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Is Innovation a Matter of Age?

This is a guest post by Ralph ohr, make sure you .

Is Innovation a Matter of Age?

Jose Baldaia and I have started an interesting discussion, ignited by a post titled ”Too Young To Know It Can’t Be Done” by Steve Blank. Blank claims that most of the technology innovations were built by people in their 20’s with a few of innovators in their 30’s. His main argument is:

“One of the traps of age is growing to accept the common wisdom of what’s possible and not. Accumulated experience can at times become an obstacle in thinking creatively. Knowing that “it can’t be done” because you can recount each of the failed attempts in the last 20 years to solve the problem can be a boat anchor on insight and imagination. This not only effects individuals, but happens to companies as they age.

In contrast, there is another instructive Newsweek article “The Age of Innovation”, indicating that older workers are more likely to innovate than their under-35 counterparts. This raised the question: Is there a contradiction among both views? Jose Baldaia has greatly outlined his perspective on this in “The tendency to reduce relevance on creativity“. I support Jose’s conclusion that “there is no age to be creative” and would like to add my thoughts here.

To start, let me define some premises I’d like to build upon:

  1. Creativity is a combination of knowledge. Creative ideas are built on the existing. Simply put: building a product requires raw material.
  2. Creativity is not innovation. Creativity is about coming up with novel ideas. Innovation is about further implementing these ideas. Whether or not ideas turn out to be successful depends on the proof of value in the particular context, e.g. adoption of the market or a scientific breakthrough.
  3. Innovativeness has an individual shape. Every person has her own mixture of experience, knowledge and mindset that fuels creation and execution of ideas. I think creativity is no “universal force”.

In an excellent article on teaching creativity, Robert J. Sternberg stresses that knowledge is a double-edged sword:

“On the one hand, people cannot be creative without knowledge. Quite simply, they cannot go beyond the existing state of knowledge if they do not know what that state is. On the other hand, those who have an expert level of knowledge can experience tunnel vision, narrow thinking, and entrenchment. It happens to everyone.“

It’s a kind of trade-off: with increasing age we gain more raw material to connect. But our creativity is also influenced by decreased diversity and stronger psychological biases. I think this is pretty much related to what Steve Blank means by saying: “When you’re young anything seems possible.”

The distinction of creativity and innovation is crucial. Novel ideas are valued by “addressees”, eventually deciding upon success or failure. A high level of creativity doesn’t necessarily imply success. The performance of creative people is a measure for their ability to successfully implement novel ideas in their particular field. In “Fleeting Youth, Fading Creativity”, Jonah Lehrer reports on findings by Dean Simonton, a psychologist at the University of California, dealing with varying peak performances of scientists:

“But Mr. Simonton and others point out that increasing innovation is not simply a matter of funding the youngest researchers. While physics, math and poetry have always been dominated by their most inexperienced practitioners, other disciplines seem to benefit from middle age. Mr. Simonton suggests that people working in fields such as biology, history, novel-writing and philosophy might not peak until their late 40s.”

“What accounts for these variations? Mr. Simonton suggests that they’re caused by intrinsic features of the disciplines. Those fields with a logically consistent set of principles, such as physics and chess, tend to encourage youthful productivity, since it’s relatively easy to acquire the necessary expertise. (The No. 1 ranked chess player in the world today, Magnus Carlsen, is 19 years old.) Because the essential facts can be quickly learned, and it usually doesn’t take that long to write a lyric poem, the precocious student is free to begin innovating at an early age.”

“In contrast, fields that are loosely defined and full of ambiguous concepts, such as biology and history, lead to later peak productive ages. After all, before a researcher can invent a useful new idea, he or she must first learn an intimidating assortment of details.”

According to “The Age of Innovation”, this seems similar for entrepreneurs:

“What’s more, older entrepreneurs have higher success rates when they start companies. That’s because they have accumulated expertise in their technological fields, have deep knowledge of their customers’ needs, and have spent years developing a network of supporters, often including financial backers. “Older entrepreneurs are just able to build companies that are more advanced in their technology and more sophisticated in the way they deal with customers.”

This gives rise to the conclusion that making ideas a success in business requires a certain expertise/experience, network and interpersonal skill, depending on the context and field of activity. All of which tend to increase with higher age.

Finally, I would like to touch creativity as individual capability. David Galenson, a University of Chicago economist, identified two types of creativity. One was based on radical new concepts, at which young innovators excel (think Picasso or Einstein, who were both in their 20s when they revolutionized their fields), and the other built on probing experimentation that coalesces later in life (think Cézanne or Darwin). The second type of innovation is more hesitant and is often a work in progress.

