F. Scott Fitzgerald famously said, "There are no second acts in American lives." I hate this quote. Because it is wrong.
I spend as much time as I can mentoring young entrepreneurs. I so admire them. I learn so much from them. They are the quintessential existential heroes of modern business life. And yet...
And yet I find myself often, and increasingly, put off by a growing trope of coldness among many of our newer class of young entrepreneurial strivers. Even in their publicly bruited avowals of pro bono concern for the future of mankind, there seems somehow an unattached sense of being personally outside humanity--above humanity more than part of it. Full of a hipness and knowing intelligence that stands with irony outside the ring of the benighted mass of fellow souls who have fucked up so many things in this world. Souls like me.
Back in February, Rich Karlgaard wrote an interesting column titled "Late Bloomers are in Peril" for Forbes. He noted that American culture is increasingly put off by a new class of academic STEM hero personified by folks like Mark Zuckerberg. Karlgaard feels that Silcon Valley is morphing into Algorithmic Valley, a spiritually barren location that is increasingly hostile to the eccentric inventor and the late blooming oddball who does not necessarily come from the world of perfect SAT scores and an impeccable academic provenance at Stanford, MIT, Cal Tech or Harvard.
Karlgaard states, "...today's technology business heroes are so freakishly smart and young they don't inspire the rest of us. It's worth asking why. My guess: For decades Silicon Valley had among its role models late bloomers and tinkerers. For instance, Bill Hewlett barely got into college; Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropped out of college; Andy Grove went to City College of New York." However, our new dominant entrepreneurial elite do not come from the same places as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Henry Ford, or Thomas Alva Edison.
The new entrepreneur Karlgaard is talking about is a prodigy who aces the SATs, graduates from Stanford at 20, starts a company, raises millions and sells out to Apple or Google in two years. That's who VCs are funding, not the out-of-the-box, scarred by life, autodidactic late bloomers. Karlgaard avers that this late bloomer is getting crowded out. He notes the late bloomer "is vanishing in the American imagination, especially with regards to business, and, in particular, technology. America is in danger of losing a valuable narrative about itself, and the consequences are not trivial."
In fact, this should be a wonderful age for the ripening insights of the late bloomer. After all, 60 is truly the new 40 health wise, and the slow-growing virtues of empathic leadership are increasingly being recognized as a palliative to the growing unease with traditional command and control corporate leadership. Skills of empathy and elasticity come with age and hard knocks-- qualities possessed in spades by late bloomers.
Elkhonon Goldberg, in The Wisdom Paradox (2006), notes that, "While the capability of the brain does indeed diminish with age, this deterioration is more than compensated for by gifts of intuition, empathy, and pattern recognition....What I have lost with age in my capacity for hard mental work, I seem to have gained in my capacity for instantaneous, almost unfairly easy insight."
In other words, there is often a sly innate wisdom to the late-blooming entrepreneur that can neither be taught nor quantified.
My father was an indefatigable NY Yankees fan and he loved Joe Dimaggio, who was noted as a great center fielder. My father related to me that in Joe's last year he didn't have a whole hell of a lot left in his arm, which had always been a great intimidator of base runners. He figured he had about one good throw in him per game. So every night his last year, early in the game, after a routine fly out, he would put everything he had into a simple throw back into the infield. This continued to intimidate runners, even though, for the life of him, he couldn't repeat the feat again in that game. That is what I mean by the sly wisdom of age. It is a special gift offered by entrepreneurial late bloomers.
Poet Maya Angelou has these wonderful few words for the late bloomer. She says, "The Fifties are everything you've been meaning to be." Thank you, Maya.