What’s the relationship between age and wisdom these days?

Kev Chesters says age doesn’t give you wisdom. But it'll give you a free bus pass — eventually

Little bit older, little bit bleeding wiser,” as my best mate’s grandad used to bark at him (and me) when we were growing up.

This was normally followed by a rather tedious lecture straight from the letters page of the Daily Express. His grandad was a bloke who had never travelled, never looked beyond the pages of his local tabloid, and didn’t think any politician since Churchill had said anything worth listening to. He wasn’t big on listening anyway. He’d started using this phrase when he was in his thirties apparently, but by the time I started hearing it he was well into his eighties.

I believe that the assumption that age automatically brings wisdom is a somewhat strange one. The idea that simply managing to not get hit by a bus or avoiding contracting a terminal illness somehow qualifies you as an expert in any given topic.

Unless you are willing to listen then it doesn’t matter how old you are or how old you get, does it? It’s not like you’ll learn anything.

Age and wisdom are two very different things

Advancing age can simply often be a matter of dumb luck.

If you were stupid, ignorant, or intransigent at the age of 20 it is probably safe to say you will be at 40, or 60, or 80 years old. Donald Trump has nearly lived for eight decades but is probably the stupidest person on Earth, bar none. He has no wisdom. He has nothing intelligent or useful to add to the discourse of humanity. He simply isn’t dead. In his case with age has come an amplification of pig ignorance.

Age doesn’t give you wisdom. It just gives you a free bus pass — eventually.

Experience is what gives you wisdom, regardless of what age you are. Experience requires you to listen and learn. Experience requires you to make mistakes and be willing to acknowledge them. Experience requires you to be open to new ideas or new ways to approach things. Experience requires that you get out there.

You don’t get smarter just because you age. You just stay stupid with greyer hair.

I’ve met unimaginably stupid and rubbish people in my industry who have been doing it for decades. I have met insightful and brilliant people in their twenties who were the smartest one in the room.

We make an assumption that people with ‘C’ in their title must be really wise and conversely that the account exec with 12 months’ experience has nothing to add to a project beyond the coffee order or photocopying.

Older people are not necessarily sage experts. They are simply people who got older. Now, it is (obviously) more likely that the longer you live, and the longer you are willing to listen and learn, that you will become more experienced.

And experience is valuable. Experience is something worth not just shouting about but charging a premium for. But it is not necessarily something that automatically comes from hanging about for ages on Planet Earth.

Every other industry out there gets this. If you employ the services of a law firm, you’ll be met with a price list with an ascending scale based on experience. It’s the same in industries such as film and publishing. Probably the most pertinent example for agencies is management consultancy. The firms like McKinsey understand the value of experience, and price and charge for it accordingly. And funnily enough, clients are increasingly going to consultancies to have the conversations they used to have with their ‘main’ agency. Clients will pay for it; McKinsey are proof.

My business partner, Mick, is forever telling me a story about Michael Caine that proves this point. He was asked in an interview if he thought he was worth the millions he was paid for his last film. His answer was that, of course, he wasn’t worth the money, but his career was. They were paying for a lifetime of credibility, experience and knowledge. But they weren’t paying him because of how old he was, he had to have learned a lot along the way. I suspect that my Gran when she was 89 (Caine’s age) wouldn’t have had a lot to add to the film industry.

Little bit older, sometimes a little bit wiser. But not automatically.

Featured image: Abi Ismail / Unsplash

Kevin Chesters, Strategic Consultant

Kevin Chesters is a Strategic Consultant, and former Strategy Head at Ogilvy and W+K London.Kev started his career in account handling at Ogilvy in the mid-90s, making the transition into strategy in 1999. Since then, he has progressed through the ranks in a number of different strategy roles – client and agency, domestic and international, across every type of creative and media output through a diverse range of networks, micro-networks and independents.After working as Head of Marketing Strategy at BT from 2001 to 2004, Kev made the jump back to agency life as Planning Director at Saatchi & Saatchi. He joined W+K in 2007 and was appointed Head of Strategy in 2009. He was the lead strategist on Honda for a number of years and led the successful pitch for Three.Kev left Wieden in 2013 to become the Executive Planning Director at McGarryBowen, seeing the agency enjoy its most successful period ever, winning two Cannes Gold Lions and 16 out of 19 pitches.In 2017, Kevin joined Ogilvy & Mather as Chief Strategy Officer as part of a new management team, along with Harbour Collective Creative Partner, Mick Mahoney. The team was tasked with putting the London agency back on the map and succeeded by topping the New Business Performance League for 12 months and being named runner-up in Campaign’s Agency of the Year 2017.Kevin was then promoted to be head of strategy across all its disciplines at Ogilvy, before joining Harbour with Mick in May 2019.Kev is a regular commentator on industry issues, writing for publications including Adweek, The Drum and Campaign. He is a blogger for the Marketing Society, a member of the APG Committee, and has been a judge for both the APG and Effie Awards.Along with Mick, Kev is the co-author of the recently published book, The Creative Nudge.

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