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Idea Generation

Question Your Elders

While we don't want to waste our time reinventing the wheel, it's also true that new insights often question the conventional wisdom of our elders.

How should we reconcile our tendency to seek the advice of experts with our desire to also question the status quo and try things differently? As creative professionals, we cannot become imprisoned by the past, but we must also not be stubborn and spend our time reinventing the wheel.

There is a somewhat healthy tendency in every discipline to defer to the knowledge of elders. Starting with the original “apprenticeship” structures of the 19th century to the traditional corporate hierarchies that permeate our life today, societies are built on collective wisdom from the past. Major conferences around the world gather industry “experts” to share their wisdom. We painstakingly listen to our elders’ projections as if they were coming from an oracle.

However, for the small portion of society that is tasked with innovation and pushing the edge, a reliance on conventional wisdom is damning. We must seek advice with a dose of skepticism, and we must always consider the merits of developing new platforms rather than just derivatives.

As you make new ideas happen, consider a few tips to navigate the terrain of ancient wisdom and new insight.

1. Don’t judge someone based on age. Only judge based on skill.

We have an inherent prejudice against young people because we question how much they could possibly know given their relative lack of experience. However, young people have very legitimate advantages when it comes to detecting trends, adopting new technology, and attempting risky undertakings that yield lessons that we may never attain. When working with new people, examine one’s skill set rather than age or number of years in industry.

2. Question the correlation between past accomplishments and present knowledge.

We all have a tendency to “rest on our laurels.” But cutting edge knowledge becomes antiquated very quickly. The brilliant expert from yesterday may have little relevant insight today. In fact, such experts may be too biased by their own past experiences to see how the times have changed.

3. Beware of conventions.

Rather than default to the way things have already been done, recognize that anything can always be done better. While it is certainly worthy to find and follow effective methods to approach projects, it is dangerous to passively accept advice. Even sacred Behance Tips must be taken with a grain of salt and built upon!

Inspired by the musings of Dave Stein, this tip was written by Scott Belsky.
Comments (5)
  • justinpowelldesign

    this reminds me of an article titled “digital immigrants digital natives” that was written nearly 7 years ago. the author, marc prensky, saw a similar pattern in academia.<br />
    <br />
    basically, because students (youth) are native to digital innovations and skill sets, THEY become the experts while the more elder (teachers) are the immigrants in an unfamiliar sub-culture.

  • stephband

    “We have an inherent prejudice against young people…”

    We have an equally inherent prejudice against old people, believing them not to to be capable of “detecting trends, adopting new technology, and attempting risky undertakings”. I’ve seen it in our own startup company, in discussions about who we’re going to hire, where older candidates were regarded as not flexible enough, based purely on their age.

    You’ve highlighted the problems caused by prejudice against the young, but this prejudice works both ways.

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  • Peter van Westen (NoNumber)

    Only judge on skill? I don’t agree.
    Age is a very valid property to judge on. Only judging on skill is just not smart.
    You name some advantages of young people. If age shouldn’t be a factor, then those age-based advantages are not to be taken into account either!

    I think that with age comes certain (dis)advantages and differences. Just like with difference in sex, education level, personality, nationality, religion and even race.
    I think it is very valid to take these into account when comparing them to the skill set and experience that accompanies the person in question.

  • essay writer

    great post) really interesting information! i liked it very much! thanks a lot!

  • Lelesurabayamadura

    i’m apresiated

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