Never Trust Anyone Under 30

Never Trust Anyone Under 30

Born in 1987, I was definitely not alive for the original version of the quip in the title, "Never trust anyone over 30," which exhorted young people in the 1960s to buck the system and fight the establishment. However, in spite of many commentators now lamenting that we live in an age dominated by "youth," as a founder of my own business, I find that the axiom "Never trust anyone under 30" currently seems to carry the day.

This is a bit of a problem for quite a few of us; at the shared warehouse offices where my company is based in London, many of the companies of tomorrow are being created by people who are in their 20s today. Sure, age is an ephemeral thing and youth is something we can grow out of, but that isn't totally reassuring or helpful when you have to talk option agreements with a group of attorneys or navigate VAT and other taxes with HMRC.

One of the most common things that happens to you when you're a business leader who's visibly under 30 is the assumption that you're the intern, not the one in charge. Some young business leaders try to steer clear of this by bossing someone around very publicly to establish who's who. While shouting, "Robert, fetch me my lemon water!" to our intern can be tempting, I find that cheerful correction of the ageist culprit works best. "Hey, I'm actually the CEO" usually gets someone's attention. Admittedly, I often have to repeat this. A lot.

Something else that happens quite routinely is the proverbial monkey pat. This occurs when someone accepts that you're a leader who's accomplished something, but gives praise like it's your cute hobby and/or that it's slightly amazing you've stumbled on to any good ideas, since you're barely out of diapers: "Aww, it's so sweet that you're creating your business. How neat that you're able to do maths so well." Well-meaning family friends also tend to remind you of that disastrous lemonade stand you failed at when you were eight. Take a deep breath and accept this as praise and encouragement.

The most sinister character I've encountered is the age flamer. This is the person who's seething about being discriminated against because they happen to be older. They're waiting for you, the youngish business leader, to make a fatal mistake, which includes not using a colon after a salutation in a business greeting, asking for feedback, and/or saying "thanks." As the youngish business leader, you will bear the brunt of the slings and arrows inflicted on this person, and they'll generally call you "pretentious," "over-reaching," or "upstart," sometimes, all at once. There's really nothing you can do here. It feels toxic when you experience this. You want to correct the record! But just walk away. And remember to break the cycle of ageism when you're older and wiser.

Breaking the cycle is the thing that's really important here--for all of us. The things I've encountered that I've outlined above happen to everyone who's not a part of the establishment, which is defined differently by culture, by city, and by industry. Women face this, men face this, young people face this, older people face this, disabled people face this, people of colour face this....

Whenever we define people by blanket groupings, we make a terrible attribution error, e.g. that a 27-year-old can't be as effective as a 50-something in running a business or that a 50-something can't understand technology. Tell that to Mark Zuckerberg or Tim Berners-Lee. In my line of work, I'm all about aggregating mass amounts of data to create a simple picture, but when it comes to real life, good business is about recognising what individuals bring to the table, whether they're 27 or 72. To start a tech company takes dedication, strategic thinking, and hard work--all values that are pretty much ageless.


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