One for the Ages

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Larry A. Meltzer, Agency Principal

Marketing is a young man’s game. Or so we’ve heard. We’ve also heard, “With age comes wisdom.” How to balance these divergent points of view?

Maybe the answer is in the question: It requires balance. As a society – and even as a profession – we’re quick to dismiss “older” workers. They’re not as fast. They’re out of touch with new technologies. They don’t present the image we want to portray.

And then someone comes along who not only proves us wrong, but blows these perceptions completely out of the water. Meet John Goodenough, recently profiled in the New York Times Sunday Review. His surname is a bit of a misnomer. He’s beyond “good enough.”

The batteries that power our laptops, phones, and even electric vehicles? He invented the technology. And he just filed a patent on a new kind of battery that has the potential to revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-powered vehicles. Oh, and did I mention that he’s 94?

The story of Mr. Goodenough should give us pause as an industry to re-consider our biases against middle-aged or older workers. It seems there are a few factors that stand out that suggest why this group of professionals can contribute in a way that may be different from young pros. Consider:

  • Knowledge is cumulative. We pick up much of our early professional learning in college, and then integrate that with real-world experience as we begin our careers. Our minds begin absorbing knowledge, but as we venture farther out into the world, our life experiences add to our knowledge, giving us a wider and deeper level of information on which to draw.
  • They think about things longer. Maybe the perception that middle-aged workers don’t move as fast as younger workers is a good thing. There’s more patience, and less of a rush to judgment. We think about things for greater periods of time, and we put things down and pick them up later, letting our minds work out potential solutions to problems or challenges, rather than running with the first answer. (Maybe that’s why we rarely see a 25-year-old judge?)
  • There’s an openness to new ideas.  As we gain more experience, our narrow vision slowly begins to widen, and we allow ourselves to take in convergent points of view and new ideas. It’s the natural course of evolution, but rather than a physical evolution, it’s a cognitive evolution.

Or maybe, as Mr. Goodenough posited, the real reason may be entirely different. In his own words: “You no longer worry about keeping your job.”

At the end of the day, a balanced workplace – with different generations bringing different experiences that lead to different ideas – should be the end game of what was typically thought of as the young man’s game. Are you game?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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