Forever Young: What’s Missing In The Workplace
I make no apologies for excerpting part of a much longer article by Tom Goodwin because he voices something many feel. It’s a bit patronising but hey, he’s in advertising (‘Head of Innovation’, poor guy) and has a point to make:
Living in New York and working in advertising I rarely see people over the age of fifty. My elders seem to be a secret population — a growing, sizable, increasingly healthy and wealthy group — that I’m never exposed to, let alone have the pleasure of working alongside.
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. Meanwhile we’ve not looked around the BA First Lounge or the Hyatt Hotel lobby, or the Emirates Business class cabin to see that all the people with money and influence are actually rather old. And wise.
Occasionally, on the rare events where I get to listen to some of the wonderful old folk of advertising, it quickly makes me realize how much we as an industry suffer from a lack of wisdom. We have incredible levels of vision, an abundance of precociousness, brilliant creativity, but as an industry we pretty much have no wisdom at all.
It started to happen in the early 2000s — expensive, wise people that hadn’t grown up with Blackberries and expected long lunches and business class seats that didn’t get open plan offices, were slowly removed from the business. We didn’t notice it for quite some time because we were too busy playing with our new toys — the internet, the banner ad, the microsite, and the iPhone. We had rallying cries to get digital folk on the pitch team. We’d fly hapless 24-year-olds around the world to ensure we had the voice of youth on the team, but we abandoned the voice of context.
Instead we get mobile marketing experts, who with their six years of experience are seen as mobile advertising opinion leaders. And how can they not be? They’ve lived this stuff for three times longer than anyone else. We get social media gurus who seem to just be people with the same common sense as everyone else, but with fewer more important skills to leverage.
It’s gotten to the point that it’s now possible to be in a room with 400 agency employees, earning tens of millions of dollars in revenue, without a single person who can remember the advertising world pre-mobile days, let alone pre-computer.
Tom then goes on to outline a vicious cycle of problems afflicting companies staffed only by Youngs, which include a lack of gravitas and business sense, thinking everything is new and not seeing change in context.
Just before I left my company, the new kids coming in asked me what our days had been like when we founded the company. They were slack-jawed with amazement when I described how we worked, who we met and what we could do. The level of creative control, originality and seat-of-the-pants accountability we had seemed unbelievable to them. They had not imagined a job where your ideas could go from a piece of paper to a TV screen or cinema in a day without a single change.
Without knowledge of the past the new generation are required to start over again, but this time without any say of their own. You can read the whole of Tom’s article on LinkedIn.