A lot of people assume that establishing a culture of innovation would require bringing in young people. They are wrong. Innovation has nothing to do with age.
I was delighted to read this statement of John Levis, global chief Innovation officer of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, in the Wall Street Journal last week, which really supports my own view and experience in practice.
Lewis states: “We get out-of-the box ideas from all generations. What was important was convincing others that it’s OK to risk failure, that trying out new ideas that fail is even a positive. As I said earlier, for an organization to have a culture of innovation, the talent and performance model should not only tolerate experimentation and failure, but also reward those who advance innovative thinking, regardless of the outcome”.
The view that innovation has nothing to do with age is supported by research of Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University. He states that 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.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. I am 55 and have been working for around 30 years now. When I reflect on my personal skills of being innovative and leading innovation, I think I even became a better innovator when growing older, for three reasons:
1. I had to learn the patterns before breaking them. As junior manager in the food industry I was very eager to learn at the 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”. Only as I got older I dared to challenge and break these patterns at the companies I worked for.
2. I learned from my failures. Breaking patterns wasn’t always successful of course. I learned continously from my mistakes though. This created a far better business compass of what will work and what will not. Of course I am still wrong, but less than I used to be :-).
3. Grey hair helps convincing. In organizations you can invent alone but you can’t innovate alone. You need a lot of others in an organization to get from an idea to the market. And it takes an awful lot of time too. Getting older and growing grey hair helped me in getting the confidence of others to follow me and my innovative method.
So what about you? Are you getting also a better innovator with age?