Complex Made Simple

What is the value of knowledge in a technological world?

I first started out in advertising as a junior account executive, which essentially meant analysing newspaper ads. I would monitor them, gather clippings, see what was what, and report back. It wasn’t the highlight of my career, by any stretch of the imagination, but I did learn; the size of a quarter page in Gulf News, what colour separations meant, how different brands communicate, the way the language is written, and why certain images are used. Everything I learnt is still of value to me today.

Shortly after, I became an account executive on the Nissan account. I had recently returned from the US, was not long out of university, and, as many people do in my situation, thought I knew everything. I remember how my Japanese client at that time pulled me aside and said: “Your job for the first two years is to sit, learn and listen.”

Today things have changed. Who invests time in such learning anymore? Employees across all industry sectors skip or jump rungs on the career ladder, and this is as much our fault as it is theirs. Account Directors become chief marketing officers; junior journalists become editors; bank clerks become financial advisers. But most worryingly, our reliance on technology is degrading our own mental capacity as communicators. Increasingly we rely more on technology than we do on ideas.

We no longer remember phone numbers because they are stored in our contacts. The route from A to B is forgotten because we rely on Google Maps for navigation. Meanwhile, our children are becoming progressively worse at mathematics because they always have their smart phones within reach. And the more we rely on web services for certain cognitive and memory functions, the more those abilities weaken.

We live in an age where experience has been sent to the back of the classroom. Where youth is valued above all else. Time used to equal knowledge, experience, and gradually rising through the corporate structure. Now it’s technology, disruptive thinking and entrepreneurialism that matter.

But what does it really matter? How important are knowledge and experience anyway?

The industry is far less rigid now, age and experience are no longer key factors in what you can achieve. We do, after all, live in a world where the president of the French Republic is 39.

I like this brave new world. But if we lose knowledge, we lose something of ourselves and the industry will be poorer for it.

Nevertheless, there is more opportunity than ever before for those with spark, pizazz and drive, regardless of age. Ideas are flourishing, collaboration has become fundamental to progress, and we are embracing failure in an era of entrepreneurialism.

I was talking to a friend the other day and they asked: “Who would you rather hire? Someone that started a company, but failed and learnt from it, or someone with years of experience and multiple different degrees?”

It’s a difficult question to answer.

There’s no point in holding onto the old days, however, not everything that’s old is outdated, and not everything that’s new will be a success. That’s where you count on your instinct and your experience to figure out what’s what. Experience comes with time and investment in knowledge and learning.

Reda Raad is the Group CEO at TBWARaad