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Elders vs Gurus: Why Don’t We Listen to the Voice of Experience?

Gary Vaynerchuk recently made an interesting statement at a conference:

Dan Blank

“I am addicted to old people.”

He elaborates:

“I switch seats on airplanes all the time – if somebody looks like Yoda, I am sitting next to them. The amount of conversations I’ve had with 80 and 90 year old strangers, I guarantee is the [most] in the world. You know why? They’ve played the game. And you know what they’ve told me – everyone of them – not one of them [cared] how much money they made. Whether they were rich or poor. Every one of them says the same thing: “Gary, I wish I spent more time with my family, and I wish I did something I loved.” And I don’t understand how we know this, and these are the people that have played our game – the REAL game – and how we don’t take that into account.”

(That rant is at minute 50 of the talk.)

What Gary is saying here is profound, and not talked about nearly enough in our culture. Personally, I have spent a lot of time in the past year and a half cataloging my family’s history – scanning in thousands of photos from the mid-20th century, and interviewing older family members about the most mundane aspects of their lives growing up. For instance, I think I have done 12 hours of interviews with my dad so far, and I have called distant family members that no one I know has talked to in the last 30 years. On a personal level, there is an incredible amount to learn from this perspective.

Gary’s point is in relation to business – about how we all rush to buy the latest business books who promise to give us some new magical ‘formula’ for increasing wealth. That we spent hundreds or thousands of dollars to see people speak and attend conferences. That all these gurus are popping up with online courses, some costing thousands of dollars.

And I wonder – why do we spend our precious resources listening to the young, and totally ignore the wisdom of our elders? Wisdom that has perspective, is free, and that they would love to share?

Perhaps these are some reasons why many don’t seek advice from your average 80 or 90 year old:

Their wisdom isn’t sexy.
They don’t promise to make you rich quickly.
They ignore trends.
They don’t feel ‘of the moment.’
They don’t have ironic humor, or reference Glee.
They require us to think deeply, not rush to solve a specific problem.
They give us perspective that runs counter to our culture’s call of ‘success=money.’

So instead, we listen to the young. Some of who are brilliant, and should be listened to. But some of these people have never owned a business. Never run a business. Or they’ve found one cool trick that worked a single time, and are trying to create a ‘system’ out of it. They create things that seem ‘of the moment,’ even though we are trying to create businesses that can sustain across the span of decades. They talk about theory instead of experience.

But when we talk to those who are older – those with decades and decades experience, their advice can be golden:

It is proven.
It is given without any remuneration.
It is shared with perspective of decades, not months.
It comes slower, and takes longer to implement.
It builds something with a legacy in mind.
It stops to smell the roses.

Let me know if I can help (even though I’m not 90): @DanBlank, 973-981-8882 or dan@danblank.com.

Thanks!

-Dan

  • The lure of the “new shiny” affects so many areas of our society, especially in business and culture. There needs to be a much healthier balance between the old and the new.

    Great post!

  • It's interesting that Gary, one of the more interesting “young” people in the business world would say this. I'd like to be able to claim that I had his level of sense when I was his age. But alas, I did not.
    I've only come to appreciate the wisdom of the old as I myself have become older.
    When I was 21, someone who was 81 seemed like a senile imbecile.
    Now that I'm 51, I tend to see the 81-year olds as potential role models.

    • Paul: interesting perspective. Thanks!
      -Dan