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Don't Confuse Old Thinking with Chronological Age

My two years of hard time at the now defunct Amazon Fulfillment Center in Coffeyville, 2001 – 2003, were, well, hard, but I did learn a lot. I managed what was called the “Rambo” receive team responsible for receiving and stowing boxes of odd-lot quantities of books, CD’s, and DVD’s; less than case quantities requiring a different methodology than putting away full cases and pallets of like products. The workload varied wildly from day to day. The company forecasts of upcoming workload were worthless, yet one of the things I learned was that I could develop a sixth sense in predicting seemingly unpredictable workload conditions. The workload required a variable crew that could be adjusted from 16 to 45 people with 24 hours’ notice.

My crew was a mix of 16 – 18 full-time employees and up to 22 - 27 part-time employees we called “flexies.” Flexies had agreed to be available to come in on short notice, 12 to 24 hours, at my discretion, in exchange for higher pay than available for most other part-time work in the area.

Several people on my full-time crew were nearing retirement age. Several on my flexy crew were retired people wanting to augment their income. Even in an environment where you could be let go if your productivity numbers weren’t high enough, I learned one thing; even if their speed wasn’t quite up to that of the younger ones, the seniors were among the most reliable, consistent, and productive employees of the whole bunch. They did not possess an old way of thinking “I’m old and I just want to sit around in my retirement.”

Employment Agency for Seniors

If I wasn’t the director of Fab Lab ICC, I think I would consider launching an agency specializing in placements of seniors, those 50 and older, selling potential employers on the reliability and work ethic of this generation.  The agency would also provide equal effort to the idea of starting a business as an option to working for someone else. Finally, such agency would provide support for those who have retired, discovering that sitting around in retirement doing nothing is not what they want. People are not made to sit around and the idea that you work until retirement only to sit in a rocking chair is an old way of thinking.

One of our region’s most prolific serial entrepreneurs, Curtis Lavine, started his first company at age 59 after retiring early because he grew tired of his corporate bosses “breathing down his neck.” He went on to create 8 or 9 businesses after retirement. There are many ways to serve others in retirement, whether working, creating businesses or volunteering.

Old Thinking Doesn’t Have to Come With Age

Mindset, not chronological age, determines young or old thinking. Fixed mindset is the idea that a certain amount of knowledge is “enough,” and that when you retire, you’re through with your contributions to a better community. Growth mindset is a realization that the learning is a continuous, life-long process and that one can always figure out new ways to serve others, whether as an employee in a company, an entrepreneur serving customers or a volunteer serving constituents. The kind of mindset we possess is a matter of choice, not a matter of age.

We should be helping youth choose to have a growth mindset starting at home and continuing through school. This would increase the ratio of curious people, always seeking new knowledge and wisdom to the “know-it-alls” thinking they’ve learned enough needing no further knowledge.

Young People Lack Experience But Can Have Fresh Ideas

I had someone, Richard, on my Amazon crew. He was young and although somewhat immature, he was intelligent and on good days a pretty good employee.  On his 30th birthday, we had some cupcakes and I said, “At 30, you don’t even know how much you don’t know.” Looking back, I see now how much I didn’t know when I was 30, yet, like Richard, in spite of my lack of knowledge and wisdom, I made some positive contributions when younger whether as an employee or as a business owner.

It Takes All Ages From All Generations

Curtis Lavine told me that it takes people from all generations to make a company or organization be the best it can be. If everyone, young or old, has a growth mindset the inexperienced youth can work beside the older, wise ones, all contributing new ideas to help the organization be better. Curtis said, “I don’t understand the new technology like the younger ones do, but I can look at a deal on paper and tell whether or not it’s a good one.”

Jim Correll can be reached at (620) 252-5349 or by email at jcorrell@indycc.edu. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of Fab Lab ICC or Independence Community College. Archive columns and podcasts at www.fablabicc.org.


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