In the evolutionary journey of the homo sapiens, the increased brain size and our taking to walking erect, are said to have resulted in human babies being born ‘half-baked’, and as a result, need protection, aid and nurturing until the brain fully develops and matures – that age is now believed to actually be around 25 years.
The transfer of knowledge and critical decision-making hence was left to ‘mature’ minds, with layers of accumulated knowledge and wisdom (noun: the quality of having experience, knowledge, and good judgement).
But one look around and we discover, there hasn’t been a better time than today to be 23 – from entrepreneurship, to education, to governance, to science & research – the age barrier has been demolished. Experience seems to matter less and less.
Technology can be said to have played a crucial role in this change, in two ways.
Technology as an aid to knowledge : Until just one generation ago (our generation), knowledge resided in analog devices and knowledge transfer was linear, so both sourcing and accumulation were limited and controlled.
The slow change, which devices like the calculator brought to learning, caught pace with invention and proliferation of the personal computer and multiplied swiftly as knowledge became searchable online; 24 x 7 mobile connectivity followed soon and now means that knowledge is available on command, externally, in real-time, thus cutting away the need for more experienced people, who previously played that role (think guru-shishya/ teacher-student)
In fact you would need many people, a lot of thinking to fulfil knowledge needs that technology can now provide in a matter of milliseconds.
In the movie Golden Compass, a fantasy set in an alternate universe, people’s souls accompany them in animal form. My colleague Amita Malhotra once commented, our souls too accompany us, albeit as our mobiles – the mobile knows everything about us, and connects us with our universe.
The second change that has resulted is of Technology as a disruptor: Faster disruption cycles have simply changed our world so rapidly that the value of past knowledge itself is significantly reduced – look at entrepreneurship, money, mobility, communication – given that their management is so fundamentally different from earlier, and that the transition is not linear, but disruptive.
The premium on curiosity and a questioning mind remains though.
So we often see not just are the ‘more experienced’ of lesser value, to nurture those with ‘less experience’, but in fact sometimes lack skills to navigate the new world disrupted by fast paced technological advancement – enter reverse mentorship. The change is reflecting in leadership patterns, leaders are getting younger.
The age prejudice is giving way, i.e. until artificial intelligence (AI) changes the very future of human beings, again.