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A CEO Makes the Case That Young Employees Are Better at Solving Problems

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With age comes wisdom, but with wisdom comes less creative problem-solving.

That’s what Nancy Lublin believes, anyway. The 46-year-old entrepreneur—she’s currently the CEO of Crisis Text Line, a text-based counseling service for people in crisis—says younger people are just better at solving problems without resorting to tired, old hacks. Here’s how she explained it to LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, in an interview for his Masters of Scale podcast:

“You and I approach a problem, and the first thing we might say is, “Well, how has this been done before?” And then, “How could we do it better?” They don’t even ask that. They’re just like, “Well, that doesn’t make any sense. Let’s try it this way.” They don’t have any history. They’re not poisoned yet by preconceived notions and stereotypes; they’re just fresh.”

Buddhists would argue that what Lublin is really talking about is “shoshin” or “beginner’s mind,” a way of thinking that keeps the mind open to new possibilities and aware of how little one knows or understands of the world and other people—or, framed more positively, how much there is still to learn.

Jack Kornfield, a Buddhist writer and teacher, refers to shoshin as “the wisdom of uncertainty” and says it “frees us from what Buddhist psychology calls the thicket of views and opinions.” According to Kornfield, Buddha thought that know-it-alls who cling to their own preconceptions and judgements “wander about the world annoying people.”

According to one recent scientific study, believing yourself to be an expert makes you more likely to be close-minded. That means self-proclaimed experts are likely less prone to work with a “growth mindset,” a concept developed by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. In her research, she has found that children need to be encouraged to see their talents and intelligence as ever-changing and able to continue expanding, rather than seeing them as “fixed.”

Fortunately, anyone can cultivate a beginner’s mind through various practices and exercises, even those who are on the wrong side of 30. For instance, Gil Fronsdal, a Buddhist teacher, suggests meditating with the mantra “I don’t know” to open up space in the mind. When you catch yourself expressing a view or prejudice in the thoughts that inevitably interrupt your attempt to meditate, add the words, “I don’t know.” The idea is to first notice and then question the mind’s authority.

As for Lublin, in 1995, when she was in her 20s and free of preconceived notion and stereotype poisons, she co-founded Dress For Success, a company that provides low-income women with professional attire and career mentoring. More recently, she was the CEO of DoSomething.org, a global organization for youth dedicated to social change through volunteer projects. In that job, she tells Hoffman, she loved to watch “young people stumble.”

There was one point in time at Do Something where we were 70 employees, and 10 of them were over the age of 30. I was like a den mother. I was like the “Old woman in a shoe.” The really exciting thing about managing 60 people in their 20s is that they’re all falling in love for the first time, they’re breaking up with someone for the first time. Some of them are coming out, and discovering their own sexuality. I had two people come out as transgendered, and one of them transitioned while I was there. They’re maybe getting their own apartment, or they’re going to the death of a parent for the first time. It is an incredible privilege to lead an organization of young people. Everything is a learning moment. Everything is high stakes. Every pitch deck they wrote was the first one they wrote.

Every time they took out a meeting, it was the first time they were taking a meeting. And it’s constant: “I’ve never done this before.” “Whoops! Let’s try it again a different way.” It’s constant innovation. It’s super fun—super frickin’ exhausting.

The full interview from Masters of Scale podcast can be found here:

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