Our first guest post! By Josh Sklar, a global advertising creative who helps transition traditional marketers to the digital side.
The younger you are, the more impressed with yourself you are
When I was a teen and 20-something, others deemed me a “whiz kid” because of my abilities with computer programming, video systems, and finally, interactive advertising creative; unsurprisingly, I absolutely believed my own press. Now that I’m in my forties, I have developed one new talent, the capacity to look back with a little honesty. When I was a kid, I was able to figure things out quickly and I could be very effective, but I had great big blind spots that it has taken me twenty years to recognize – and there are undoubtedly others of which I still remain haplessly unaware.
The environment may cloud judgment
What prompted this introspection was a class I was recently conducting in NYC for around 80 creatives in one of the world’s largest ad agencies; the type of place that grants hubris to employees because it’s a hallmark of having “made it.” “How could someone be hired to work here and not be one of the most knowledgeable, talented people around?” goes the thought in their heads and, on occasion, comes spilling out of their mouths. In fact, that seemed to be the air of the ones in their 20s and 30s. Nearly everyone I spoke to over the age of 38 had an entirely different attitude. Those people were completely open to understanding they still have a great deal to learn, that their positions are tenuous regardless of where they work, how long they’ve been there, and even all the success they’ve had up until then; so it’s clear to them that they will need to continue to develop their craft as if they were just being introduced to it.
Growing up in it doesn’t mean you’re grown up
Conversely, the younger professionals acted as is their wont; they rolled their eyes, they paid scant attention glued to their smartphones, they sighed loudly at the hours that were a-wastin’, and when it came time to demonstrate their expertise they… completely failed the exercises. They proved that despite having grown up in the new media world they do not possess a keener understanding of their clients’ targets’ motivations. They produced very weak concepts that only made use of token capabilities they have seen hundreds of times before. They applied the studied practices of marketing to digital environments and mobile apps as if they were more portable versions of TV and print. They didn’t listen to the history, the positive/negative examples, data, psychology, and opportunities. This is because they already work there and grew up in it and more importantly, they’re young with the dark thought that those who can do, and those who can’t teach.
Openness always trumps eye rolls
Their older counterparts were able to apply the new techniques and practices they listened to and learned from with deft, fiery creativity and intelligence, but still expressed they needed practice and were particularly interested in how they might continue learning the digital stuff even more deeply to apply the knowledge to their active briefs and ongoing challenges – like selling the work to clients.
Remove the fear, lead with experience
My bet is on giving the experienced and open types the leadership reins coupled with ongoing deep mentoring and coaching that can then be used to direct the young ones who are out to change the world with their capability of completely believing in themselves. Maybe some of the older folks can help their youthful equivalents uncover blind spots a few decades earlier and then… you may end up with a truly excellent whiz kid or two.
- Don’t sell yourself short because of insecurities about your age — the younger competition has confidence that comes with arrogance from never having encountered tough times, you should have confidence derived from having gone through it all before and survived
- Don’t rest on your laurels, the learning never stops
- A mentorship can work for both parties: You give someone less experienced the benefit of your years of on-the-job learning and developed wisdom, and the mentee can explain newer concepts and the motivations behind them to keep you on the right path
Josh Sklar is founder and chief heretic of Heresy. He can be reached at
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