“The young man pities his elders, fearing the day he, too, will join their ranks. The elderly man pities the younger generation, well-knowing the trials and tribulations that lie ahead of them.” –Lynda I. Fisher

The competitive advantage of learning from each other

Born in 1980, I missed being a millennial by one year (depending on who you ask), and usually, I’m neither the oldest nor the youngest in my social circles. I sit on a board made up of established community leaders. I work with talented young professionals who are on the cutting edge of all things business and technology. I’m also the father of two teenagers. So it’s safe to say—I have access to a bevy of generational perspectives.

But unfortunately, I often see a lot of negative perceptions on both sides. Older generations are sometimes close-minded and unwilling to adapt, while younger ones can be self-entitled and reluctant to listen. The result is a lost opportunity on both sides.

When I started my new career at LinkedIn, I transitioned from a role I felt I’d mastered. It was a big change. That’s why I made a commitment to talk less and learn more. I was blessed to be placed on a team of senior sales people who were willing to show me what they learned at companies such as Yahoo and Disney. I also benefited from a company culture that encouraged cross-team collaboration.

One of my favorite examples is an arrangement I have with a coworker. I help her with technical issues and she proofreads for me (she was a former English teacher).

As a result of such opportunities, I’ve learned more in the last couple years than in the 10 years prior. The last year, in particular, was the most accomplished one of my life, by far.

I began the year being promoted to lead the Public Sector team at LinkedIn and receiving our segment’s MVP Award. Mid-year, I was named one of Pacific Coast Business Time‘s “40 under 40” recipients. And to cap it off, my wife and I were honored as “Volunteers of the Year” by The Salvation Army at the Hollywood Christmas Parade.

As I reflect back, it’s clear that I never could’ve had the type of year I did without the broad spectrum of people—Baby Boomers and Gen Z— from whom I’ve learned all sorts of things.

For instance, I recently learned: a board voting procedure from a 66-year old business lawyer, writing best practices from a 46-year-old marketing expert and tips on a photo editing app from a 12-year old junior high student. And that was just in the span of one week.

As you can imagine, I’m not the first to employ this method.

Years ago in an interview, Michael Jordan was asked if any of today’s basketball players could beat him one-on-one. He said, “I don’t think I would lose,” before smiling and adding, “other than to Kobe Bryant, because he steals all of my moves.”

Admittedly, Kobe mastered his game by studying and adopting the strengths of his predecessors, including Jordan, and has no shame about it. Neither do I. That’s what the great ones do—they learn from others.

Being willing to learn from everyone, regardless of their age, is always a plus. But, desiring to learn from  people because of their unique experience will make you a far more effective person both in and out of your work.

Excerpted with permission from Joey Zumaya’s LinkedIn blog