Could career experience – widely viewed as a be-all-end-all – not be as relevant as so many leaders think? It’s a question that would occur to anyone who watches a recent Inc.com video of Justice Technology founder David Glickman explaining how the telecom firm got started 20 years ago.
In the clip, Glickman says that he had no hiring budget and was unable to pay recruiters 20% salary to fill the company’s roster – so he posted ads on university job boards and websites. “Suddenly, we had 100 people at our company,” he says, “and all of them were first year out of college. I’d look at my peers’ … Top Five executives … and they’d say, ‘Our senior team of five people have 150 years’ experience in telecom’ – and I’d say, ‘My entire company of 100 people has less than 100 years of experience in telecom – but next year, we’ll have 100 years’ experience!’”
Glickman adds: “My management style is to look at a vision, and say, ‘this is where I want us to go, and this is what I want you to do – but I’m not gonna tell you how to do it. And I’m expecting that those universities that you attended, and how you got into them, and what you did while you were there will give you enough experience to do this. And if not, well, you’re sitting round a desk with a lot of other people that are also young, hungry and smart, and together you guys can learn from each other and build.’ And it turns out that really, what I was hiring were young entrepreneurs.”
The same year it was founded, Justice Technology topped the Inc 500 as America’s fastest-growing firm.
More recently, a 10 April BBC video highlighted the fortunes of teenage entrepreneurs who are earning millions, such as 16- and 17-year-old Annie and Kate Mullen, whose supplement to prevent stomach ulcers in horses is used by five royal families. In the clip, Kate sums up their adventurous approach with the advice: “Even if [your product] isn’t 100% ready, you still need to go out on the market. That’s where you’ll learn the most – learning about your customers and your market, and to see what works and what doesn’t.”
Are young people less constrained by received notions of what can and can’t be done?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “Every generation recognises, and perhaps envies, the enthusiastic ‘can-do’ spirit of the generation that succeeds it. But what tends to unify people with that type of spirit is their openness. That’s openness to new ideas, openness to each other – and openness to learning from far more experienced people. That’s the critical success factor, here: a willingness to learn.”
Cooper notes: “If you go in at 21 and think that you know it all, well obviously, you don’t – and that will be made clear to you in short order. Indeed, if it isn’t made clear to you, then a ‘know-it-all’ attitude will only get worse when you’re 31 and 41. However, if you go in at 21 with an attitude that’s something along the lines of, ‘I’ve got energy, I’ve got enthusiasm, I’ve got ideas – but there’s a lot of things I don’t know, and I have access to a pool of helpful people around me who can help me find out what I need to know,’ then the same will hold true: you’re going to be like that at 31 and 41, too. So in the end, it’s not about youth per se. It’s about seeing the learning process as a continuous journey.”
She adds: “The people who helped to get Justice Technology off the ground could afford to take risks, as they were just starting out, and didn’t have the full weight of the company’s responsibilities on their shoulders. But it would have been just as feasible a course of action for Glickman to have scouted the ranks of former telecom employees who’d retired and just got their pensions, but were up for coming back into the fray to apply their knowledge to the technological landscape he was attempting to monetise.
“They may not have been quite as willing to work long hours as the graduates – but they may have been just as open to learning about the relevant technologies.”
For further insights on willingness to learn as a powerful asset, check out these resources from the Institute