Two experiences wowed me last week, both tech-related. I spent several hours in conversation with a remarkable Millennial CEO and spent another slug of time engaging with a mostly Millennial audience in a leading tech firm. I’m still resting up!
Several tech startup CEOs joined the Millennial Research, but up until now, none heading up “unicorns” (young companies valued at one billion dollars or more). This CEO lives on the cutting-edge with a giant bet that his company will flourish as it ages and grows. He’s also a craftsman, a coder, and an artist. A global citizen born in America. Kind and patient, he explained what everyone (who works in tech) already knows, but sadly, I did not. Now I’m plowing into articles and books to catch up, or more accurately, slow my decline. The pace of technology developments leaves me feeling tipsy!
The next day, I recorded a Google Talk related to my latest book. You’ll be able to view it on YouTube post-Christmas. Forty or fifty Googlers helped me think about what it’s like to face challenges at work. No matter where you work – tech is really not so different from other industries in this respect – there are formidable challenges to be faced if you want to keep on growing.
I loved the questions – so smart. Someone asked, “If older executives are less adaptive to today’s environment, more hierarchical, and set in their ways, what’s to prevent we Millennials from becoming them as we age? Or are we so fundamentally different that as we age, that won’t happen?”
I don’t believe in destiny, but that risk is real. Young executives driven to succeed mirror the behaviors of top executives they see. Leaders who don’t value diversity promote young men and women like them – individuals who fit in, who could pass as their sons and daughters. It may not even be a conscious choice for either party. Even if you’re not like that, most of us are willing to repeat the actions that resulted in our success. The more we repeat it, the more likely it is to be hard-wired in our pattern of behavior. That makes it even harder to break out.
But that’s not going to happen, right? It did almost happen to me a few times over the course of my career. I remember telling someone, impatiently, “We tried that and it didn’t work.” Oof! Early on, someone coined the phrase, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” An innovator came along to reframe that as, “If it’s not broken, fix it anyway.” Fortunately, I rankled enough at authority that I’d fix anything on a dare, broken or not.
Thanks go to the Googler who raised the question. Companies that cultivate diversity of thought and experience may avoid the effects of aging—institutionalizing ways of working. The signal biggest red flag is the absence of questions. If your top team is still questioning everything and seeing with fresh eyes, that’s the Fountain of Youth.
I’m pretty sure that the tech CEO, now in his early 30s, will remain curious. His propensity to read, to meet new people, and to puzzle over new problems keeps him fresh.
Watch that you sustain your curiosity, too.