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Saturday, August 07, 2010

The Thin Line Between Experience and Age

Occasionally older team members leave your workforce involuntarily. That's a sensitive issue when it happens. Other older members of the team become unsettled because they probably worked with that person for years, and some wonder if they're next. There are legal issues involved as well. Age discrimination laws give disgruntled ex-staffers a tool with which to strike at your company even if no discrimination is involved.

We've had some older people leave our workforce in the past few years. At the same time we also recently celebrated a milestone birthday with one of our most revered and respected colleagues. At 80, Jack Countryman is producing some of the finest work of his long and legendary career. In his late 60's, Larry Downs Sr. is doing great work in selling Spanish products. So if we're welcoming of some and not afraid to dismiss others, where's the line between when someone has excellent experience and when they become a candidate for termination? I mean, at 50 this is something I have to know myself if I'm to continue to be relevant to this or any other company.

The answer is simple and elegant.

Are you still open to new information and are you willing to innovate.

The business world is changing daily. You can know practically everything about your profession but stop taking in new information and become obsolete in a breathtakingly short amount of time. You can know a little less but be a perpetual learner and never run out of career.

Some would say passion is the main ingredient, and I don't disagree. But I find that people who stop taking in new information and take the "we've always done it this way" attitude get bored with their profession and lose their passion. It is the willingness to learn no matter how long you've done the job, and the willingness to always look for a better solution, that keeps your profession fresh and your passion in place.

I've know 30 somethings who were totally inflexible. Given the choice, I want to be like Jack.

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