Jordan Spieth is a champion. Even though you may not follow golf, you probably have heard his name over the last week or so. For those that don’t live and die by the little round white ball, Jordan Spieth recently won the Masters, an annual golf championship that is reserved for the best golfers in the world. Jordan Spieth isn’t the first Masters champion (it’s been played nearly every year since 1934) and he certainly won’t be the last. So what makes Jordan’s win so impressive? His age. Jordan Spieth is 21.
I remember in the late 90’s when I was first entering the mortgage industry. I hadn’t yet graduated from college when I applied for and gained employment in a rather prestigious position in my industry at a large, well known bank. A position usually held by co-workers at least 10 years older than I was at the time. I was too naïve to see the resentment then that I would go on to receive from older coworkers who had been doing the job that I was hired to do for 20 years. I can’t help but look back and think that they thought less of me because I was much younger than they were; That because of my age, I couldn’t perform the job as good or better than they could. I remember hating it then, and I still hate it today.
Do I dare say that I think many of us have a visceral reaction when we see someone achieve success at a young age? I still work in an industry that is dominated by older, more experienced leaders. It’s typical for a person entering my industry to start at the bottom and work their way to the top. It’s also typical for those high energy, highly capable workers entering at the bottom to get burned out by the slow moving process of promotion and move on to greener pastures. We’re stuck believing that if someone is successful at an age that is younger than usual for the industry or sport they compete in, they must not have earned it. We are letting go of talented, brilliant minds that go on to other companies and excel in their industry. It’s stupid.
Technology has become a great equalizer in sports and business. Young people have grown up attached at the hip (literally) to computers, smart phones, tablets, and have for the most part, instant access to technology at their disposal. They are super users of these tools while some of us are resisting to adapt. Where at one point experience and length of time in the industry was king, creativity and ingenuity have surpassed those benchmarks in today’s tech enabled world.
Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook at age 19. Steve Jobs started Apple computers in his mom’s garage when he was 21. Jesse Owens won four gold medals in the Berlin Olympics in 1934 at the age of 22. The truth is, age and experience is just a number. Business wise, I think it’s important to reiterate that there can be a place for everyone, at any age, to fit into a company’s success. I know we need the experienced, those that have proven time and time again to be capable of the job. But we also need young minds that can bring to the industry new technologies and new ways of thinking. As leaders in your industry or sport, please don’t choke out these new minds. Don’t sidestep their contribution to the success of the company. Take advantage of what the young can bring to your business or risk losing them forever as they jump ship. It’s why putting an age limit on success is stupid.