Why We Need To Listen To the Under 25s

There’s been a lot of turmoil around an article published a couple of weeks ago by Cathryn Sloan, entitled, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25″. This young woman took a bit of a raking over the coals about her article, which basically attempts to make the point that the younger generation knows more about things like social media and technology than us old fogies and that they should be given more a chance in the workplace.

Many a rebuttal was written about how shortsighted Sloan is, that she doesn’t know any better, that she’s got that classic sense of entitlement that “kids these days” tend to have. Most of the comments, of course, came from old farts like me (sorry, anyone over the age of 35, I’m talkin’ about you.).

I see this in different way than most my age, and I’m going to attempt to make my point by sharing a bit of my own story.

I got my first full time job in the industry of my choice (television) when I was 19 years old. I was thrust into the working world, where my responsibilities included producing 5 television programs for a local TV station (which at cable means doing all the technical and production work). I had to teach people twice and three times my age how to operate a camera, a sound board, and edit video (analog, of course!). It was a huge amount of responsibility for someone who was technically still a teenager. But I got the job because someone took a chance on me.

I had little/no experience. I fumbled a lot. But, I had a support team of about 5 other colleagues who all had 10-15 years more experience than I did at the time. They believed I could do it and accepted my mistakes, and worked with me to help me learn and grow. And grow I did. Within 5 years I had won the top award in Canada for producing community-based programming. I owe much of that success to the people who helped me and coached me and accepted me at that young, young age.

Today, after a career that is creeping up on 23 years, I’m still immensely grateful for those people that took a chance on me when I was just a kid. Now I am one of the old fogies. I’m also an old fogie that teaches college students (average age 17-25 years old), and as a result, I spend an inordinate amount of time with this age group. While it’s true, some of them are shortsighted (after college I will know EVERYTHING!) and still others have that sense of entitlement, but there are many bright lights too. Many of these kids are bright, focused, and creative. And they DO intuitively get technology in ways that you and I cannot and will not ever understand. Do they have the life experience and business savvy to jump into management positions? Absolutely not. But they do have plenty to offer. I believe, deep down, that’s the point that Sloan was trying to make.

The other day I met with a former student and his fiancée for a drink after work. While they are now a slight bit older than the “under 25″ category, they are still by most peoples’ definitions “young”. As I listened to them talk about the directions their careers are taking, and the exciting things they are working on, something struck me hard.

Yes, my 23 years of working in my industry of web, communications and media has brought me to a point where I have experience and confidence and ability. That is reflected in the opportunities I am offered and the money I make. I have life experience on top of that, and it’s helped me grow personally and professionally. That is the kind of experience you can ONLY get from working and living and putting in your time. Nobody can argue with that.

However, we are still so quick to discount and disrespect younger people. We automatically shift into this attitude that we know more, and that anyone under the age of 25 just doesn’t get it. Come back in 15 years when you have some real life under your belt, kiddo.

Who has the sense of entitlement now?

Instead of brushing off people like Cathryn Sloan, perhaps we should start listening to them a bit more often. While they may not be ready to head up a department or manage 10 employees, in my experience, the majority of young people are really, really insightful. They really DO get this stuff on a level that we don’t.

If you can step down off your soapbox for 5 seconds and actually start listening to what younger people have to say, you’ll discover that they know a lot more than we give them credit for. Do they sometimes have an attitude that needs to be taken down a couple of notches? Sure. But heck, I was 21 once too. My mentors made me check my attitude on more than one occasion (some would argue they still do!).

So, before you pat those under 25s on the head and send them on their way without an interview, think for a minute. Think about what they actually might have to offer you.

I’ll tell you what my students and former students have to offer. A fresh perspective. An inherent ability to understand how to use technology. Creativity. Lack of assumptions. Problem solving skills. Fearlessness. Boundless energy. Cleverness. All things us old folks sometimes forget to have as we age.

Now just think of the possibilities, if you take those traits and mix them with all of your seasoned years of life and work experience. It’s a very, very powerful combination, don’t you think?

