Cunning Codgers

It is an old adage, normally spoken by old people, but true none the less. Old age and cunning will overcome youth and enthusiasm every time.

I was recently reminded of this when the subject of Silicon Valley age discrimination erupted at a lunch meeting (some grumpy old man at the table had a lot to say about it). Anyone who denies that older people in general, and older marketers in particular are discriminated against in Silicon Valley has not been paying attention. Even the a-little-too-hip-for-their-own-good San Francisco Chronicle has covered the story. Old dogs are not allowed to hunt in Silicon Valley.

Which is a shame because acquired cunning is more valuable than youthful enthusiasm.

zuckerberg-and-ellisonMarketing is a science, and as such can be very precise. Marketing spend and capital burn rates are minimized, and market outreach is maximized with precision. Yet Silicon Valley has a never ending desire to throw enthusiasm at markets, hiring droves of inexpensive hands in the hopes that sheer volume of activity will triangulate results, whole products and markets. Perhaps this was true before the dot-bomb era, when we all were hyperventilating over the unknown potential of the Internet. However, time and market maturity has come even to the nets. What was old is new, as evidenced by the language used by Marketo and Eloqua, which echoes the well-honed aspects of classical marketing refined for the digital age.

It is the trade-off between the effectiveness of precision and the inefficiencies of enthusiasm that Silicon Valley routinely misses. Aside from niches that require the drive of hyper-connected individuals, most product and services marketing is still subject to the laws of strategic planning and the ruthless economies of promotional operations. Even innovation ignores age boundaries, as Steve Jobs proved by rearranging entire global markets in his 50s. Larry Ellison is still wreaking havoc through his precision of market dominance, and at age 69 he is old enough for Medicare and too old for women to care.

Silicon Valley needs to change, something at which it is allegedly good. A recent report showed that venture capital firms had average returns of 4% over the past decade, which by investment standards is abysmal. Having worked with VCs and having seen what constitutes their portfolio teams, part of the problem may well be too much trust in youthful drive and not enough troubleshooting by people who have earned their cunning capabilities.


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