Better With Age

By Lloyd Graff

Are you getting better with age?

The question came up for me watching Tom Brady’s virtuoso performance in the Super Bowl. He threw for over 460 yards and played a brilliant second half.

I think about the issue quite a lot because I bet my livelihood on my judgement every week. If I’m slipping, will I know it before it’s too late to bail out or change course? If I go on a losing streak, does that mean I’m unlucky, or losing my mojo? My uncle Aaron Pinkert used to tell me often that the “dollar is round, sometimes it’s up, sometimes it’s down.” But what if it loses momentum and just stops rolling?

I do have the immense gift of working with my son Noah and living with my wife Risa, who are both into continuous improvement and generally keeping things real. They tell me when they think I’m wrong.

I recently listened to a brilliant podcast by Steven Dubner of Freakonomics. He discussed getting better through practice, not just daily laborious repetition, but purposeful focused practice. He started the podcast with an interview with Suzanne Bartman, a woman in Denmark in her 40s, whose lifelong dream was to be a professional singer. Her idol was Whitney Houston. We heard a recording of her singing before she started her training. She sang like somebody whose best work was in the shower.

Bob Fisher the Free Throw Shooting World Record holder.

Suzanne started by practicing with Karaoke tapes. She worked at it religiously, five days a week for an hour, when she wasn’t being a psychologist and a Mom. She slowly improved, but it was in little fits and starts. Eventually she hired a voice coach and her singing improved significantly. But she still couldn’t hit the “big notes” of Houston or her current idol, Christina Aguilera. But finally, after eight years of deliberate practice, her confidence grew and she was able to really belt it out. Today she is singing professionally at local clubs in Denmark.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a wonderful book, The Outliers, where he extolled the virtues of 10,000 hours of practice to master a skill. But it is the intersection of talent, practice, and another ingredient, “self-belief,” that enables a Tom Brady to reach the pinnacle.

Dubner’s podcast about “focused practice” featured a great interview with Bob Fisher, a 54-year-old soil technician in Kansas, who holds 14 world records for free throw shooting, currently.

Fisher never played high school, college or pro basketball, but wow, can he shoot a basketball like nobody else. He has worked at it with a passion for 20 years and devised a unique training regimen. He practices shooting in his basement with each hand every morning and has an extensive library about shooting technique and the psychology of success. He recently made 53 free throws in one minute and then followed that by making 29 in one minute shooting blind-folded. Fisher is no Steph Curry. He’s a 5’8” guy who made himself into the best foul shooter ever, and he is still getting better.

So where does that leave you and me? I am 72 years old and I still think I can get better at business and writing. Noah and I are listening to audiobooks on business strategy. I keep writing blogs and discarding them, trying to publish a few good ones. I do worry about stagnating and falling backwards. I don’t know if I have 10,000 hours left to learn a new skill so I’m just going to keep practicing, still hoping to hit the “big notes.”

Question: Would you rather go to a 35-year-old doctor or 60-year-old doctor?

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11 thoughts on “Better With Age

  1. Geno DeVandry

    This is a great question. I am dealing with this very thing in my business. I am 64 soon 65.
    My youngest son who has a math degree thought he wanted to be a teacher. He got involved with a tutoring school and quickly was moved into managing several school locations. He found he enjoyed the business side more then teaching.

    He recently joined my business has brought a great amount of innovation to our business.
    Of coarse he lacks the years of experience I have and doesn’t know yet what pitfalls to avoid. At this time he wants to run every job that comes across his desk. He is learning.
    For this business to grow and servive the company needs both of us for awhile until he gains in experience.

    In regards to a Doctor it would be nice if they could work together. If I had to choose I would take experience over innovation. Maybe because I am the old guy.

  2. Dick Crosby

    Assuming your number doesn’t come up for some time, you’ll
    be fine. I’m 84 1/2. People have asked me for at least (10) years, “Crosby! When are you going to retire?” My answer,
    “When I hit the wall.” I believe that. When the big guy wants me, I believe I’m ready. My faith is my security blanket.
    From reading (most) of your writings, I think you are too.
    My age hit me approx. when I turned 80. You WILL slow down, unless you’re in terrific condition, and not overweight like me. (5’7″; 243.) But, I love this business, cuzz it keeps me mentally, and somewhat, physically, active, although not like the old days, from 6 A to 9 or 10 P. I hope you’re as lucky as me.

  3. Peter May

    I wonder if the air pressure in the footballs was the same during the second half of the game ?

  4. Ed B

    Great article as usual Lloyd. I agree that we never can stop learning and growing. If we stop it becomes a slow death. I’d rather go to a 45 year old doctor !

  5. Russ Ethridge

    I want a younger doctor because medicine is very technology driven and research based and an old lawyer because the law moves slowly and is more about experience.

  6. allen

    I want a young doctor.

    One aspect of the arrogance of youth is omniscience and who wants a doctor that doesn’t know everything?

    Uh, hold on just a sec….

    Oh right. You’ve presented a false dichotomy and I needn’t abide by it.

    I want an honest practitioner which means they keep up with the technology and are honest with themselves about their weaknesses some of which are related to age.

  7. Geno DeVandry

    Hey Dick,
    Thanks for the encouragement. You are right I am a Christian and I am blessed. I am not aware of what He has for me next. However I am open for it. I have been coaching youth soccer for more than 30 years and my wife and I very busy in our church. I have been running this business since I was 19 years old. I would not mind someone else taking the helm.

  8. Chuck SNow

    give me the 60 year old doctor. I had one and unfortunately she sold her practice to a 35 year old and WOW do I ever miss my more mature doctor. She had years of experience that her young replacement is going to have to work those many years to become as knowledgeable as her predecessor had upon retirement.

  9. Randy

    I’m quite happy with my 60ish yr old doctor. When i was taking my dad to see his youngsters they simply tried one prescription after another. No actual tests performed, just a two minute consult and a new prescription, used dad as a guinea pig. Not everything is cured by a pill, and the older guys have a few more things less “chemical” oriented to try first.

  10. rick

    “Old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.” – David Mamet

    “Have you ever notice there are more old drunks than there are old doctors.” – Willie Nelson

    So I will have a nice drink each day and find an old doctor that still has some common sense. All that the younger doctors are taught is “CYA” medicine, run every test under God’s good earth, and write scripts for every sort of magic pill!

    There is a wealth of information these days on the internet, so you have some ability to be your own advocate, and your own researchers.
    And remember – if it is on the internet, it must be true.

    Do you hear some of the drug commercials on the radio, and TV?”

    “Side effects may cause paralysis, blindness, or death. If you experience these or other side effects, discontinue use and call your healthcare provider.”

    I don’t have half the scripts I get filled…

  11. Skip

    I want an older doctor. They have the experience of learning from mistakes over many years, and yes, Dr.’s make mistakes. About 20 years ago I had a 2 vertebrae fused in my neck by a near retirement aged Neurosurgeon, Dr. Roufka. I knew his skilled hands had done this surgery countless of times and if during the surgery there was anything non-textbook, he would be prepared. Dr. Roufka retired to Israel within a year or so of my surgery and my neck has done well.


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