Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The word of the day is innovation and the question is do you have to be young (that is under 35) to be innovative???  Does your creativity diminish, as you get older; Are you able to think out of the box; Are you less of a contributor in the work place…when you turn 40?

So confessions of a self-defined innovator….

·      I am over 40 and I still think out of the box
·      I’m a ‘first adopter’…whenever a new gadget hits the market I am first to get it
·      I look at a situation and think of unique solutions
·      I love technology and am good at it
·      I create things…businesses, art, photograph
·      I am a social media guru…use it, work it and love it
·      I blog
·      I create my own websites (four live at this moment)
·      I can look at a brick and think of hundreds of uses for it

So… is there an age limit to being creative and innovative?  It seems that the people who do the hiring at many businesses and organizations think the answer to this question is yes.  Since the 1960s business managers have emphasized youth and what youth supposedly carries with it: vitality, energy, and creativity when they hire.

Despite the stereotype that entrepreneurs are fresh-faced youngsters, new research has found that older workers are more likely to innovate than their under-35 counterparts.

Young entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, who was 19 when he founded Facebook, and the duo of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, both 23 when they developed Google, have created a collective image of the successful innovator as youthful, brash, and brilliant.  In turn, we’ve been taught that with middle age come calcified habits, outdated skills, and an aversion to risk.

It turns out that many of the most common stereotypes about aging are dead wrong.  On average, founders of  high-tech startups are not whiz kids, but  mature over 40-year-old engineers or business types with  spouses and kids who simply got tired of working for others. 

What’s more, older entrepreneurs have higher success rates when they start companies. The reason for this is they have accumulated expertise in their technological fields, have deep knowledge of their customers’ needs, and have spent years developing networks of supporters (often including financial backers).  Older entrepreneurs are able to build companies that have more advanced technology and are more sophisticated in the way they deal with customers.
The age at which entrepreneurs are more innovative and willing to take risks seems to be going up. According to data from the Kauffman Foundation, the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55–64 age group, with people over 55 almost twice as likely to found successful companies than those between 20 and 34. And while the entrepreneurship rate has gone up since 1996 in most other age brackets as well, it has actually declined among Americans under 35.
So why does the stereotype that older workers are less innovative persist?  The way companies utilize their workforce is often an issue.  Companies tend to put new hires, fresh out of college, on their most innovative projects, while making older workers do routine jobs within existing systems.  Also, many companies don’t spend enough money on training to keep their employees’ expertise up to date.
Workers are also at fault. Many older workers coast into premature obsolescence instead of keeping their skills current. In the European Union, for example, only 30 percent of employees over 55 participate in any kind of job-related training, compared to 50 percent of their younger colleagues.  Most older workers know how to use new innovations, but don’t!
One thing is clear:  a change in the prevailing mindset about older entrepreneurs and workers won’t happen by itself. One approach that has been successful in changing age-driven stereotypes is developing mixed-age teams to work together on interesting projects.  Siemens, the Munich-based technology conglomerate, has instituted a “cross-mentoring” system under which older employees share their experience with younger employees while young employees update the older ones on the latest technology.

Demographic and economic pressures will soon force workers, businesses, and entire economies to rethink these stereotypes.  In a post-recession world, assuming that someone can be phased out due to age will be a luxury no one can afford. 

More tomorrow on innovation….


  1. Ellen,
    1st.) Thanks for sharing this really, really, REALLY good post with Brandergy members.
    2nd.) I think it's blatantly ridiculous - if not just downright harmful - to think that innovation comes with an age restriction. (Not all younger people can out-innovate all older people.)
    3rd.) The best we can do in matters such as innovation is to INNOVATE and INNOVATE and INNOVATE - and - let those who can't innovate play with their lmited little boxes they'd like to confine us to...

    Thanks kindly, Ellen!
    +Vincent Wright

  2. I am in the creative industry and sometimes back I started to have the feeling that younger designers were more creative but when I looked closely I noticed that the were just taking designs from the web and adding in color. There was no regard to font usage or style. There is even a big misconception of balance.

    At 40 plus I can still come up with designs and ideas as well as solve problems for my clients. I also have a number of innovative ideas I want to implement in the near future.

    So its all based on your mindset. You just need to believe in your self and if you are creative you will innovate.

  3. I'll disagree with Zahir. I learned about the TRIZ method of innovative problem solving when I was over 50, and teaching it is my primary business. I was very uncreative (but diligent--I'd manage the project for the "creative types") before, and now I can simulate creativity in business, technical, research, etc. environments. So if feel your creativity is lacking at any age, learn a system, and then USE IT!