Old Folks and Entrepreneurship

Old Folks and Entrepreneurship image health elderly 2323847b 300x187Old Folks and EntrepreneurshipOld folks are the future.
Yup.  Consider these facts:
  1. Projected life expectancy will surpass 100 in the next decades in many developed countries.  (This is about three times the average human lifespan in most of human  history.)
  2. 20% of the US population will be over 65 by mid-century in contrast to a roughly 14.5% at present.
  3. Old age is becoming much, much more robust.  Not only are we living longer, but we are living fully healthy, effective lives longer.  Many of us will be able to work effectively and happily into our 80s and 90s.  (Note mushrooming  advances in everything from joint replacement to memory enhancing drugs.)

Furthermore, let us consider entrepreneurs themselves.  The cliche of innovative entrepreneurship is of a t-shirted young dude creating disruptive technology in the garage.  Well, guess what?  That image is not accurate.  The Kauffman Foundation reports the highest rate of entrepreneurship in the US is among geriatrics between 55 and 65, with people over 55 as more likely to form successful companies than those between 20 and 34  (The Daily Beast).  Duke University Professor Vivek Wadhwa says the following:  ”The average age of a successful entrepreneur in high-growth industries, such as computers and healthcare, is 40.  The vast majority–75%–have more than six years of industry experience and half have more than ten years when they create their startup.”  (PBS article cited in HBR blog, Whitney Johnson)  Increasingly, as Betty Friedan put it, “Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”

Old Folks and Entrepreneurship image Betty Friedan 1960 231x300Old Folks and EntrepreneurshipThere is unquestionably an HR bias against hiring the older worker.  This attitude is nuts.  It’s old-fashioned, antediluvian cant that has not caught up with the times.  Mature workers are more knowledgeable, experienced, disciplined, flexible and reliable than the young employee.
But more than all this they are wise in life.  They have had time to be knocked down hard several times.  This brings a practical humility–the humility of all of us who have failed a time or two.  Humility is a useful entrepreneurial skill that is only learned from living life itself.
In my own virtual executive sales company, Corporate Rain International, I hardly ever hire anyone under 35 years because my firm deals mostly with real decision-makers at corporations.  These C-suite types like dealing with their peers and a richly-lived life and broad executive experience creates an unteachable tonal gravitas that makes for more easeful high-level sales conversations.  There are going to be an increasing number of these highly useful people who still need to work.  And 70 is certainly becoming the new 50.
My father was an indefatigable NY Yankees fan and he loved Joe Dimaggio, who was noted as a great center fielder.  My father related that in Joe’s last year he didn’t have a whole hell of a lot left in his arm, which had always been a great intimidator of base runners.  He figured he had about one good throw in him per game.  So every night his last year, early in the game, after a routine fly out, he would put everything he had into a simple throw back into the infield.  This continued to intimidate runners, even though, for the life of him, he couldn’t repeat the feat again in that game.  Such is the sly wisdom of age.
Old Folks and Entrepreneurship image Joe DiMaggio 1951 Spring Training 300x225Old Folks and EntrepreneurshipThe older worker is simply an unmined vein of pure gold.  You cannot even teach the lifetime of skills and human experience he/she brings to any company.  As employers, we are stupid not to tap into this underestimated resource.  Rather than throw the aging worker on the HR dungheap, let’s use this untapped resource.
On his retirement from Cornell University, Professor Scott Elledge said the following:  ”It is time I stepped aside for a less experienced and less able man.”  You go, girl!

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