[photo by Robby Mueller]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About

Susan Murphy is a writer, professional speaker, television producer, web site maker, teacher, digital media specialist, singer, and pet mom. She shows people how to tell better stories. You can also find her @suzemuse on Twitter.

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Matt Bamford-Bowes
Matt Bamford-Bowes

Good article, I think. I don't think that it is particularly ground-breaking to suggest that people who we classify as "digital natives" should have a better picture of what works and what doesn't. I never agreed with the original article you talked about, simply because the writing of it made it feel like the experienced people - the fogeys, didn't know what they were doing. The truth is alot of us care hugely about "the lost generation" as the UK media call anyone 13-25. We set up an investment and mentoring fund called Next Bigger Better, simply because we believed in these people and that they were very smart, knowledgeable people who society had decided to forget about. The people we with have showed us how much we can learn from a different generation as I am sure that my father's generation learn from ours. Good piece. Thanks.

Geoff Livingston
Geoff Livingston

Here's the thing. Most community managers are in their 20s. Companies don't want to invest $70-$130k in a community manager right now. Until that changes, we can expect young people with less experience to fill these roles. What I see is older social media consultants trying to justify their existence. And as you and I discussed, I'm sure glad Pete Cashmore didn't listen to all the people who told him he was too young. He's 26 now. He was 19-20 when he started Mashable. Older experience has its value. That should be clear. Youthful innovation does, too. Understanding and respecting both is what needs to occur.

Chamika
Chamika

Great post Sue. I always appreciate the fact that young people are always willing to take what we 'old fogies' consider risks because they aren't burdened by how much they have to lose. When I participated on hiring committees, I preferred giving 'young people' a chance because they came baggage free compared to the 'old fogies' and were much more open and willing to listen and learn. I now work with two fantastic 'young people' who are so refreshing to be around. I am lucky enough to count under 25s in my social circle as well and am always impressed by how much more awareness they have of the world than I remember having back then. I always come away from outings having learned something new myself. Thank you for this great post. I have to add though that age is just a number, it's all how you feel and approach things. Just like younger doesn't always mean dumber, older doesn't always mean wiser :)

Kelly Rusk
Kelly Rusk

Wow Sue, what a great perspective! I have not commented at all on this article because in terms of age I'm exactly between the "young kids" and "old fogies" so I guess I'm not even sure where I *should* stand on the issue... However, I've decided to throw my support behind your point of view because I think it's brilliant. I've worked hard to keep in close contact with my former professors and the program I graduated from because I find so much value from working with students and learning from them and you've done a great job of explaining why that's important.

Shawn MacDonell
Shawn MacDonell

Sue what a wonderful read. Of course you know I love the energy, enthusiasm, and creativity that young people can bring to any project. My entire life I have watched young people blow me away, I have also watched young people disappoint me. The point of the matter is that if ideas are believed in, young people given chances, coached, and yes at times helped stay in check with their attitude (which by the way we helped create with our "you can do/be anything you want" messages in cartoons and other areas) then they can be incredibly helpful. I have to agree that I believe Cathryn was most likely trying to say "give them a chance." I mean this is a generation that can DREAM with technology because they grew up with this social media. There is a point to both sides, as there usually is, but just as more than usual there is also a happy medium in the middle somewhere. Thank you for so eloquently showing both sides and bring new light to what seemed to be a very hot debate.

Allen Mireles
Allen Mireles

I agree that we need to listen to the people under the age of 25 and for all of the reasons you list. I also wholeheartedly believe that building teams of people--of all ages and talents--produces wondrous results. Loved this post, Suze.

Susan Murphy
Susan Murphy

Thank you Kelly. I think you are a wonderful example of what can happen when someone is given the guidance and support of their mentors at a young age. You're now at an age where you've seen much success, and have an extremely bright future ahead of you, and you can look back on all you've achieved so far and appreciate the great start you had. I hope more people will give the "young kids" a chance, so we'll have more Kellys in a few years!

Susan Murphy
Susan Murphy

Shawn, you are one of the people that I often use as an example of someone who really does give young people a lot of credit. You're an inspiration to so many and you "get" it. If more people gave young people a chance, and supported them and guided them as much as you do, what a different world we'd live in. Thank you for doing what you do.

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