Well, somebody better settle on a definition of ‘innovative’ first. Innovate – to make anew, is the base word from the dictionary. Every innovation that has come down through history is the result of somebody else’s hard work or research. So where (or for that matter, why) is there supposed to be a metric correlating the innovation of things and the age of their innovators?
Apparently, from this Slate article, according to Vinod Khosla (co-founder of Sun Microsystems and present venture capitalist), normal folk tend to lose their capability to be innovative after age 45 (ol’ Vinod said this back in 2011 when he was a ripe 57). Now this Slate writer goes on to take the position (as Slate stories tend to do) that, if not directly supporting the suggestion, then giving credence to the meme that old folks are mostly useless and should be sacrificed to make new and improved Soylent products.
But. All the links in his article point in the other direction. Links to the statistics (not being used here – please go and read them directly, better for you to believe what you read than take my erroneous scribbles for it), show that Khosla’s opinion is simply wrong, perhaps dangerously so. Dangerous is a strong term. Let me backpedal a bit. Age is a factor, in general, when dealing with (i) actions. Sight goes, flab grows, a graybeard finds it that much harder to dodge the speeding Jetta coming down the street (better still, a graybeard driving a Jag into a bunch of college students at the bus stop, because he got the gas and brake pedals confused). Only that the issue is not just restricted to physical actions. Mental acuity, thoughts that germinate outside of the box, the innovativeness developed across the ages, are being challenged. Last and definitely not least; the emotional toll in getting old. No matter how many commercials show peppy, happy couples dancing or playing with grand-kids, those elders still experience 2AM mortality calls*.
*That’s where you wake up very abruptly, and very alert. No nightmare recall, just a strong feeling of anxiety that you can’t put a finger on. Once you assess that you’re not having a heart attack (if you are, call 911 – it’s worth a false alarm embarrassment), recognize it as a simple reminder and go back to sleep. Easier said than done, but I’ve gotten used to it after the tenth time.
In the tech consulting field, the Millenials are coming to the fore, with smartphones blazing, tact and civility be damned. The pre-retired of us, who are the last generation of old school manners, try to explain the rules of social interaction. We fail, and in the new process, are logically sideswiped in the hierarchy. Where we once defended our turf through political machinations, we are outmaneuvered with youth and backup data. Simply put, mammals (not exclusively) innovate when they need to overcome an obstacle. Bears and raccoons deduce how to access trash bins, seagulls nab shellfish and drop them from on high to crack the shell. Most societal animals develop a pecking order with rules. Doing something that challenges those rules is a form of innovation. (My turn to be the alpha hamster).
How a half century has changed the (western) world. Taking a gander back to the late fifties-early sixties; post Korean War, pre-Vietnam. Two routes, white or blue collar. First case, school then more school, then internship, probably marriage and a child. You’re into your thirties before you earn the trust of your seniors to be granted responsibilities, because of the other life challenges you’re expected to conquer. Not much difference on the blue collar side. A layer of formal schooling is replaced by a lengthier apprenticeship. Same social, family expectations.
Today, the route to advancement has lost any semblance of form or function.
Create a one-trick pony, parlay that to a venture capitalist, get the girl, get the yacht. Wait another year before you’re allowed to vote. Now that’s not to say someone over forty couldn’t run that same path. But the difference is a holdover from the late 60’s resentment of the formal structure. Don’t trust anyone over xxx. That meme took hold with a vengeance, was passed down genetically, and is now an inbred truism even among people of the same age group. Trust but Verify is replaced with Validate and Cash Out.
Numerically superior yet notably (presumed) inferior aided by a maleficent media campaign to usurp control. Put out to pasture before economically self sufficient. It’s not a zero-sum game. And the ending is, and probably will be, repetitious. And the elders play into this, accepting – somehow – the gameboard has not only completely changed, but that they will not be allowed to play unless they look, sound, and act like the newest players.
All that rubbish aside, there are situations that at least try to ignore the present status quo. There’s nothing to stop an individual from thinking of the next type of sliced bread. While still heavily biased toward the young, if an innovator has the right product, the entrepreneurial energy, and the tongue of a dedicated con artist; they can earn a venture capitalist’s munificence.
Which takes my thought process to imagine the simple formula of (Innovation * Entrepreneurship) + (Capital * Risk) = Success. A bit simplistic, most probably incorrect. And the part that I’m hiding is the formulas that make up Innovation and/or Entrepreneurship. No, not hiding – I just don’t know. If I did, I’d entrepreneur all over the place. Wouldn’t even need to innovate. Just start selling shares of air, claimable immediately.