The Myth of the Wunderkind

In many industries youth is currently favoured over wisdom and experience. It is thought that younger employees have more energy, more creativity, more zest for life, and, heck, they are darn cuter. Look much better on the Instagram account.

Along with this idea is the corollory that any person who is good at a given industry, say, flogging cupcakes, can transition into pretty any other industry, say, WWF wrestling, and thrive with minimal onboarding. There is a second corollory to this theory, following on the first — that a talented amateur is probably just as good *or even better* than the long term professional.

Experience is then, not a good thing. I have even had people suggest that it is a bad thing. People get stale and sour.  They stop performing a peak efficiency and get lazy.

So, I wondered, why don´t doctors seem to suffer this fate?

If you found out you had cancer, would you go to a young person just out of med school or would you go to the person (probably at least 50+) who is at the top of her or his field, who has seen hundreds if not thousands of patients, is performing cutting edge research or is associated with same?

Would you go to the wunderkind? Or the chick just brought in from neo-natal? Or your neighbour´s cousin who has done a ton of resarch?

I  know which person I would go to to ensure that I survived. I would go to the doctor who has been doing this job for decades. That is who I would go to.

An example from the two industries in which I have been working for most of my adult life: 1) theatre and 2) marketing.


I tend to work with artists who are emerging into professional work, at that strange juncture called semi-professional. In the last three decades, I have watched the role of the director be undermined by consistently hiring people with little or no experience in the role. They might have great acting chops or be amazing producers or solid musical directors but they aren´t directors.  So, they often fail.

What happens? Everyone steps in to fill the void. Over time, these sweet, often very gung-ho directors become more and more ignored while people do what they have to do to perform as well as they can. End result is, of course a fragmented show – as if all the people involved were doing their own show indepentently of everyone else. Which, in fact, is what is happening. There´s nothing particularly wrong with it. The audience will, likely, be entertained. But it´s just not well directed. In fact, I can tell you within a couple of minutes of a show starting whether I am in good hands directorally or not.

And, in general, at that level, I am often not in very good hands. That has resulted in me making the decision that I will just go and see professional work that has been well-reviewed by a person I respect. I am just tired of seeing crap.

Think about it: I am a prime target. I am no longer going.


I also do a lot of marketing. Social media marketing, straight business to business stuff, direct marketing…all the things. I am very glad that in my business I have contacts who believe in me? Why?

I have forty year old friends who have been booted from great jobs because they are considered too old. Too old? Some of the best marketers in the world didn’t even hit it big until they were past 50. Look at people like Steve Jobs – a guru — everyone followed him. Look at Colonel Saunders who didn’t even start Kentucky Fried Chicken until he was over 50. Mary Kay Ash? Complete industry game-changer. The same. Henry Ford didn’t start his motor car company until he was almost 40. There is example after example after example. These people were not just great marketers but they were business innovators, amazing, dynamic, energetic, and built empires.

So. What’s Going On?

Like many myths currently bouncing around, the Myth of the Wunderkind basically allows employers to fire their extremely talented and well paid senior employees and save money on the bottom line. Bottom line management has served to reduce the reputation of most major brands from my youth and, like the director in theatre, makes them less and less interesting.

Now, let me tell you that there are always amazing wunderkinds about. They come in and disrupt industries and make waves and make money. But don’t kid yourself that these people are few and far between. And remember that people do this AT ALL AGES. Do we need to ignore age when hiring? Uh. Yeah. Do we need to keep the experienced doctors around? Uh, yeah. We don’t want our patient to get sick.


Jacqui Burke is a marketer and theatrical director in Toronto, ON. She has been working in both fields for over thirty years (cause you can’t put on a show without getting the word out), is capaable of bringing old tecniques in line with the latest in tecnology and can offer. Her agency offers not only consulting but, also, top notch services including hosting, social media content and posting, video development, and website design. Got a question? Let her know!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *