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Monday, February 27, 2017

Gray Matters

Working with teenagers can be quite enlightening. And occasionally startling. I learned this in my 20s when I served in various roles as a youth director. On one occasion, we were traveling with some teens to an amusement park. The teen boy sitting next to me was telling us he was glad to be on the trip since there was a senior citizen family member spending time at his house. Suddenly he blurted, “I hate old people!”

My wife and I were momentarily stunned but actually found it a bit humorous in the moment. Who would say such a thing? Obviously, someone who had not considered that someday he would BE such a person.

Be assured that story came to mind when I saw this business headline recently: “Why I Miss Old People in the Workplace.” It’s a piece from Tom Goodwin, vice president and head of innovation with Zenith Media. It was one of my recommended reading articles from LinkedIn. I have no comment on why they would send ME that item.

To summarize, Tom works in the advertising field in New York. He observes, “As an industry we're obsessed with youth, we’re endlessly trying to get “upwardly mobile Millennials” or “hard to reach youthful influencers” or some nonsensical and largely broke crowd who can’t afford the premium SUV we have on offer.”
Yet as Tom looks around at the places where money is spent, it is the older crowd that seems to have it. And spend it.

Furthermore, Tom misses the wisdom in the workplace that the aging population can offer. As he correctly states, “It takes wisdom to realize how important wisdom is, so we don't notice it.” Younger leaders would not realize this if they have not worked with these folks.

Mr. Goodwin claims it’s noticeable. “We have incredible levels of vision, an abundance of precociousness, brilliant creativity, but as an industry we pretty much have no wisdom at all,” says Tom. I would add, there is a state of overconfidence that often misses the mark because it is unchecked. This is often true with millennials.

I recommend reading Tom Goodwin’s article for his more detailed perspective on these key observations on what’s missing in today’s marketing field:

  • We lack gravitas and business sense.
  • We think everything is new.
  • We don’t see change in context.

Tom Goodwin astutely recognizes that young minds and voices bring fresh ideas and approaches. They adapt quickly to new technologies. But his vital assessment is that discernment is needed. “We need to establish what aspects are changing,” says Goodwin, “and what aspects are fundamental. We need to understand what is a fad and what is a cultural shift.” He believes a wise person who understands change could help.

My conclusion is that employers would do well by finding avenues of mentorship and active participation in discussion involving significant change. Getting an older set of ears involved may detect some unforeseen challenges and opportunities. And it can avoid the more dangerous, “I told you so!”

The wisdom of Solomon says, “The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.” (Proverbs 20:29, NLT)

One challenge the older crowd does have: memory tends to slip a bit. As a friend recently said, “I may not be that funny or athletic or good looking or smart or talented. . .Excuse me. . .I forgot where I was going with this.”

Just call it a little problem with “gray matter.”

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app.  

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