Tim Kastelle wrote a great post, emphasizing that conceptual innovators “start with a clear idea of where they want to go, and then they execute it.” Whereas, experimental innovators consider the execution of novel ideas as a process of searching and improvement. The former have a vision they target at. The latter primarily focus on improving the existing. Individual creativity profiles are likely to be built by superposition of these two basic tendencies. Different circumstances call for different creative styles. Sometimes a revolution, and sometimes a marginal improvement is needed. As already proposed in my previous post, innovation purpose and human capabilities need to fit in order to be successful.

Takeaway:

Creativity is of no age. The ability to create novel ideas by combining knowledge stays throughout the entire life. The likelihood of translating creativity into innovation success, though, seems to be a matter of age. The determinants for successfully implementing and exploiting ideas strongly depend on the context, i.e. field of activity, socio-economic environment, cultural conditions etc. Major factors like expertise/knowledge and social capabilities increase with age. Impartiality, in contrast, tends to decrease. Paired with an individually preferred creative style, this combination results in a certain fit of the innovator with the context. Overall, this obviously leads to younger “radicals” and older “experimentators” with regards to statistics. However, people of all ages can be basically capable of being successful innovators.

What do you think?

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  • http://twitter.com/SemiraSK Semira Soraya-Kandan

    Hi Ralph,this is a very enriching perspective: looking at the interaction of innovation and (personal) capabilities (also already in Tim Kastell’s blog). Currently, Germany has an unseen social protest movement against the building of an underground train station in Stuttgart resulting in a political mediation by Heiner Geissler, age 80 [sic!]. He has just now been on a television talk show (“Anne Will”, ARD) making statements like “”In den Zeiten von Facebook, Blogs und Millionen Vernetzter kann man nicht mehr mit den alten Mitteln Politik machen!” (via twitter: @netzlab) – “In times of facebook, blogs, and billions of people being linked through the internet we cannot make politics by the old means”. Or “wir öffnen die Diskussion total. Leute sollen selbst. Denken” (via twitter @gruenesbad) – “We open up the discussion totally. People shall think on their own”.Here we can witness a marvelous example of a highly experienced politician, matured over various phases resp. political positions during his career who has kept a very flexible and open mind. He recognizes the relevance of the web for the political culture and speaks of it like a “digital native”.Heiner Geissler is a very good example for how high age combined with reading and sharing “Zeitgeist” can open new ways in political participation and decision making. Innovation of a special kind. Historic for Germany.

    • Ralph Ohr

      Thanks for your great comment incl. quotes, Semira. I think you describe a very good example of an “experimentator” here. Someone, who has obviously been able to combine experience with steady adaption to change and technological progress. It also seems, that he has successfully resisted biasing and narrow thinking.

      Which makes him successful and innovative in this mature age in his particular political field.

      It’s innovation of a special kind, indeed!

      Cheers, Ralph

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  • Ned Kumar

    Ralph,
    Great perspectives and an interesting post. Here are my own views on this topic.

    Re: ‘Creativity is not innovation’.
    Agreed -but there is a beautiful overlap and balance between these two that can produce wonderful results. In this respect, I don’t completely agree with the concept that innovation is all about execution and ideas fall into the ‘creativity’ arena. I think each has a role to play and where it can be applied. As an example, I am of the opinion that creativity comes to fore when you are working in a closed environment or with a set of contextual constraints (analogous to an optimization problem). As the constraints gets loosened, the needle moves more towards the innovative side, where you are free to ‘invent’.

    Re: Knowledge & Creativity. I agree that knowledge aids creativity. However, I think knowledge is a necessary but not sufficient condition to be creative. To be creative, one has to also ‘train’ their mental neurons on how to distribute & combine that knowledge (In fact this is more critical than knowledge imho). For example, I would hypothesize that someone like Gary Kasparov (the Chess Grandmaster) would be able to come out with more creative solutions given the situational knowledge than someone with deep knowledge but lacking the ability to think in a non-linear fashion.

    Re: Age & the intrinsic features of disciplines. Again, I agree with the concept because of the contextual factors (and not as much from a knowledge pov). Disciplines like chess are based on a set of static knowledge and a bulkload of thinking/cognitive ability. So as evidenced by the Polgar sisters (http://bit.ly/c8NUVE), one can become a grandmaster at very young age with determination, hard work, and training (I think Laszlo Polgar’s thesis was “Geniuses are made, not born”). On the flip side of things, scientific fields are [relatively] and more about experimentation and finding the unknown than just pure thinking – this takes time either from an experimentation point of view or from an expedition/exploration point of view.

