Older People Aren’t as Dumb as you Think, Kid

Whenever most people talk about technology and people my age, it amazes me how many assume we can’t set the time on a VCR (remember those?) or that our view of IM is that it’s a tool primarily useful for young teenagers to plot their escape from under their parents’ watchful eyes. Perhaps, as a generalization this is somewhat true, but it’s not really a correct depiction of how we more “mature” folks use and view technology. The reality is far more complex.

As someone who struggled for well over two decades to bring the latest technology into a large, ponderous, and eminently cautious aerospace company, I have encountered all types of people, from foot draggers (lots of them) to early (and enthusiastic) adopters. Obviously, my favorite is the latter but the challenge really presents itself in the former. One thing I found is that things aren’t always as they seem either.

For instance, I was working with a person who was the Director of a newly formed organization. He was nearing the end of his career, which had been very successful. He was a wonderful person; friendly, helpful, and full of joy and excitement for his job and the work of others. He was very supportive of using newer technology yet, despite continuous efforts to engage him in instant message conversations (our offices were quite a ways apart), he never responded to me. Frustrating!

One day I happened to be in his office to talk with him for a while. As I was sitting there he was composing an email. It was then I realized why he wouldn’t answer my IM communication attempts. He used what an old friend of mine used the call the “search and destroy” method of typing; what most call “hunt and peck”. Carrying on an IM conversation for him would be like talking with a very bad stutter and it just didn’t leave him with a warm fuzzy, so he did the best thing for him. He opted out.

So be careful how you categorize or pigeonhole people. This very successful individual had spent a long career doing just fine without IM. As much as I believe it was a superior tool for communication and that it served to enhance our ability to share (I sometimes now think of it as a stunted form of micro-blogging) information and knowledge, virtually all of his career had proceeded rather nicely without it. I knew I had to accept this and make adjustments.

He retired within a year and I, for one, was very sorry to see him go. Keep in mind there are many more wonderful people in your organizations like him – to one degree or another. Don’t shortchange them or your company by selling them short just because they don’t see the use of technology exactly like you do.

About Rick Ladd

I retired nearly 13 years ago, though I've continued to work during most of the time since then. I'm hoping to return to work on the RS-25 rocket engine program (formerly the SSME) which will power our return to the moon. Mostly I'm just cruising, making the most of what time I have remaining. Although my time is nearly up, I still care deeply about the kind of world I'll be leaving to those who follow me and, to that end, I am devoted to seeing the forces of repression and authoritarianism are at least held at bay, if not crushed out of existence. I write about things that interest me and, as an eclectic soul, my interests run the gamut from science to spirituality, governance to economics, art and engineering. I'm hopeful one day my children will read what I've left behind. View all posts by Rick Ladd

4 responses to “Older People Aren’t as Dumb as you Think, Kid

  • Jim Belfiore

    Good advice that works both ways. There is much to be gained by walking a mile in another person’s shoes. Generational knowledge transfer (or transfer between any two distinct tribes) is always a two-way street.


    • Rick Ladd

      That’s a great point, Jim. I have been suggesting the concept of “reverse mentoring” at PWR for a couple of years now. Unfortunately, although some lip service was paid to the idea, nothing I know of ever materialized from it. A fairly analogous issue was raised at PWR many years ago with respect to who the “experts” were in our organization. When we began our efforts with AskMe Enterprise, we had to decide how we would identify people who were “experts” in their fields. Fortunately, the attitude that expertise was emergent and could be found in other than traditional ways won the day and everyone was allowed to self-identify. It recognized, and circumstances later bore out the reality, that newly-hired, or even people normally considered outside a particular domain, could have important and useful expertise to offer. Appreciate the comment. Thanks.


  • James Todhunter

    Good points, Rick. One the biggest mistakes people make in pursuing an agenda of organizational transformation is to assume that everyone else in the organization should have the same frame of reference. This narrow view doesn’t recognize the reality of the human factors and will lead to failure.


    • Rick Ladd

      Thanks, James. This is surely why I am so interested in “seeing systems”; on synthesizing rather than analyzing; of recognizing and considering as many constituents of a problem or, rather, challenge as possible. I’m also of the opinion your work is heading in the same direction I am, albeit from another approach. Appreciate your comment. Looking forward to the Boston Innobeer!


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