Roughly twice as many “talent professionals” are looking to hire millennials than looking to hire Gen-Xers, according to a recent survey reported in USA Today. While this hiring preference may be because millennials will work longer hours for less pay, but it’s probably also related to a widespread belief that young people have nimbler minds than their elder counterparts.
Or as Mark Zuckerberg said at the ripe old age of twenty-two: “Young people are just smarter.“
However, while there are indeed some kinds of thinking ability that peak when you’re in your late teens (such as thinking quickly and recalling data), Harvard University recently uncovered three areas of intelligence (all crucial to business success) that peak in your forties and fifties:
While people tend to forget the math that they learned in school, the ability to do arithmetic in your head increases as you age, peaking in the mid-50s. Now, you might think that’s a useless advantage considering that every phone has a calculator app. However, if can quickly do math in your head, you’re less likely to be fooled by fake statistics and more likely to spot obvious errors in, say, business spreadsheets.
As people age into their fifties, they accumulate useful knowledge on a broader range of subjects and tend to get better at understanding complex, interrelated subjects, as well as explaining such concepts to others. As an aside, this explains why people in their forties and fifties make better mentors than their younger counterparts, even if the youngsters are themselves quite brilliant.
While there are examples of authors, composers, and artists who do their best work when young (George Lucas comes to mind), it’s far more common for highly-creative people to do their best work while they’re in their 40s and 50s (e.g. just about every other filmmaker). Since creativity is the source of innovation, companies that want to remain nimble in the face of global competition might be better served if they hired more Gen-Xers and fewer millennials.
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