    So to wrap up my long comment – I think the relationship between age and creativity is more complex than one believes. All things being equal, I would agree that age would tend to play a secondary role in how creative a person is. However, the reality is that we are all trained differently when we were kids and our backgrounds, education, society, and genetic disposition molds how our brain adapts to both new information and also an overabundance of information. So whether we are creative or good innovators at a later age depends to a large extent on how our abilities (cognitive, thinking, visual memory, short-term memory, spatial etc. ) were shaped in our earlier years and how much we have kept up with the world around us.

    Enjoyed the post as always :-)

    Regards,
    Ned

    • Ralph Ohr

      Thanks for your challenging comment, Ned ;-)

      Maybe it’s a semantic issue, but I truly think that innovation = creativity + implementation. The idea has to prove its value in the particular context. Even an invention is most likely still an (already materialized) idea. But invention is also not (yet) innovation, according to my definition. What do you think?

      I definitely agree with you on the second point: knowledge is a necessary but not sufficient condition to be creative. The way and the capability how this raw material is combined is highly individual. There should also be a relation to the creative style. Your chess example reminds me of our discussion on my previous post. Again: as creativity is contextual, I think it need both, knowledge/expertise and the ability to combine. The proportions likely depend on the targeted novelty of the outcome.

      You give a very good summary of what I was trying to describe: creativity is a complex interplay of individual predisposition/attitude, age-dependent capabilities and context.

      Great feedback, Ned!

      Cheers, Ralph

      • Ned Kumar

        Ralph,
        Once again, thanks to you (& Jorge) for this opportunity to exchange ideas. I learn more by having fun intellectual exchanges like this with friends than just reading a book or an article.

        I will also readily admit that I am by no means an expert on innovation – on the contrary, my thoughts & beliefs are continuously innovating on this topic :-). So bear with me while I voice some of my thinking.

        After reading your reply I was mulling over what really is innovation? This is by no means exhaustive, but even a quick thinking resulted in multiple possibilities – innovation in process (Dell), product (Apple),delivery (General Mill’s Go-Gurt, no change in product but just packaging), customer experience (Harley Davidson’s community), customer service (Singapore Airlines), pricing (Southwest Airlines), and even a shift in positioning (changing the brand association of Lucozade from a medicinal to sports drink) or creation of a perception (Absolut Vodka’s advertising concept).

        Looking at this it is obvious to me that innovations cannot happen unless fueled by creativity & inventions. Second, I see here a sequential continuum from ideation to diffusion. The question is at what point in that continuum do you call it ‘innovation’ – early adapters? early majority? late majority?. Or as some define it, is the innovation stamp based on commercial and monetary success?

        If it is the latter, what about those ideas that were fantastic and of value but not of much commercial success at the time but later were used to create successful products? The issue I am having with some of the definitions around innovation is that we are labeling something as innovative based on subjective judgements and not based on merit. What if the the implementation was a commercial failure because of the incompetence of the person in-charge? Are we saying that we would equate incompetence with being ‘not innovative’? Or what if the invention or creative idea had tremendous commercial value but the people around it just did not notice it (Xerox PARC examples). Or with products that is a commercial and value-add success decades after the prototype was generated.

        I know I am asking too many questions here and digressing from your original topic RE: Age. But the more I have thought about it, I am inclined to say the answer to ‘Is Innovation a Matter of Age?” will really depend on how one defines innovation. If commercial success is a necessary condition for innovation, then that definitely rules out most of the 5 year olds :-) and so age is a factor. If creativity is the driver, then age is less of a factor as one can be creative at any age – even a 2year old can be superbly creative in what he/she does. If diffusion and dessemination of the idea is the key then that brings age back into play.

        This has been an interesting discussion. I have definitely solidified a few thoughts in my head on this topic, thanks to you.

        Regards,
        Ned

        • http://game-changer.net Jorge Barba

          Hello Ned,

          You bring up an important point that is at the center of the confusion. What exactly is innovation? Everyone has their own definition but I think that what we can all agree on is that it’s the result of executing and idea that’s better than previous alternatives.

          Another thing to consider is that innovation is very much a team sport. Sure there’s a leader but it doesn’t all fall on him. But if the innovation fails, just like team sports, we always blame/fire the coach/leader. Why not hold the whole team accountable instead?

