Innovators Get Better With Age

by Gijs van Wulfen

Innovators Get Better With AgeTom Agan wrote an inspiring article in The New York Times on innovators and age. According to research by Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University, a 55-year-old and even a 65-year-old have significantly more innovation potential than a 25-year-old. He based his conclusions on data on Nobel Prize winners and great inventors.

Do innovators in companies also get better with age?

I am 53 now, and have been working for 25 years. I think I became a better innovator, for three reasons:

1. I first had to learn the patterns before breaking them. As junior manager I was very eager to learn at the first companies I worked for. I learned what made them successful in the past. And to be effective I adapted myself to “how things are done around here”. As I got older I dared to challenge and break patterns within the companies I worked.

2. I learned from my mistakes. Breaking patterns wasn’t always successful. But I learned continously from my mistakes. This created a better business intuition of what will work and what will not.

3. Grey hair helps convincing others. In companies you can’t innovate alone. You need a lot of others to get an idea out there on the market. Getting older, growing grey hair helped me in getting confidence of others to follow me and my innovative concepts and methods.

So what about you? Are you getting a better innovator with age?

image credit: green business image from bigstock

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Gijs van WulfenGijs van Wulfen leads ideation processes and is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. He is the author of Creating Innovative Products & Services, published by Gower.

No comments

  1. I am a better innovator now I am a little older for the same reasons you list.

    I was a better innovator when I was a little younger because:
    1) I didn’t know the patterns I was meant to follow…I just applied my talent to come up with a solution that I thought was best.
    2) I hadn’t experienced failure…I had no fear of change or doing things differently.
    3) Youthful enthusiasm helps convince others…just pulling that 21 hour day to build a prototype and provide proof it works is compelling justification.

    Looking back I was a better innovator when I was young when I had somebody with grey hair gently guide me away from extreme risks or explaining how things had been done in the past. I am a better innovator now when I hold back from imposing my patterns on others with less experience and give them enough rope to prove themselves.

    I guess it comes back to diversity and building an effective team: looking at the world through different lenses. Pair young with old and value both.

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