Overdose on Youth

8 Mar

A couple of decades ago I started my very first consulting assignment at a large manufacturing company. The firm’s innovation-driven glory years in the 70s were distant memory by the time I arrived. The business advantages the company had previously enjoyed were gone, but the people were not. The memorable visual impression of a sea of gray hair (all male) in the employee cafeteria was a symptom of the problem. The company had simply grown old and sclerotic. It was eventually sold off from its parent, declared bankruptcy, reneged on retiree benefits, and is currently being run for cash by a vulture.

As a consultant I have the privilege of working within dozens of client organizations in industries ranging from high tech to telecom to life sciences to consumer products. Each of these companies has a vibe and a personality that creates an atmosphere that runs on a continuum from vibrant and dynamic to dead and dying. While I am certain that a good organizational behaviorist would be able to construct an academically sound comparative analysis of company cultures, there is one correlating factor that is easy to identify and easy to get right. It is the proportion of the workforce that is under the age of 30.

If growth from innovation is your company’s stated strategy then you should be overdosing on youth. If you want ideas to flow and concepts to flourish, you need to hire people with energy, enthusiasm and passion to push them through. I am obviously not suggesting that you institute mandatory retirement at thirty. We need the valuable guidance and wisdom that comes from experienced professionals (like you and me), but we should balance that with people that have a broader sense of the possible and the motivation to achieve what may seem impossible. Load up on smart, talented, energetic youngsters and provide them with some freedom to give your organization an innovation boost.

The popular press is filled with articles on the challenges of multi-generational management. Many of these articles point the finger at younger people as spoiled and unmanageable. This has not been my experience. Youth is like an innovation performance enhancing drug that will make the pulse of your organization beat a lot faster if taken in large quantities. My advice is to overdose.

3 Responses to “Overdose on Youth”

  1. Vicki Housley March 8, 2012 at 7:52 pm #

    Excellent perspective. I appreciate that you are investing in future leaders.

  2. Steve Ammann March 12, 2012 at 12:31 pm #

    Excellent article. I just read a book called Econovation by Steve Faktor http://amzn.to/vOamBT and it had many ideas for our youth to grab hold of and make happen. Perhaps us older folks can guide them with our wisdom but not stifle their creativity.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Millennial Myths « Bill Poston - April 16, 2012

    […] month, I recommended that organizations seeking growth from innovation should “Overdose on Youth” to give them a performance enhancing boost. The response to the charge to load up on smart, […]

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