Too Old To Innovate?

Picture an innovator. Go on - close your eyes and imagine what they look like. Or, be brave, and draw a picture.

Back with me? 

OK - now, I imagine their gender was the same as yours. They probably had a slick style of dress - but almost definitely they were young. 

TV shows - from Silicon Valley to The Big Bang Theory all support this picture - of an innovator as a late-20-to-early-30-year-old, slightly socially awkward geek with an other worldly ability. It is their youth that enables them to think different, to break rules, and deliver new value that the old world could not dream of.

It resonates - except, it’s not true.

A famous study of Nobel laureates - perhaps the highest class of inventors - finds that, on average, they made their discovery at the age of 50. Additionally, this rate is increasing, with critical discoveries being made at an older and older age.

The NY Times had a fantastic article about Dr John Goodenough, who in 1946 was told he was too old to study physics. He was 23. 

Now, 71 years later, Dr Goodenough has filed a patent application for a new type of battery that could revolutionise electric vehicles.

The article paints a fantastic picture of innovation within the domain of all - be they old or young. And yet how can people who feel left behind fire their neurons and begin participating in innovation?

Kerry Topp, a fantastic corporate innovator at Auckland’s Datacom, wrote the following tips for executives - which will often apply to those who feel left out. His ideas are:

• Improve your Digital IQ – Keeping up with tech trends is critical today – for execs & the board.

• Get hands-on & use more tech in your day-to-day activities – ...exploring these tech, directors can get insights into the human experience angle of how they work.

• Hear from those who are charged with driving company digital strategies – The board should hear from the CIO, CDO...& other tech leaders on a regular basis.

• Consider deeper dives outside of board meetings to stay up to speed – Directors can learn about emerging tech through online courses, reading newsletters...or listening to podcasts.

• Keep up with continuing education – ...in order to keep up, you have to commit to learning and stay on top of it.


Fantastic advice - and it can start now. Search emerging trends, explore new technology coming from ProductHunt, or decide to run a design thinking session on a problem that you work with each day. 

And listen to the wisdom of Dr Goodenough - “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to be able to put ideas together.” Draw on your wisdom - and bring this unique value to the innovation projects around you.