The Contradiction between Aging and Clueless

by Thomas Casey, Managing Principal

As the recession dissipates and the need for experienced talent resumes, there are two demographic issues that will need to be addressed.

The Need to Embrace the Contribution of the Older Worker

A recent Wall Street Journal article spoke of the challenges the legal profession has in maintaining as Partners, those over a certain age.  The article spoke of a Partner who still practices at 79, who was challenging in court the position of his firm that he was “too old’’ to fulfill the obligations of being a Partner.

The article went on to speak about his actual productivity (among the highest billing), scholarship (a regular contributor to Legal Journals and Opinion pieces), and reputation as a mentor (younger Partners revere him as a mentor).

So, beyond age… why this dilemma?  His legacy firm stipulates that it was being prudent and needs to have a “mandatory retirement age” to make way for “younger Partners”.

So in the legal profession, as is the case in other sectors such as accounting, contribution is not a consideration……the main one is age! Hmmm

Vitality is not a function of years… is preparation, outlook, health, and intellectual curiosity…..

Speaking of which……

The Need to Understand the Mental Model of the Younger Worker

A recent survey at Beloit College of incoming freshman had some interesting results.   When asked for example, “Who was Michelangelo”? The response was “a computer virus”.  I thought this was obtuse until it was explained to me that in fact there was a computer virus called Michelangelo.

As a Boomer I thought it would be interesting to create my own quiz and of course answered my own questions as if I was a Freshman (I Wish!)

  1. What was The Cold War?               One fought in the Arctic
  2. What was The Long March?          The first Marathon
  3. Who was Beethoven?                      A Dog who starred in a couple of movies
  4. What was the Kitchen Debate?     An argument my parents had in the Kitchen
  5. What is the Palmer Method?         The swing of an old golfer
  6. What is a Fountain Pen?                 A fountain in the shape of a Pen
  7. What is a Pop art?                           OK this one would be timeless

So which is more compelling, the answers of the incoming Freshman or the fact as a Boomer I did not know there were “2 Michelangelo’s”?

And more importantly is this an issue of age, intellect, or exposure?

Reconciliation of the Apparent Contradiction

As I was drafting this blog, I consulted others by Tammy Erickson ( and my nephew Sean a former Army Captain currently in Grad School in Germany (

In reviewing their writings, the WSJ article, the Beloit study, and most importantly my pro Sistine Chapel response, I was thinking…..maybe this “you lose it with age thing has some merit”!


There are too many aspirations all who work have in common:

  1. The desire to be respected
  2. The desire to be recognized
  3. The desire to be mentored
  4. The desire to be challenged
  5. The desire to be provided opportunity regardless of age!

The disconnections we note and laugh about to the point of cohort mutual mocking, are not a function of age…. there are more accurate explanations.

Having given this apparent contradiction some recent thought I have concluded it is an issue of understanding and tolerance.

Moreover as we will need the energies of all who wish to work to be effective whether we speak of societies or enterprises, we had best table the ridicule and focus on more understanding and tolerance.

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