Why SpaceX Isn’t Just for Gen X

It was one for the ages.

Last Friday, the International Space Station had a rendezvous with a spacecraft launched by Space Exploration Technologies Corp., a privately owned company better known as SpaceX. Some space exploration enthusiasts say it heralds the birth of an “industry of privately funded space ventures,” according the Wall Street Journal.

What caught our eye, though, was SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s musings about how he hopes to staff up his company going forward. Noting that the average age of today’s SpaceX employees is 30, Musk told reporters that “his management goal is melding ‘the wisdom of age with the vibrancy of youth,’” according to the Journal.

We’re awfully used to saying “yes, but. . . .” here on the Drucker Exchange—and we’ve taken on Musk himself for his narrow view of who has the capacity to be innovative.

But sometimes we have to just say “yes.” And in this case, Peter Drucker, like Musk, believed firmly in a balance of ages.

Both an age structure that is overbalanced on the side of youth and one overbalanced on the side of age create serious organizational turbulence,” Drucker warned in Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices. “The management structure needs continuity and self-renewal. There must be continuity so that the organization does not have to replace all of a sudden a large number of experienced but old managers with new and untried” personnel.

One way to create a good balance is “to bring into important positions a few seasoned and older outsiders who have made a career elsewhere.” But youth is essential so that “new ideas and new faces can assert themselves.”

All of this sounds simple and obvious, but many a startup has failed to create such a balance, with serious consequences. “A management group that is of the same age,” Drucker wrote, “is a management group headed for crisis.”

What do you consider to be the ideal mix of youth and age when it comes to staffing a company?