs want to know. They want to know that you're a person who won’t shy away. Who is willing to try something even if he does not know everything. Run with it. Learn from mistakes without falling back.  

Finally, be able to communicate when you're feeling stressed. How you need help , how you need support. I think if millennials are able to show this kind of value through understanding their strengths and weaknesses, putting themselves out there and adding value to other organisations, they'll be able to prove themselves to employers. I know internships might really make you work but take it with a positive attitude because this experience could land you that dream job.



Considering the rise of many startups in Singapore today , do you think millennials should take that leap or are better sticking to established corporations? Are millennials today risk-averse?

I do see a trend among millennials moving towards entrepreneurship. There's two schools. One that's afraid to take that jump or one that after they've worked in a company for a couple of years, find that they're ready to go out on their own and become a vendor to their former company. The older generation, most of them, waited until they were 40 or 50 before they started something of their own but this generation is more daring. Of course, there are some of them who do it the wrong way (and get burned) while there are others who are able to bounce back from their failures and run a successful business.

I think business is all about first creating assets and once you make it big, managing these assets. As an entrepreneur, you will definitely acquire a lot of skills. You learn about the dreams of the startup founders ; you learn how to give your blood,sweat and tears to a cause. You're part of something that you're proud of. Of course, that is an experience that you may not get working in an established company. Because you're just part of the process. But when you're in a startup , you're part of a dream. You're part of something bigger. Hats off to entrepreneurs who dare to do that !



Would you encourage millennials to go into entrepreneurship then?

I would definitely encourage them but I would also say that you have to play it smart. So let’s say,you're just fresh out of university with a large college debt and  you already have a job in one of the banks and you're earning. But, you hear about this entrepreneurship and you get excited. You have an idea and you feel like you want to fully commit to it. I wouldn't say just quit your full time job immediately.

Let's say you want to pursue professional photography. So what you need to do to be seen as a qualified photographer is to first understand how to succeed in the photography business. You need to build up your portfolio. There might be no more chance to do internships but you can still do freelance. If your company isn't averse to it, on the weekends, start taking photos for free at events or for clients. Build up your skill and your portfolio. Start reaching out to people and promote yourself. Build a name, build a following , build friendships where people recognize you and see you as a photographer in the making. Once you create a following, people will start hearing about you and you'll get more enquiries. And when enquiries start flowing in, that's when you take the jump full time into entrepreneurship.

This disturbs a lot of our parents but nowadays, a lot of millennials hold 3 jobs. A blog shop, a Youtube channel and they also have a full time job. So parents will be like ‘ Just get one proper job.‘ But millennials are like ‘I like all these things , so why should I just commit to one thing?’  And what parents don't realize is that actually they are earning more than they would earn with just one full time job.  With business, the possibilities are endless. So I think millennials are on the right track in terms of mindset but they shouldn't be too overly zealous. Don't just quit your full time job. Keep your safety net, sacrifice your social life a little bit and focus more on building your passion. On building your skills and making them value adding to others.

You jumped into becoming a writer after successfully running your own company. How would a young person, with no prior experience or a full time job, get into professional writing? What are the steps that he needs to take?

First thing is to just start writing. Put your work out there. Today it's very easy to create a blog. But people stop at that. Don't just stop there. Once you've created the article, you put it out on LinkedIn. You put on ezinearticles.com. So that someone can take notice of it. Slowly build your credibility, ask for feedback, work on your writing style and make sure it's getting better with every article. You become so good that people cannot ignore you anymore. You have to start with small steps and make it work. Then the results will last longer. Rather than doing a quick job which will fail rather easily because you haven't built up the skill yet. So, as a writer, keep writing and putting yourself out there. Let's say you write on a particular topic for five years . Definitely you would have all the content to make it into a book. Within a day, you're an overnight success. Because now, you have a book.



Practically, how could I go about publishing a book?

There are 3 types of publishing today. A traditional publisher will read your manuscript and if they like it, will take on your project and sell the book at a price that brings them a profit. And they will print multiple copies because the books are a steady source of revenue. The author will maybe get a small royalty cut. Then there' s self publishing whereby you outsource your graphic design, layout etc to others.and you have to put everything together . Finally, there's hybrid publishing where you pay a fixed fee for a publisher to help you with a package of book design (cover, layout,editing etc.) and the number of copies  printed is decided by you. If you're selling it, 100% of profits come to you.  Of course, if you use distributors like Popular, they too will take a cut. 



I guess the third step would then have to be marketing? How did you go about marketing your book?

Most millennials have their attention on social media nowadays. You need to be  where the crowd is . You need to be on social media because that is where everyone is spending their free time. Not necessarily because they want to be sold to but because this is a problem that they want to solve and you might be able to help them solve that problem.

That's when people start listening. So even CEOs who are online on Facebook, they see someone who helps companies build loyalty and a high performance team and they feel that this guy might be able to help him. So they will go and learn more about you. Go to your website , download your brochure. Learn about your company's history ; why you started the company.

They go through a process of spending some time with you without you even being present. Once they learn more about you, they will feel comfortable enough to try something. So maybe they will see if they can get anything free. As a business owner,  you can first provide some gifts. These companies may not want to make a big investment just yet . So they will ask whether there’s any kind of small products that they can try out. You get their attention first. And then you win their trust through the small products. And after that, if they really like those products, they will say "Look, I think you're the best person to help me solve this problem. Can we talk business?" 

So that's how you marketed your book and company? Through social media?

Rather than putting up a TV ad or posters, it's all about creating an online profile. Because today, who you are is what Google says you are. If Google doesn't recognize you, that's pretty much it. Google knows how many times you're mentioned online. So building an online presence is one of the best ways to market yourself. Of course , there are other ways to give yourself credibility. You can be interviewed  or invited on morning talk shows on TV. But those are like a bonus. Social media presence is the basic foundation . Today, if you don't have social media , you're losing out. But if you don't have traditional media, you're not necessarily losing out.

Any final thoughts?

Today, Singapore's millennial population is 1.2 million which is around 25% of our total population. Very soon, by around 2025, they will make up 50%. So we need to start paying attention to them because they will hold the spending power. Companies will start shifting their marketing messages and how they portray themselves to become more young, hip, cool, friendly etc. To target this generation. Because you have to appeal to your target audience. The more flexible you are, the better you will survive in any system. Stay as adaptable as possible. The faster you adapt, the better you become.



Vivek will be launching his book , Empowering Millennials : 5 Step Sequence to design a life of Fun, Freedom and Fortune on 28th March at the Visual Arts Centre. You can RSVP for the event at https://www.eventbrite.sg/e/vivek-iyyanis-book-launch-tickets-31959924996. You can learn more about Vivek and his work at https://www.facebook.com/authorvivekiyyani and http://vivek-iyyani.com/.

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