Old dogs, New tricks, Learning from Our Elders — and Teaching Them Some Lessons, in the Process

Old dog

My dad passed away last December, but when he was alive, he was known to give me business advice (whether I liked it or not).

To be sure, he was more than qualified to give me advice. He had spent most of last century in the workforce as a mechanical engineer and management consultant — doing things like introducing the first digital sewing machine; developing technology on the Mars Mariner spacecraft; helping design the Boeing 777 aircraft.

But, like most sons, I was reticent to accept his advice … while he was alive.

Now that he has passed, of course, I can’t get his advice out of my head. Not a day goes by when (for business or personal issues) I say to myself, “What would Dad do?”

There’s a lesson to be learned here: Not matter how young and slick and confident we are, our elders have a lot to teach us.

But … that works both ways.

My generation (and even generations younger than mine) have a lot to teach our forefathers, especially when it comes to productivity and entrepreneurship.

Whether it’s our new technology, or the fact that prior generations of workers stayed in the same job for an entire 50-year career — things are simply different in the current economy.

For example, I had one sexagenarian executive recently tell me that he absolutely loved the products developed by 37 Signals (developers of the popular Basecamp software), but he totally rejected the business and entrepreneurial philosophy/advice of 37 Signals founder (and author Jason Fried).

Nevermind the fact that it was Fried’s philosophy that led 37 Signals to develop the amazing product in the first place, and create one of the most recognizable tech companies/productivity tools of this century … the colleague in question simply didn’t understand Fried’s business philosophy, which flies in the face of the work-late-hire-a-lot-of-people-have-a-buttoned-down-office-environment that has been the norm in corporate America for so many years.  (This video sums up the “Fried Way.”)

Old dog, new tricks?  Yes, of course.

But it’s a challenge that many of us have to overcome: How to apply the new productivity tools and tricks we’ve learned over the past several years in a world where old-school executives still cling to the “midnight oil”, three-piece suit, conference call-filled days (and nights).

For those who work in office settings, it’s especially tough, since you’re stuck in the shark tank for 8-12 hours no matter how productive you are.

For consultants like me, it’s contending with clients who simply don’t understand how you can do conference calls in the morning and be at the beach in the afternoon.

Or it’s colleagues who can’t fathom how I batch-check my emails only three times a day.

Or perhaps it’s a family member who naysays the fact that you work from your boxer shorts on your deck, grow a full beard during the week, and decide on a whim that you want to move halfway across the country simply because you can work anywhere, prefer a better cost of living and to live near the beach.

You may call them the old dogs. Or the naysayers. Marianne Cantwell calls them the “beige army”.

Sometimes these folks just don’t understand. Other times they make you feel guilty or ashamed that you’re not trapped in the shark tank with them.

Some folks will say to ignore these people; to just work around them.

That’s probably the best advice I’ve heard — but the purpose of my post isn’t to provide answers, it’s just to let you know that you’re not alone.

It’s difficult.  Lots of people deal with it.  It sucks.

Rest assured, however, that these folks naysay because they’re scared. They mock what they don’t understand.  Or, they’re simply jealous that you’ve cracked the productivity-happiness-money code.

Keep doing what you’re doing. Live your own life.  Be happy.  Be productive.

But don’t be closed minded.  We can learn a lot from elders.

And they need to realize they can learn a lot from us, too.

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