          Like @dscofield said, everyone is creative but not everyone is capable of innovating. Some people are about ideas, others execution and a few do both. At the end of the day it’s a team sport, we all need help and play a role in it depending on our personality and mix of experiences.

          Braden Kelley (@innovate) came up with 9 innovation roles in his book which you can see here: http://www.business-strategy-innovation.com/wordpress/2010/10/the-nine-innovation-roles/

          What are your thoughts on this?

          Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, and I agree that we all learn more from these discussions than from a book ;)

          Cheers!

          Jorge.

          • Ned Kumar

            Jorge,
            After much debate with myself — I definitely did not want to hijack Ralph’s post with my long comments :-) — I decided I will add this last block to specifically answer your question about Braden’s roles and some closing thoughts on how I think about innovation.

            RE: Braden Kelley roles (btw, thanks for the link). I have not read the book and so apologize in advance if I am misrepresenting his intent. Just based on the article, here are my thoughts.

            I think Braden’s roles are great from an academic and conceptual standpoint. It is definitely a good read for folks for understanding the various scenarios they might come across while the idea is in the gestation period and before it can become marketable & commercially viable.

            However, from a practical and real world standpoint, I personally don’t see much value in explicitly assigning these roles. When I craft a team for a strategic deliverable, there are folks from multiple areas with “roles” fuzzily defined. The only roles more or less set are the “project manager” role to coordinate the activities and ensure communication (horizontal & vertical) with all the stakeholders and one or more executive champions as sponsors to back up the initiative & efforts.

            Other than that, depending on where the team is at a given point different members alternate being a revolutionary, artist, connector, troubleshooter etc. During idea refinement, person A might be a revolutionary and person B an artist. When the talk is about IT specs & implementation, person B might be a revolutionary and person C a troubleshooter. At another point person C might be a connector because of his/her knowledge of certain aspects etc. Also, often the roadblocks are political and so may require entire groups to be involved to remove them. And the ‘Judge’ in certain cases might be the legal and finance department and not an individual.

            Again, I apologize if I am totally misrepresenting Braden’s intent and pov. Circling back, what his roles are really good for is that it tells you of the kind of situations you should be aware of and so proactively think about your action path.

            And now to some closing thoughts on innovation.

            One thing I have realized is that innovation at an individual level is not the same as innovation at a firm or entity level.

            At the individual level, I still think innovation is closer to creativity (& experimentation); there is application and execution of the ideas but these are more to prove the idea than to make a commercial success out of the ideas . However, when it comes to firm level innovation I am in complete agreement with you and the rest that it is a more than just creativity. At a firm level, to be successfully innovative a certain culture or mental-model needs to be permeated, the leadership should communicate a clear vision, there has to collaboration and in some cases co-creation and of course, good execution.

            Further, I don’t think innovation is about a single success or failure. To my earlier comment, failure due to incompetence should not in any way take away the merit of the idea – the idea might still be innovative. And even if an idea is a failure – as long as it has contributed to a future success, I still consider it innovative. At the end of the day, a succesfully innovative firm would have generated 100s of ideas and 98 of them might have failed. But those 98 failures would have helped them to perfect two ideas that went on to be commercially viable and marketable. Again, I know I am pitting my amateurish thoughts against experts and professionals – but backing down was never my strong suit :-).

            As an analogous example, yesterday I was telling my 7year old about the Wright brothers and the first flight. The Wright brothers came up with the idea of wing-warping but it was many trials and failures later they had their first successful flight and many more before they had commercial success. Did this make the idea of wing-warping any less innovative – of course not (at least, not in my mind).

            Once again – thank you. Honestly enjoyed our exchange. It is always great to have something for your mind to chew over.

            Regards,
            Ned

          • http://game-changer.net Jorge Barba

            @nedkumar,

            Braden’s take on the 9 innovation roles is actually about simplifying the process and point out that some people will naturally fit into on of these roles. To that end I agree that in real world situations people will adopt a few of these roles along the process. As a starting point, it’s good to identify people’s natural fit taking into account their tendencies and I think that’s his intent with the ‘9 innovation roles’. (which btw he isn’t the first one to propose the idea)

            As far as innovation at the individual and firm level goes, I think we can agree both require a lot of trial and error. It’s really that simple.

            There’s also another distinction, an individual might end up ‘innovating’ a hobby with no economic motivation in mind as a starting point but a firm doesn’t. I think this is also where there’s a gap because ‘innovation’ is being framed as more of a competitive weapon with economic incentives, yet in the past people/teams ‘innovated’ without really thinking of ‘innovating’. It just happened

            I also think this highlights another topic, that of the approach of the individual vs the firm. But I think we could go on and on haha and really end up hijacking Ralph’s post!

