At my age, 68 (or “in my 69th year,” as K likes to put it), I feel like I’m surrounded by teenagers whenever I find myself in the “real” world of Internet marketing seminars. More to the point, I feel like they can see the fossilization going on inside my brain.
I can’t keep up with the acronyms. Worse perhaps, I’ve lost the desire to try. Instead, I think about and, when asked, talk about what I see as the underlying principles of marketing. Is that the right thing for me to be doing at this point in my life? Or am I just kidding myself?
Cotton Top Entrepreneurship and a Politically Insensitive Metaphor
I listened to an interesting TED Talk recently. The speaker, a scientist, was asking a similar question: whether aging scientists can contribute meaningfully to their fields. This is a serious issue. In science (and math), there is a longstanding bias against older thinkers. (The speaker noted that Einstein once said something like, “If you haven’t achieved a scientific breakthrough by the age of 30, you never will.”)
As a result of that bias, he said, most of the grant money for scientific inquiry goes to young researchers in the 22 to 32 age range. But then he provided data indicating that older researchers are just as likely as younger researchers to make a significant discovery.
Why, then, do young people get such a high percentage of the funding?
The answer: Because they produce a much higher percentage of the grant proposals.
Well, it turns out that the same logic applies to entrepreneurship. If you look at statistics, you see that a huge percentage of the available venture capital is given to people in their early 20s to mid-30s.
Why? Because they produce the vast majority of start-up proposals.
But when you look at the start-ups themselves – at the businesses that got the funding and succeeded – a significantly higher percentage of them are headed by older people. In their 40s and 50, mostly.
What does that tell me?
As with scientific research, there is a big difference between generating support for an idea and making that idea work.
Yes, there’s a lot to be said for youthful enthusiasm. But there’s also something to be said for solid experience. And that tells me that I’m right to keep my focus on the basic principles of marketing that I have learned through the years. At my age, it’s better to play the wise old Indian chief than to try to compete with the braves on the battlefield. Let them count the number of scalps they’ve collected. If they can sit still long enough to listen to my old war stories, I can teach them how to get even more.