Opinion

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Business Is Personal

The Young Inherit The Earth

Skilled young people are all around. Seek them out.

I came across a two related stories this weekend. One about a middle school whose administration is considering blocking the mobile stock trading app, RobinHood from the school WiFi network. Another talking about how daytime player volume of Fortnite (a popular game) has dropped because a significant number of middle schoolers are day trading stocks instead of gaming. Apparently, these kids are only interested in gaming at night when the markets are closed.

You might wonder why I mention this. Middle schoolers, stock trading and video games are not usually “my topics”. The reason I mention this is that expertise is everywhere. It’s not just in the remote employee you hired who lives 3000 or 9000 miles away, or the person from the next town over, or just down the street. Most of us know a young person who got a spark from something or someone and now they’re super engaged with woodworking, stocks, fly fishing, etc.

Expertise could be the seventh grader down the street who got that spark and for whatever reason, it relates to something your business does or should be doing. It’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean they don’t care about the things typical seventh graders care about.

Even so, when someone this age gets a spark like this – it could drive their life direction for decades. One of these middle schoolers might be so fired up about stocks that her goal, even as a seventh grader, is to be the CEO of Goldman Sachs someday. Don’t sell them short (a pun?). In 20 years, you might crack open your iPad 27, open the Forbes app and find a picture of her at 29 as the new CEO of Goldman Sachs.

This might seem ridiculous, but things like this happen every day. Kids start sports at three years old and become Olympic champions. I know a young man who started programming at a very young age. He now has a scholarship to a Montana college to pursue computer related engineering. It happens all around us. If you consider the increased screen time, the increased focus on STEM, the access to information and software that many of us never had when we were in middle school – it makes sense. They have opportunities to learn about things that interest them, at their own speed, from almost anyone.

While we think it’s somewhat normal to find an 18 year old prodigy pitching and winning their first major league baseball game three weeks out of high school. There’s no reason to think that the same can’t happen in your business. There are lots of enterprising young people these days doing things many of us never even dreamed of.

You shouldn’t be surprised to find a 14 year old that knows more about put options or some other “esoteric” topic than you do. The thing to figure out is “Where could that go next?”

Our first reaction might be to offer them a job. A 14 year old or even some 18 to 21 year olds may not see that as a positive thing. Their response might be to look at you like you’re insane. Perhaps that isn’t what their life is focused on, or even what their near term goal is.

This might not make any sense to you. But to a 14 year old who has mastered a highly technical skill, offering the chance to be stuffed into a cubicle farm isn’t exactly a reward for all the hard work they did to get to where they are now. Their skill may mean freedom and flexibility to them.

Many of these folks learn something like this because they have a passion for it. They’re interested in solving problems & making a difference in their area of expertise. Fitting into some randomly rigid work schedule that was popularized over 100 years ago isn’t even on their radar. Jobs for 14 year olds… doesn’t really make sense anyhow.

I don’t know how this works out for you and some young person with a valuable skill, but I do know that someone is out there who could be amazing resource for you even on an intermittent basis. Maybe they need a faster computer. Maybe their 529 needs a bump. Maybe they spend Saturday morning with you *in a public place* once a month or so. There’s value for them to see the real world application of their expertise. Figure out what works for both of you.

Mark Riffey is an investor and advisor to small business owners. Want to learn more about Mark or ask him to write about a strategic, operations or marketing problem? See Mark’s site, contact him on LinkedIn or Twitter, or email him at mriffey@flatheadbeacon.com.