            Also, I’m in complete agreement with you that failed ideas are valuable because those failures built up knowledge that could be used for other things. I know of a few firms that have the ‘Failure Awards’ that encourage employees to try stuff out without fear of getting fired.

            Anyways thanks again for sharing your thoughts here and for sticking around. Discussion is still ongoing!

            Cheers,

            Jorge

  • http://twitter.com/Jabaldaia Jose Baldaia

    Ralph!
    Excellent post and I appreciate your mentions!
    Congrats to Jorge Barba for hosting your post!
    As I said at Twitter this is a kind of structure for a good book because you have mentioned some of the most important aspects on the subject. I would like to put my cents on four aspects:

    You said and I agree, “Every person has her own mixture of experience, knowledge and mindset that fuels creation and execution of ideas”. There is another dimension that I think drives us to complexity and to which I asked your opinion – Co-creation!
    When you say “innovation purpose and human capabilities need to fit in order to be successful” it reminds me an arrow just in the center of a target! Here, I think, is where age and interdisciplinarity are of great importance to evaluate the future of ideas for a specific environment. The BMW’s experience is well applied here too.
    I agree with Ned when he says “As the constraints gets loosened, the needle moves more towards the innovative side”, but here I think the oldest loose the race because their experience is a constraint to take risks.
    And at last I must do a comment to Ned words on “knowledge is a necessary but not sufficient condition to be creative”. I think knowledge is a necessary and fundamental condition to be creative. It is not sufficient but it is e only way we have to produce high levels of communication and creativity are indissociable.
    Those are my two (four?) cents and I’m sorry for the use of “Yes…but!” :-)

    • Ralph Ohr

      Thanks much for your comment and the kind words, Jose! I think it’s a great discussion and I’m actually satisfied.

      I also appreciate you share my view on this topic. You’re right in saying “co-creation” adds complexitity as individual shapes superimpose. But I guess, that’s also one reason why the “whole is more than the sum of its parts”. I fully agree with you to go for interdisciplinarity and “interage” ;-) Based on this perspective, it becomes quite obvious that it’s likely the wrong strategy to just hire young people. As typical for innovation issues, the right balance is required to face the common diversity of business and other problems.

      As to the last paragraph, you definitely nail it: knowledge is a requirement but not sufficient for creativity – it gives the raw material to connect. Connecting knowledge, by yourself or/and with others in order to produce novel ideas. And that’s what creativity is about.

      Great to be connected.
      Cheers, Ralph

      • http://twitter.com/Jabaldaia Jose Baldaia

        Hi Ralph!
        Sometimes I prefer to say “The whole is different from the sum of its parts!  I say that because some kinds of groups, doesn’t bring value to co-creation and that’s why I like to differentiate Interdisciplinary from multidisciplinary groups or teams.
        Multidisciplinary groups are like a group of people who shows his idea and then someone makes the whole. In this situation is almost always the whole is less than the sum of the parts.
        I think co-creation builds the whole not only with the core of several ideas but also with the boundaries or adjacencies and that´s why I like T-shaped persons.
        “Co-creation is not just the next new thing in marketing. It is an alternative way of seeing and being in the world. Existing and thriving in the emerging co-creative landscapes will require the creation and application of new tools, methods and methodologies for connecting, innovating, making, telling and sharing.” Liz Sanders
        Cheers, Jose

        • http://twitter.com/ralph_ohr Ralph-Christian Ohr

          Great perspective, @jabaldaia! How would you define the boundaries / adjacencies (of ideas)?
          Could it be that those boundaries are defined by function / expertise in combination with personal attributes? #justthinking
          Cheers, Ralph

          • http://twitter.com/Jabaldaia Jose Baldaia

            Hi Ralph!
            Yes, to me, the functions/specialties or expertise in combination with the personal attributes may give rise to what I call the frontiers of nuclear idea.
            An idea is something that is common in a joint seizure or if we want an object of thought. If we are discussing about the idea of “creativity has no age” the borders or adjacencies (next steps!?) are not part of core such as T-shaped edge but this can lead to the creation of an O-shaped person, a new idea.
            In business we have a basic idea that corresponds to the structure of business, but it may arise components that lead to ideas of disruptive innovation. These components are what I call the borders.
            Cheers, Jose

          • http://twitter.com/ralph_ohr Ralph-Christian Ohr

            Very well framed, Jose! This could be a great conlusion: expertise and field of activity cannot be separated from personality when it comes to innovativeness. All need to collude, for one person as well as with others!
            Cheers, Ralph

