Cathryn Sloane’s Article: 25 Going on 16

I knew everything when I was sixteen.

By the time I turned 25 I had begun to turn the corner. I’ve been unknowing stuff ever since, and becoming the wiser for it.

I once worked with a mid-twenties young man who wrote a ten-page paper on why the ad agency we worked for was doing everything wrong. He shared it with me and my art director (now business partner), asking what we thought about him sharing it with the owner. We said something on the order of, “Hey man… you might want to rethink that. It’s not that you’re wrong… it’s just that you’re… well, you’re wrong.” He informed us that he had already put it on the owner’s desk.

He was gone within the month. It was a Jerry Maguire if ever I saw one.

I just read the much-gnashed-over article Why Every Social Media Manager Should be Under 25 by Cathryn Sloane.

Interestingly enough, this 52-year-old, clearly over-the-hill-as-far-as-social-media-is-concerned guy did not feel indignation, or self-righteous anger, or really much of anything except mild amusement. I’ve seen this movie before. I expect to see a sequel to it in my 16-year-old son, who thus far has managed to stay human and less of a know-it-all than I was at his age. I know where Cathryn Sloane is. Been there. I was just fortunate that social media didn’t exist at the time, so  I wasn’t able to publish my arrogance for all the world to see.

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell posits that the truly excellent – the outliers – those who, in their particular fields, actually do know almost everything – have all spent something on the order of ten years (10,000 hours) practicing their art or craft or whatever it is they know almost everything about. I have come to believe this is true. In our business, a good creative person will bill something like 1600 hours of true work time in a year. Doing the math, they will really begin to hit their stride somewhere between 7 and 10 years down the road. I’ve seen it. And, I’ve seen it in AEs, I’ve seen it in media folks, I’ve seen it in photographers and illustrators. I think it may just be a fact of life.

So, back to Cathryn’s article. I understand how such a piece can be written out of the arrogance of 16. I can even see how the arrogance of 16 can still be percolating along when you’re 25 and produce these thoughts. Enjoy the feeling of knowing it all, now, Cathryn. It dissipates.

The good thing is that, down the road, the less you think you know, the wiser and more expert you will become. Rewrite your article in ten years, Cathryn. It’ll be a better piece.

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