When Wise Eyes and Fresh Eyes Meet

Business trends increasingly show that companies with a high gender and ethnicity mix perform better. It is a perfectly logical observation since such organisations do not fall into the rut of mono-perception. On the contrary, they pool in the wealth and vibrancy of diverse beliefs, outlooks, and strengths. Different vibes bounce off each other with amazing vigour.

But what about age? Do companies still value anyone 45/50+? More importantly, how many are ready to hire men and women whose old school work experience is obsolete in today’s super techy world? Don’t these people have anything to offer? Are they really beyond their sell-by-date and relegated to irrelevance?

Our world does not favour greying hair and deepening wrinkles. And it has been a while. For the obsession to look young conditions all that we do: whether it is what we eat, drink, and moreover how we dress, work, play and interact. Remember how 69-year old Emile Ratelband wanted to be officially declared 20 years younger but did not succeed? Though the authorities categorically rejected his request, Ratelband’s ludicrous obsession speaks volumes of societal pressures.

Long gone is the deference to age – especially in the workplace. This is the age of young guns striding the blast and becoming global players before turning 30. After all, they are second, even third Gates-Branson generation. Thanks to digital intelligence, a boss younger than most of the employees is the norm in today’s workplace. So too is an intergenerational staff where most of the grey and greying are in the shade.

This scenario is becoming the stereotypical image of today’s working world unless you deviate into working from home jobs or artisan niche markets. One of the most fascinating stories in Italian high-end fashion is how not long ago Bottega Veneta cajoled its retired master leather craftsmen to take up their tools once again and impart their knowledge to younger ones. A school was opened within the atelier in 2006 to ensure that faded traditional artisan techniques were not lost. Take designer fashions emerging from Africa. They are such a global hit because they seek inspiration from and funk up their traditional weaving methods, colours, and patterns. And if you want the latest www sensation, look out for Italian grannies, including a centenarian, who still make their own pasta – a tradition that is on the verge of extinction. Admittedly, keeping traditions alive in the business world makes sense where handiwork is a profitable labour of love.

Elsewhere what can young brains learn from old fogeys? The answer is emotional intelligence because they have a stash of relationships under their belt – relationships which shape and enrich life experience. It is life experience which enables a press pause button to apply wisdom and empathy to modern challenges. Having gone through many highs and lows infuses compassion into passion. This makes most of them ideally placed to praise without flattery and criticise candidly without hurting feelings. Besides, not everyone beyond 45 is technologically phobic and wise eyes are fresh.

The wisdom of years which only life can teach needs to be truly valued. More so, since we are living longer, working longer in a world that is fast embracing AI, which for all its awesome potential, must not blind us to its lack of the human touch.

It is already sad enough that the more wizard our means of communication have become, the less we are communicating on a personal and intimate level. By disconnecting rather than connecting, young people are in fact losing out on learning vital clues from body language because they are so immersed in their virtual reality world. Consequently, they have a problem interacting face-to-face. I wonder if they have a clue of when someone, for instance, is lying or bottling up emotions when sitting or standing right in front of them.

What can old fogeys learn from young brains? The answer is much more than digital intelligence and the lingo that goes with it. For starters, there is the kick of looking at the world from young eyes that presses another pause button to question long-held viewpoints. Also, the drive to keep on learning and adapting, which is just the thing to avoid stagnation and living in the past. Best of all is the magic of feeling good in young company that puts a spring in your step.

Once we shed our distrust, our awkwardness, even hostility and reach out to each other a special synergy begins to spark. Reaching out to all age groups is the key. The first step is to ensure that millennial language is translated willingly and patiently. The same goes for gizmo training. The next important step is for all of us to dump any sense of superiority and flush out a judgemental stance for there is no such thing as who is better. Acknowledging the importance of both digital and emotional intelligence plus working towards a winning combo of the two cultivates a mutual mentor relationship.

This is what nurtures reciprocal respect. And like any type of respect, it is earned not granted.

