It's just a number

Judge somebody by their date of birth at your own peril.

One of the ways in which businesses shoot themselves in the foot is by making assumptions about the importance of 'facts' that are that are either not facts, and/or are entirely irrelevant.

Is it an ism or is it art?

It is never quite clear if humanity is actually making progress in terms of getting rid of all our nonsensical 'isms' such as racism and sexism. Just when it appears as if positive progress is the case, subsequent events will then often show that much still needs to be done.

Methuselah, son of Enoch, grandfather of Noah

The current USA presidential race has highlighted the question of age with the two most likely candidates, Joe Biden and Donald Trump, being 81 and 77 years of age respectively.

USA politics thus now also now shines the light on another 'ism', namely ageism.

There certainly are realities such as the existence of dementia (a type of affliction that includes Alzheimer's disease), where your age and the likelihood of you suffering are positively correlated. I.e., people are more likely to be affected as they age.

Advanced age, however, does not imply that one will definitely suffer from any of these ailments. Nor does being young mean that you will definitely be not be impacted. Younger Onset Dementia cases, for example, have been diagnosed in people in their 30s.

The Best Person for the Job

In business, your skill-sets, education, experience, and other positive attributes, qualify you to be considered for certain roles. Conversely, the 'better qualities' of other candidates, as well as your 'negative' attributes (as judged by interview panels and/or medical tests), may then disqualify you.

Relevant illnesses could be considered to be negative attributes and will thus count against you. But, one would assume that this type of disqualification would then be the case regardless of your chronological age. I.e., in this sense of the word, age is immaterial. Rather, it is the type of disqualification that matters. Not how old you are.

Is the person 'smart' enough, 'fit' enough, qualified enough, experienced enough, and 'on the ball' enough? We have to try to get answers to such questions regardless of a person's age.

So, what other reasons could there be for 'ageism'?

Well, there could be worries about culture-fit, levels of 'energeticness' and vigorousness, being cool, current, trendy, phat (or whatever the latest slang may be) and many other such 'softer-attribute' concerns. Yet, again, though, the same types of soft-fit calls also have to made when younger people are being interviewed. Will that younger person fit into your team too?

Can older people possess all of the positive 'cultural' attributes? Of course, yes, and Christopher Walken's iconic performance, at the age of 57, in the Fatboy Slim "Weapon of Choice" music video would be a case in point (which BTW was the inspiration for one of the greatest ads ever created). It is considered to be the best and coolest music video of all time by substantial numbers of people. Time Magazine has it at position 22. Others have it in top position. Ok, silly example, yes, but the answer stays 'yes'. From personal experience: One of coolest guys in the Woolworths dev-team of the early 2000s was, by decades, also the oldest. (How are things these days, Ian? Still going strong, I hope!)

Lastly, there could be valid questions about how long the person may stay in that position. But, there are similar valid questions (for very different reasons though) about younger candidates.

We said 'lastly' in the previous paragraph, but let's maybe look at one last concern (and its refutation). There is also the notion that a person in a job might then be taking that job away from someone else. This is a common refrain when xenophobia is discussed. In the ageism space it may relate to the fear that the older person might keep younger ones out of a job. Suffice to say that the right person in the job will be adding more to the economy that he or she is taking from it, and will (directly or indirectly) therefore create more jobs. The number of jobs in an economy is not a fixed number. It increases when there are successful companies.

So, really, age (in isolation) must not come into the equation when we consider individuals for positions and roles. That type of approach is just unnecessary and (let's call it so) 'stupid' ageism.

You may argue that the above is just well, (as per The Big Lebowski) our "opinion, man".

So, what does science and the cold hard facts say?

Science and Age

Let's look at the type of pursuit where 'everyone' agrees it is almost impossible for older people to do well: The business of building ventures.

If you suffer from sexism and racism these days, it is probably better if you hide that fact. Or, well, that is the case at least in some places around the world.

But somehow ageism is still okay. One might say that it is the last outpost of socially acceptable 'isms'.

Facebook/Meta's Mark Zuckerberg: "Young people are just smarter"

Y-Combinator Founder, Paul Graham:the cutoff in investors’ heads is 32

Vinod Khosla (who is 69-years of age himself): “People under 35 are the people who make change happen . . . people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.

What does science say about these claims?

It says this, for example. In short, it says that the common wisdom is just plain wrong. The most successful founders are much older than what is commonly believed. The very high profile of a few tech leaders hide the real facts.

Forbes lays out the research in an article which includes headings such as "Most Successful Entrepreneurs: Middle Age and Beyond".

And some of the earlier links explained some of this too.

Storm in a teacup?

The World Health Organisation calls it a global challenge. It "leads to poorer health, social isolation, earlier deaths and cost economies billions".

The WHO also say "Every second person in the world is believed to hold ageist attitudes". This is not a small problem then. And, as per the previous paragraph, it has huge implications too.

Our view on this?

We are tasked to help our clients be successful. It is 'nice' to have views about these types of questions (and be opinionated), but, in our vocation, we have to be concerned with what this might mean for your business - and how can we help you be more successful.

Well, talent is the one thing that will make any business successful. The right person and the right teams will make your business successful.


Look at the individual. What can that person bring to the table and what are that person's real weak points (as opposed to their perceived weak points; i.e. those related to their sex, race, religion or age).

Science tells you that you are simply wrong if you don't do that. Your business will suffer (or be less successful than it could have been) if you don't heed that advice.