Under the cover of last week’s Supreme Court rulings, the kind folks at the U.S. Census Bureau dropped a bombshell on me. Apparently, my daughters’ people now outnumber my people. For the first time there are more “millennials,” born between 1982 and 2000, than baby boomers, a generation with its own marketing plan. If you add in the Gen-Xers (1965-1981) and the Rug Rats (2001-yesterday), there are 210 million Americans who fall into a “noticeably younger than me” demographic. On a worldwide basis, there are billions who will speak louder and slower if they want something from me. In line with these changes, the marketing plan has morphed from “don’t trust anyone over 30” to “our hearts are still healthy enough for sex.”
I am not sure what to make of all this. On the one hand, I need plenty of strong backs rowing hard if there is going to be social security and Medicare left over for my dotage. So maybe the economics work for me, but there is a feeling of being pushed off stage before I have said my lines. The business buzzword that best represents the ascendance of millennial-generation thinking is “disruptive.” Just my luck. After a lifetime of being told not to interrupt my elders, the practice has become standard operating procedure.
That the young and the beautiful hold sway in entertainment and sports does not bother me so much. While “youth may be wasted on the young,” there is no denying that pursuits that are physical in nature will always be their province. After all, the Harry Potter movies would not have meant much with Paul Giamatti in the lead role and Brett Favre had to retire eventually. In business, law and government, however, things should be different. In those weighty matters, we cannot afford to be so cavalier.
It is in those pursuits that I want to argue our pre-occupation with youth is dangerous; that hard-earned wisdom should still be the gold standard. Look at the last two recessions. In the great dot.com bust, we decided that every 17-year old with a website was a company worth more than General Motors and were surprised when those companies failed to make money. Not as in in “not turn a profit,” but more like “nobody posted the ‘first dollar made’ over the bar because no one ever paid a dollar.” Not having learned our lesson, we next believed a bunch of 26-year old MBAs when they told us that lending someone 150% of the value of his or her house would be alright as long as we chopped up the loan into a 100 small pieces and sold it back to ourselves. As a result of these indiscretions we have spent the better part of this century getting up off the mat. Give me some gray hair next time!
But consider Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy, ages 25 and 26. Never heard of them? They founded a small social networking venture called “Snapchat.” Never heard of it? Hundreds of millions of people use the network to communicate everyday; maybe the company was under your radar because the communications vanish. Hillary Clinton’s people should maybe take a look. Or how about Tracy Britt Cool? Tracy just turned 30, but Warren Buffet has had her running many of his companies for the past five years. If you want to know how the Supreme Court is going to rule on a case, read Josh Blackman’s blog. The South Texas College of Law professor has made a name as one of the nation’s preeminent court watchers while also running “Fantasyscotus.net,” which is essentially fantasy baseball for the nerdiest. These millennials were just four from a recent Forbes “30 under 30” list. Read the whole article and you end up overwhelmed by the accomplishments of people in their first full decade as adults.
So just maybe getting annoyed at every board-shorts wearing, three-day stubble sporting know-it-all is misdirected energy. More than anything else, the Evan Spiegels of the world exist for ideas. With those ideas facing fewer arbitrary barriers like the age of the brain that hatched it, young people have forced the pace of change to a rate that might feel uncomfortable. On the other hand, if we still had a wait-your-turn society, my mother-in-law would not be reading this post on Facebook. Dick Tracy’s watch is now actually on our wrists.
Baby boomers revolutionized the concept of how change happens. Now that those changes are occurring to us rather than being caused by us, we are re-thinking if lowering the driving age was such a good idea. To be sure youth need not be celebrated simply because it is youth. But the proof is in the pudding. These whippersnappers are building a better machine and I will have to be content to type on it.