  • http://twitter.com/dscofield dscofield

    I totally agree with you and Jose – “You said and I agree, “Every person has her own mixture of experience, knowledge and mindset that fuels creation and execution of ideas”. There is another dimension that I think drives us to complexity and to which I asked your opinion – Co-creation!” – while experience helps, lack of also helps – depends on the person which is why I don’t think this is tied to age – so, while still formulating my thoughts but here are some:

    1. I think to a large degree, age is irrelevant in terms creativity – not that its binary, a lot of it is shaped by our childhood (parents, rearing, experiences, etc.), our education, etc. but I believe some are more predisposed than others for whatever reason – and some can create + commercialize (what I call innovation), some can just create, some can just commercialize/execute. I’ve seen young people that aren’t creative and older people that are astoundingly creative

    2. I’ve seen young kids that are amazing at innovating – in fact i’m mentoring 3 startups from my alma mater – classes of ’97 (oldest!), ’09 and ’10 – in many ways they are way ahead of what I see at the VC firm in which I am a partner – blows my mind at the ingenuity of the ideas and the paths to commercialization, especially the business models

    3. I’ve seen some 45+ folks that are amazing at innovating, in fact, one of my most innovative, creative, successful entrepreneurs started his biz when he was 55! he’s almost 60 – and he did this with kids in college etc. so much at risk. For others, I’ve seen boomers who decide the kids are raised, the house is paid off, “I’m free” enough to really go for it in ways they didn’t feel free to do with all the responsibilities – now you can say they weren’t risk takers, but they are doing amazing cool stuff now.

    4. My view is biased from my (limited) experiences – personally (my father did a major startup when he was 54, risked it all, my grandmother was incredibly creative and looked at problems in non-traditional ways when she was 99, my mother was my entrepreneurial mentor) and professionally – from tweeners doing cool stuff and making money to ‘older’ people (careful, that will/could be us!)

    • Ralph Ohr

      Thanks for posting your thoughts, Deb!

      I’m glad you agree with my view on that issue. Some brief replies to your points:

      1. Indeed, I think the disctinction of creativity and implementation is essential. Each of them pose particular requierements to a person. That results in what you say: some are more creative, some are better implementors. Most likely, good innovators are good at both.

      2. Interesting – it fits to my understanding that start-ups are much more dependent on innovation and tend to have more disruptive potential than bigger companies. This requires adequate people and mindset.

      3. You’re right – for sure the personal circumstances determine the way a person lives. And therefore to which extent he is able to explot his potential.

      4. We all have to deal with biases – but yours seem to be quite beneficial for creativity & innovation; -)

      Thanks for commenting!

      Cheers, Ralph

      • http://twitter.com/dscofield dscofield

        Thanks Ralph! In the VC part of my life, so often the person who ‘creates’ the idea and implements/innovates it can be the same person in the beginning. But over time, it’s rare that the same person can really scale – the management/knowledge skills to get from start-up/early growth to larger viable company are very different.

        About 1 out of 10 entrepreneurs I see are self-aware & ego-less enough to recognize this and hand over the reins to someone who can – they may stay involved in some fashion but their passion is for the business’ success vs. their need to ‘be in charge’. So many entrepreneurs will either kill or seriously maim their companies because they can’t/won’t let go (because they don’t see it, won’t listen, etc.).

        Interestingly, the ones I’ve seen who can let go more easily tend to be older – perhaps life/biz experience has softened the edges of the ego, they’ve been thru enough to know what really matters, they’re more interested in the legacy of a successful biz than a legacy of “me”, and/or they have a strong sense of life being worth doing more for the world around them than them.

        I just got off the phone with a serial entrepreneur in his mid 30’s whose current venture has a very real market need but breaking thru the status quo is formidable. He was disheartened after a recent big potential customer visit and said that worst case, if it didn’t go, he’d make sure he either sold the application, even for “nothing” or gave it away to keep it going because it was so important.

        d

        • Ralph Ohr

          Thanks for the reply, Deb.

          That’s interesting, indeed! As you mentioned, attitudes and drivers change with age. A mature personality might be quite conducive to innovation.

          Cheers, Ralph

  • http://game-changer.net Jorge Barba

    I agree with all here, age is not a factor. Everyone has their own creative style, it’s just a matter of setting if free. Figuring out when you’re most creative whether you’re 5 yrs old or 60 is key, we all have it in there somewhere.