#ageism, #age, business trends, #emotional intelligence, #digital intelligence


Noemi Zarb
Noemi Zarb
Writing, teaching, marketing. I have pursued three totally different career paths with the power of words serving both as link and lynchpin. Now I dedicate most of my time to writing - a never-ending romance. Typical of content writing I have been and am still responsible for scripting webs, advertorials as well as full-length articles. As a feature/opinion writer, I have over 600 articles published in Malta's leading newspapers and magazines (and still counting) - an experience which honed my interviewing skills when I interviewed countless painters and people involved in the performance arts. I also have over two decades of teaching English Literature and Critical Thinking via Textual Analysis under my belt having prepared students for the IB Diploma in English Language and Literature as well as MATSEC, IGCSE and SEC examinations in English language and English Literature. TEFL sometimes punctuated my summer holidays. Dealing with young people keeps you young and I have truckloads of cherished memories of my past students My current writing continues to be inspired by what life throws at me together with my critical thinking of what goes on (or doesn’t) around me firing my sense perception and vice versa. Being immersed in the corporate world gives me endless opportunities to observe facets of human behavior which invariably have me brood over. Learning and thinking over what I learn is still my way forward.

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  1. Interesting post, Naomi. When I think of my younger self compared to my older self, one difference is the consideration I give to solving problems, and just thinking about life in general. My younger self would have jumped to a solution, silently or not so silently shouting “Ta-Da!” My older self is much more willing to let things marinate, to enjoy the process of stepping back to mull things over.

    And in your paragraph that begins with “What can old fogeys learn from young brains?” and the sentence “Also, the drive to keep on learning and adapting, which is just the thing to avoid stagnation and living in the past,” I have found that it is young minds who often feel they’ve got it all worked out. I used to write on the Medium platform but gave it up because it was becoming little more than a collection of listicles from “twelve year olds” – young writers in their 20s and 30s who seemingly have all aspects of life figured out. And speaking only for my 68-year old self, I am increasingly driven to learn and adapt maybe because I silently recognize that my years to do so are limited.

    • Thank you Jeff, for your time and response. I too see a similar change from my younger self to ”present me’. I find your comments about 20- and 30-year olds very telling and true. I wonder whether the uni qualifications that generate their know it all attitude, when in fact they still have much to learn.
      I should have been more precise in my reference to young minds for I was thinking of the 16-19-year old students who I taught for a couple of decades. They were the expected mix of driven and apathetic with several shades of in-betweens. Yet I learnt so much from them and actually made me the IB tutor that I became – driving them to the max even when they drove me round the bend! I can honestly say that I had a blast teaching them. Never a dull moment and definitely no risk of falling into stagnation.

  2. I love this piece, Noemi! I’ve done a lot of work with organizations struggling to manage their multi-generational workforce. My suggestion is to focus on creating a culture of learning. The old top down hierarchy (veterans at the top and green force at the bottom) doesn’t work any more. I always ask, “Why bother hiring the best and the brightest if you’re not willing to give them a chance to share their smarts with the rest of the organization?” If the “old fogeys” are simply there to pass along their experience, and there is no place for the new hires to contribute their knowledge, that organization is going nowhere fast.

    As you mention, our knowledge base is growing exponentially and none of us can be an expert in everything. We can, however, focus on being better learners, collaborators, and communicators. Thanks for sharing this one!

    • Thank you so much, Melissa, for your time and perceptive commentary. Love your ‘focus on being better learners, collaborators, and communicators’ because this applies to any age group.

  3. It is interesting, Noemi I was always hopeful that young brains and old fogeys had a propensity to add value to each other as a right of passage no matter when we were born – it is just what is done traditionally, respectfully, and what I learned from my elders. I really think now my attitude is outdated and entitled. Your point about earning respect in today’s world which is riddled with unique challenges and a very different working digital landscape than say twenty-years ago makes sense. I appreciate the illumination, now that I am definitely an old fogey I will take this into my consciousness fully and completely. I so love the idea of that spark of synergy and I do want to offer my energy exchange of perhaps some experience in the interplay.

    • Thank you for your time and appreciation. Bringing the best out of people whatever their age, mindset, and background is life-affirming indeed.