Every Monday morning, my 92 grandmother sits down at her computer and bangs out an email to all her children (2), grandchildren (7 + 6 in laws) and great-grandchildren (6 at last count), as well as a few nieces and nephews and their kids and grandkids. The whole family responds to her, as the matriarch, returning emails, sending digital pictures (which she prints and frames) and generally digitally interacting with her and each other. If she can do it, anyone can.
The use of technology is no longer an optional extra in the world. Everyone has to be able to use technology to a reasonable level. And being old (or “nearing retirement” is no excuse). Hey, if a seven year old can do it, how difficult is it anyway?
Young and Old computer skillsJack Welch, the legendary CE of General Electric, had this problem a few years ago when the Internet, cellphones and email hit companies. He solved it by insisting on a programme of reverse mentoring. Simply put, he required all his older managers and executive team to meet regularly, one-on-one, with 20-something staff members, with the express goal of the younger person teaching the older person how to use the emerging technologies. They discovered that there was much more value than simply technology training in these relationships – but that’s a different story, for another time.
BBC News carried a story two weeks ago about Chris Wertheim, a dyslexic man, now in his late 60s. He had taught himself to read at age 25, and now had signed up for the Sixty Plus Intergenerational Computer Project in Kensington and Chelsea in London, which pairs teenagers with older people teaching them computer skills one-on-one in their own homes. It has been a brilliant success.
Just like in companies, the success is not just older folk who are computer literate, but younger folk who develop life skills and worldviews as they interact with the wisdom of the older generation. This should be done in more communities. And in more companies.

Read more about reverse mentoring:

Center for Coaching and Mentoring – Survey Results
Alan Webber, co-founder of Fast Company describes reverse mentoring: “It’s a situation where the ‘old fogies’ in an organization realize that by the time you’re in your forties and fifties, you’re not in touch with the future the same way the young twenty-something’s. They come with fresh eyes, open minds, and instant links to the technology of our future”.
AARP Magazine – This Isn’t Your Father’s Mentoring Relationship

These days, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a Generation Xer helping a baby boomer learn a new technology or a 62-year-old manager passing on leadership tips to a 26-year-old colleague — mentoring is valuable at any age.
Masterful mentoring

Entrepreneur Magazine – Kids These days

One of the most valuable things Judy Kirpich has learned is that some of the best ideas come from people who were barely born when she started in marketing 23 years ago. “I routinely get technology information from younger employees who have grown up on computers,” says the 49-year-old CEO and co-founder of Grafik Marketing Communications.
Busting Out of Peer-to-Peer Networks
Executives Meet and Learn From Employees in Reverse Mentoring Programs, By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer

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