    I’ve met older people who are way out there, not satisfied with anything (the ones I get along with the most) but they are very scarce. Most older people rely on their experience to solve problems. Practicality rules.

    My grandfather was an entrepreneur but it didn’t rub off on anyone else because my whole family values predictability, zero risk tolerance. Why this happened I don’t know, I guess it has to do with personalities because if they’re anywhere creative it’s in increments; not leaps and bounds. And I think this is a common pattern among older people.

    As mentioned to Ralph in an email, this is why it’s so important to collaborate with diverse sets of people no matter their age. In the venture capital world this is somewhat understood, as entrepreneurs rely on a vc’s expertise and social capabilities. I haven’t seen this mentioned elsewhere but I think the concept of ‘bringing sillicon valley’ within a large organization has less to do with generating lots of ideas and accepting that most will fail. I think it has to do with getting people of all ages no matter their background to collaborate in a ‘we’re all on equal footing’ stage and loosen up the screws that exist.

    I would also like to add this article written by @stevekoss based on a LinkedIn discussion: “Is Age a Barrier to Innovation?” http://bit.ly/aejbXZ

    Cheers to all,

    Jorge.

    • Ralph Ohr

      Thanks for hosting me again, Jorge! :-) And thanks for the pinpointing comment.

      I fully agree with you that it’s about generating the right ideas, not just a lot of ideas. The quality of ideas and the quality of the creative process, respectively, is likely to improve with a good balance in human resources.
      Like an innovation portfolio needs to cover a wide scope, people with different attitudes, experiences and creative styles should be mixed in order to tackle diverse purposes.

      Companies don’t innovate – people do! Outcomes are determined by people.

      Looking forward to stay in touch!

      Cheers, Ralph

      • http://game-changer.net Jorge Barba

        You are most welcome my friend, you know you have a home here anytime ;)

        I actually think that they key idea is stated in that article: The environment is more important than the age of the innovator.

        It’s harder for most people to change themselves but it’s easier to create change when the environment changes. I don’t know if you’ve noticed it but I think we’re moving in that direction, focusing on the environment first and then on the person/group via coaching/training.

        Thoughts?

        • http://twitter.com/ralph_ohr Ralph-Christian Ohr

          Good to know, Jorge :-)
          There is a great article on “The psychology of change in organizations”, indicating that “that change doesn’t happen without individual people changing their thinking, beliefs and behavior.” – I guess you already know it ;-)
          http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201010/the-psychology-change-in-organizations
          From my perspective, change happens “inside-out”. As long as there is a dissonance between mindset and environment, integration fails. I’m not sure if changing the environment first is a promising approach – maybe it depends on the kind and quality of the training / coaching. But usually mindset needs much longer than behavioral adaption.
          What do you think?
          Cheers, Ralph

          • http://game-changer.net Jorge Barba

            Ralph,

            I see your point and yes it does make sense. What I’m talking about is discussed in the Heath Brother’s book Switch where they devote a full chapter on how to create change by tweaking the environment.

            As an example I’ll point you to this article on designing city infrastructures that can become hotbeds of creativity:

            http://www.strategy-business.com/article/10306

            Also see this post on HBR (also featured as a use case for that chapter in the book Switch) on the easiest way to change people’s behavior by changing the environment

            http://blogs.hbr.org/bregman/2009/03/the-easiest-way-to.html

            One of the stories mentioned in that chapter was recently featured on HBR but it’s not open unless you’re a subscriber: http://hbr.org/2010/09/kaiser-permanentes-innovation-on-the-front-lines/ar/1

            I think I should write a blog post about this, what do you think?

    • http://twitter.com/ralph_ohr Ralph-Christian Ohr

      Thanks much to @stevekoss for providing the link to his article:

      “Is Age a Barrier to Innovation?” http://bit.ly/aejbXZ

      The article sums up 4 points at the beginning:
      – Older people may have wisdom and experience in their favor.
      – Younger people may be less afraid of repercussions.
      – The environment is more important than the age of the innovator.
      – Experience is more likely to provide incremental innovations.

      I think, they are pretty good in line with the outline of my post above.

      Very much appreciated!

      Cheers, Ralph

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  • Kevin Mcfarthing

    Great article and great comments. It reminds me of the phrase, “your attitude and aptitude determine your altitude”. Your attitude can (and should) be age-independent, your aptitude should improve with age.

    I also think we should focus on innovation here rather than creativity, on the basis that creativity alone doesn’t result in added value, it needs to be implemented and therefore become innovation, to realise value.

