I absolutely detest the phrase “teachable moment,” but Walter Geer is in one. And he’s taking the rest of us with him.
Geer, an esteemed and entirely interesting advertising executive, and entrepreneur hit a vein this past week with a post he made on LinkedIn. He said:
Yeah yeah…40 under 40 and 30 under 30. I’m not impressed.
Show me 40 over 40 and 50 over 50. Put a spotlight on the hard work that this group of individuals is doing, while juggling life at home with a spouse and kids. THAT would impress me. Who’s going to step up and own this? Is there not any talent over 40 that deserves to be awarded? Do you agree?”
I saw the post in my feed when a 40-something executive I know commented on the post. I commented too. And I’m not the only one. When I talked to Geer last week the post was going viral. To date the post has had over 1.8 million views, and it now has over 23 thousand likes and shares, and 1,800 comments.
Ageism is real in every industry
Geer, the SVP, Group Creative Director for TBWAWorldHealth, has made his mark in advertising, holding patents, and being recognized as a leader in disruption. In this case, his platform has crossed over from business to cultural disruption.
Advertising is an industry known for its reverence of youth. People study and experiment on selling to the youth to move buyer demand, opinion, and culture. Unfortunately, the industry is also known for casting off its “old” in exchange for the shinier new model of executive. Adrianne Pasquarelli wrote about this last year in an Ad Age article aptly titled, “Advertising has an ageism problem.”
And while Ad Age has written about the issue, Geer has posed the question about what we do about it. He met with his diversity and inclusion team at TBWAWorldHealth to talk further, and they were receptive and supportive. He’s now got an inbox full of reality from people working the third shift stocking shelves at warehouses, to another working at Starbucks because they were pushed out of their companies across a range of industries when they became overqualified to do what they do best.
Ageism is real in entrepreneurship too
There are three critical parts of the equation when scaling new ventures—the entrepreneur, their idea, and the capital to make it real.
There isn’t always an expiration date on good ideas, and maybe not on entrepreneurs, but VCs definitely fixate on the young and new. Tennesee Williams said, “You can be young without money, but you can’t be old without it.” You also can’t be an entrepreneur without it.
Ageism exists in the language of business and capital. People want to throw their money at seed ventures, not mature markets. You know, mature markets, the ones employing people, generating profits, and hopefully contributing to a community ecosystem.
Ageism is your problem
That’s where I come down on the whole subject. You can’t have one without the other—the new and the not so new. Culture, advertising, entrepreneurship, and life need what the young and the old both have to understand this moment in time and do something good with it.
Age isn’t always “good.” Sometimes it is crotchety, sometimes it is risk-averse, sometimes it is just plain weird to someone brand new in the world of business or the business of life. And most times that dissonance is essential. It teaches us things.
I work in a creative business where friction and gaps and rubs are where genius often unfolds. If we craft our businesses, our capital portfolios, and our friends in our image to the exclusion of others, we make our world—and our world view—too small. And we make our platform to grow, change, invest, and thrive smaller too.
Isn’t that the whole point of diversity and inclusion initiatives? You may not be a racial or ethnic minority, or LGBT, or other groups prominently emphasized in a diversity and inclusion initiative, but you are absolutely going to get old. Hopefully, in a world where age is increasingly seen and used as an asset and not as an exclusionary factor.
Geer asked is his post, “Who’s going to step up and own this?” He specifically called out some in the media, like Ad Age, Forbes, and Adweek, to help. But the truth of the matter is, people with a publishing platform can only write about the issue.
The ownership is on you to do something about it. And the clock is ticking.