Why Old Baby Boomer Dogs Must Learn New Tricks

David Wiener

“The quickest way to become an old dog is to stop learning new tricks.” – John Rooney

I’ve been a serial entrepreneur for a while, more than three and half decades to be precise. By some standards, this might be lauded for longevity. By others, I might be viewed as a fossil. Either way, we can learn from experience. The key is not to become fossilized – or extinct, like the dinosaurs that didn’t move when they saw the meteor coming.

There is no shortage of articles about the graying workforce; the Baby Boomers that won’t make way. Some posit that this generation cannot afford to retire, having suffered financial setbacks or failing to save sufficiently. Others suggest that it’s difficult for this generation to let go because their identity and purpose are tied to their work life. Our world, and by association, its workforce, is graying overall. Yet, regardless of what’s driving this phenomenon, the key is that the seasoned “dogs” must learn the new “tricks” of the business world.

Show me love…We are getting older but we are able to learn new (tech) tricks

 

A tenured professional might find it hard to recognize when it’s time to hang up the spurs, but as a serial entrepreneur, I think it’s important for our breed to recognize the need for adaptation and evolution. We are only as good as our last creation, and it must be relevant. While the creative juices might still be flowing, what’s changed is how this juice gets to market. We’ve moved far away from the marketing tactics that worked a few years ago, and as an older dog, I’ve learned to recognize that when the tableau has changed, I must learn from the newer dogs to up my game. Take social media for example. It’s not just a matter of publishing posts, crossing your fingers, and hoping for the best. It is a science of analytics, algorithms, and the (social) secret sauce.

And this is really the issue right now for so many of us who weren’t born after 1990. Digital marketing, web-based exposure, digi-social life, texts over conversations, email blasts over advertisements, screens vs. print, batteries and earpieces vs. malleable paper…and the endless supply of “experts” who can make it all happen for a mere (fill in the number of dollars).

Expertise vs. Fear. Which comes first, especially for the older business person? Am I scared of committing to people and technology I may not truly understand? Am I going to be ripped off by a bunch of kids selling the wonders of the digital age? How many times have I been told, “Oh, my guy is a social networking genius” or “She has a zillion ‘likes’ or “They are the best digital marketers on the planet.” Answer: A lot! And sadly, often, these claims are completely misguided. Hence the fear.

Learn and adapt, based on guidance from younger pros, and possibly blow a marketing budget? It’s scary in a world that can quickly hide behind excuses of the market has changed, the algorithms have changed, it’s not about sales, etc. But sticking your head in the sand and hoping not to get hurt is no answer. Be brave, be open to new information and adapt. Or die. Be relevant or risk pretending to be.

Remaining relevant in our graying years requires a taming of our egos. We may once have been giants in our professions, but the Lilliputians own the field today – and frankly, that’s a good thing because we can learn a thing or two.

The author in Zappa’s studio - They are young and they are smart. Learn their ways.
 

Serving on boards and as an entrepreneurial advisor, I’ve had the opportunity to see the red flags of talented people who dig in their heels, believing in their relevance because they’ve earned their stripes in a former “life.” Yes, surviving to an advanced age is meritorious, but it’s not a guarantee of current capability. We all strive for relevance – it’s part of our human condition. But remaining relevant requires learning new tricks, not replaying the ones from yesteryear.

I’ve seen far too many businesses sitting on burning platforms. Some think it’s a fortuitous opportunity to roast wieners (not me) and marshmallows. Others can smell smoke, but think it’s coming from the distance. Only the folks who recognize that the platform has changed, and are willing to make changes, live to talk about it.

Admittedly, as a seasoned professional, at times it’s difficult to say you’re no longer the “pro” at this or that. But learning new things at any age speaks volumes. Don’t buy into the adage that old dogs can’t learn new tricks. Indeed, they can, and when they do, they can blend experience and passion.



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