When the words innovation and start-up are used together in the same sentence, they tend to be equated with smart young things who have developed new cutting-edge technologies. Nothing captures that view better than Mark Zuckerberg’s comments some years ago at an event where he stressed the link between young people and technology, stating “young people are just smarter”. But let’s unpick that assumption. Just how much is age, a factor in innovation and creativity?
When you look beyond the technology behemoths, the fastest growing entrepreneurship demographic is the 55-64 age group. This suggests that boomers, with years of experience and a mountain of corporate knowledge, are redirecting their extensive skills toward entrepreneurship. We also know from recent research that the average age for a successful start-up is 45. These insights are supported by the work of renown developmental psychologist Eric Erickson who argues that we are at our most productive and creative between the ages of 40 and 64. We don’t quote this research to pit older against younger but rather to disrupt assumptions about older workers that suggest they lack creativity, don’t want to try new things and are unable to do tech.
We have come across a number of examples at War on Wasted Talent that debunk the myths and indicate how older professionals are reinvesting their skills (and learning new ones) by developing innovative new platforms and technologies. Christopher Mobbs has developed and launched Smart Tablet, an interactive digital hotel compendium which improves guest engagement through touch screen technology. Smart Tablet not only allows guests to easily access hotel information, it is a tourist information centre in every room. Guests can book restaurants and hotels, find out about local events and activities, and get weather and transport updates. Chris and his partners are all 60+. He is currently developing a new business called findyourassets which seeks to discover unrecovered money or assets.
Serial senior entrepreneur Dr David Arelette has an academic background but also has a number of businesses including one selling medications to dentists, another which is an invitation only wine club and he is about to launch new products for international students to help them navigate Masters Courses and get work ready through an intensive training course called MyGig. David believes innovation can be learned but you need an ability to think through the ‘what ifs’ and a capacity for trial and error.
Workplace innovation also has a relationship to age. Research has shown that Australian companies that are age diverse are more innovative. Creativity emerges when the creative abilities of the whole team are harnessed which is why building diverse teams is so important. Yet we know that very few organisations globally have developed age-inclusive policies.
Clearly, creativity and innovation are not the domain of one demographic. Indeed, it is probably by working in multi-generational teams whether as a startup or in an organization that we will see the greatest innovations. We will never know how much better Facebook, Twitter or Uber could have been had they been developed by multi-generational teams.
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