Ronald Reagan once said about the criticism regarding his age as he ran for US President, “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth and inexperience.”
As I worked in dozens of countries across the globe, I was struck by the enduring history and the respect those countries have for remembering what came before them.
This resonated because it wasn’t too long ago during the Internet bubble of the 1990s where Americans discarded the way business had been done for hundreds of years to leverage a “new economy” approach. Youth, energy and passion were in vogue and traditional experience was labeled as worthless.
Unfortunately, this “new way” also came along with expensive ergomic chairs and furniture, strange titles, and foosball tables that didn’t always make companies a profit.
During this period of time, investors paid for potential or what the companies could be. This “value” was reflected in the run up in stock prices that reached an all-time high in 2000 before the bubble eventually burst.
What a difference a decade makes. Now I think business values a bit of gray hair and experience, at least I would like to think so as I am both older and graying. In Eastern cultures, this never changed. Respecting elders has always been a way of life.
Jack Kraft, an entrepreneur and investor says, “the problem with experience is that it only comes with time and sometimes costly lessons.”
The other side of the argument is one that I hear often in creative circles, experience counts but it can also “blunt innovation. Tom Churchwell of Chicago-based ARCH Development Partners believes in balance, “The art of our game is to balance smart, younger, innovative minds with smart, older, battle-scarred veterans.”
The perfect combination can be a young entrepreneur with experienced board of advisors. Shaye Mandle, Vice President at Life Science Alley thinks that, “the best way to accelerate the impact that young talent can have on an organization is to partner them up with an elder mentor”.
Can young upstarts create a successful business or have a substantial impact on an existing one? You bet they can. There are countless examples.
Will they make rookie mistakes? Always.
Look at all the immensely talented individuals who failed during the bursting of the Internet bubble. Many were young, promising business leaders. Unfortunately, many of them failed to listen to their elders. But they are now “battle tested” and have valuable experience. They also have the opportunity to help the next wave of youth with potential because they’ve “been there, and done that”.