    There are some obvious examples where attitude overcomes experience, for example Facebook. However most innovation isn’t on the edge like Facebook, and experience and knowledge are important factors, but only in how you use them. Experience can be negative and tell you why things can’t be done, but doesn’t always tell you how they can be done differently. Equally experience can help you be faster and smarter than the new competitor on the block.

    Attitude determines how you use your experience. If you’re driven, curious, and want to improve your business, you will use it to your advantage and continually innovate successfully.

    So, I reckon if you keep your attitude sharpened as you age, and always be on the look out to improve your aptitude, it won’t matter how old you are.

    • http://twitter.com/ralph_ohr Ralph-Christian Ohr

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Kevin. I like the phrase – there is much truth in it!

      As mentioned, statistics seem to point to certain age brackets. But your advice is for sure a promising way to exploit one’s innovation potential throughout the entire life.

      Cheers, Ralph

    • http://game-changer.net Jorge Barba

      Kevin nailed it!

      “Attitude determines how you use your experience. If you’re driven, curious, and want to improve your business, you will use it to your advantage and continually innovate successfully.”

    • http://twitter.com/dscofield dscofield

      Kevin! How are you? I love that phrase! You must tweet it! Makes total sense. It’s amazing how you can meet the most open-minded, creative, and innovative 75yr olds and the most close-minded, stuck in the mud 25yr olds…

      D

  • http://www.comradity.com K. Warman Kern

    Absolutely, age has played a factor in innovation. According to Gladwell in Outliers, the leaders of innovation were born in the mid-1950’s and succeeded because they had spent over 10,000 hours experimenting.

    “Gladwell discovers that several pioneers in the computing world, including Microsoft’s Gates, Allen and Steve Ballmer; Apple’s Steve Jobs; and Google’s Eric Schmidt, were born within a three-year window (1954-56) of one another. . .They all worked at least 10,000 hours at what they became good at . . ” http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/books/2008383828_br16gladwell.html

    Since then they’ve put in even more time.

    How do you compete against that? Might want to have someone on your team who thinks like they do.

    • http://twitter.com/ralph_ohr Ralph-Christian Ohr

      Thanks for the instructive comment and the useful link! I think endurance is a key to innovation, too.

      Cheers, Ralph

  • Bmccabe362

    This is a fascinating question…innovation and age…and I really don’t know where I come down on it. I do think that the incentive to innovate is stronger when one is young, but if one as an adequate supply of obsessive compulsive disorder :), incentive doesn’t wane with age. That said, I’m 67 and I just produced a product called Game Changer that radically changes how Multiple listing Service (the database of residential real estate listings) data is used. You can see it in action on my web site at http://www.wessex-homes.com.

    • http://twitter.com/ralph_ohr Ralph-Christian Ohr

      Thanks for tuning in, Brian! And congrats to your successful venture. This is quite impressive, indeed. Actually, statistics say, older innovators are more likely to behave like experimentators, rather than like ‘game-changers’. You seem to turn this upside-down ;-) I think, as Deb mentioned below, a mature personality might even be conducive to innovation from a certain point of view.

      Cheers, Ralph

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  • http://www.tri-statefloorservice.com/1911919120.tile-grout-cleaning-service.grout-colorseal.html Grout Colorseal Montgomery

    Very useful set of articles. Thanks for posting them again. I found myself re-reading them and finding new information that I missed earlier.

    • Ralph Ohr

      Glad to hear the post has been useful for you! Thanks for reading. Cheers, Ralph

  • http://www.kleendrybh.com Grout Cleaning

    sounds interesting I’ll have a look at what you got.

    • Ralph Ohr

      Hope you found something useful, Grout :-) Thanks for stopping by. Cheers, Ralph

  • http://www.creativerealities.com Mark Sebell

    President Kennedy is alleged to have once said, “Beware of experts!” He was right and he was wrong, which is why this posting highlights so beautifully what Jim Collins & Jerry Porras referred to in “Built to Last” as “The Genius of the And versus the Tyranny of the Or.” It’s not youth or age; it’s the expertise of age AND the naivete of youth.

    Thomas Edison once said, “Nobody ever came up with a great idea [NOTE: he meant innovation] all by themselves.” One of the keys for strategically envisioning and successfully implementing game-changing innovations in corporate environments (especially large ones) is the kind of team-based innovation where you can create the magic and the paradox between Necessary & Relevant Expertise (age) as it collides, sparks and even sometimes conflicts with Diversity and Naivete (youth). We once worked with a grandmother whose name ended up being filed on 18 patent applications at AT&T. Youth & age; it’s both.