Older, Wiser, More Creative

Yesterday I did an interactive presentation at an event organised by Werken Voor Elkaar Their mission is to inspire end help people aged 50+ who have fallen out of employment for one reason for another.

Yesterday was an event filled with keynotes, mini-workshops, networking and camaraderie. It was great to be asked to present and feel the energy while contributing to helping people who have traditionally struggled to find work in our youth-centric society.

My preparation for the event led me down an interesting internet rabbit hole: the age of successful people. In our tech-friendly, technology-obsessed, fast-changing world, the mantra is that it is a young person’s game, you need to be more flexible than an older person, older people can’t keep up and so on.

But a moment’s reflection reveals that this whole line of thinking is ridiculous. Anyone who is over 50 now, has ridden wave after wave of change… especially at work… The post, telex, fax, email, internet, mobile phones, WhatsApp, apps, online banking etc etc… And they have adapted and adopted it all.

More than almost any working generation ever, they have been expected to use new tools and methods on the fly as they worked. In effect, they have a deep well of experience in change… why should that ability have deserted them on the 50th birthday?

Young people, on the other hand, know nothing. They have grown up in a world that emphasises intuitive user interface design and have never had to figure anything out at all… its designed to be intuitively accessible. So, while this makes youth SEEM like early adopters, what they really as is EASY adopters.

In this Google age, actual knowledge is undervalued. You can acquire whatever you need in minutes, after all, no need to remember anything. Except that actually knowing stuff is what gives you the material to engage in the creative process that underpins innovation, ideation and change.

You can’t solve a problem with what you already know… if that was true you’d have no problem. The more you know, the fewer problems you have. If you don’t acquire knowledge, all you are doing is setting up a dependency on your source… the internet. Which undermines another serious pillar of creativity: not trying too hard.

Think of Jimi Hendrix… ripping out master level guitar solos while singing. That’s just not possible without total, automated mastery over either the singing or the guitar playing. He has to KNOW what his hands are doing without needing to think about it.

I saw a room full of about 20 people, most only a year or two older than me. Already they are struggling because our society deems them surplus to requirements. And it was scary, honestly, it was. I’ll be there in two years.

But more than fear for my own future it really made me think about how we value knowledge and experience in the 21st century. We say we do, but the bearers of it are treated extremely shabbily. As is always the case, when you want to know the truth, don’t listen to what people say, watch what they do.

Our society doesn’t really value knowledge and experience. We flush it away all too soon, embarrassed by its wrinkles, poor eyesight, deafness and general unattractiveness (or something).

Instead, we worship at the tree of eternal life even as we ourselves decay into old age, one day at a time. A self-defeating, illogical pattern that has been playing out since the dawn of the industrial age.

When will we snap out of it?

  1. Rowan

    Good piece, although a bit scary like you said.

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