Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul. – Samuel Ullman
I’ve been wondering for a bit about transitions – what happens at various stages of your career. Is it a gradual slide into irrelevance or is it a cliff edge? Do you get better as you get older or do you become that person that has outstayed their welcome. Is it possible that we get too old to be useful?
Hopefully, the answer to such questions is no, but we should still ask them. And perhaps the starting point, if you’re wondering about this issue, is to ask yourself what value looks like. What do you do that has value or that creates value?
In business, that comes down to two things – according to Peter Drucker. You need to focus on marketing and innovation. These are the two things that add value. Everything else adds costs.
I think Drucker’s quote, while sensible, is perhaps off the mark in today’s world. A better one to keep in mind comes from Ycombinator’s startup advice, which is that the two things you should do at an early stage company is write code and talk to users. I think you might say that’s the same thing Drucker said – but I think marketing and talking to users are different in the image they conjure up about what the task is that you’re doing. You can have someone do the marketing for you – but you have to go out and talk to customers if you want to build something that’s going to be useful for them. And it’s not just for early stage companies – great companies do it as well.
What does this mean in terms of an age-stage process. Perhaps when you’re young you have more time to code and perhaps when you’re older you’re a little better at talking to customers. Or perhaps you’re young and amazing and can do both those things. Whatever stage you’re at, though, if you’re doing at least these two things – then you’re probably in a good position because you’re creating value.