Studies, such as by the Kauffman Foundation and Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management, consistently show that innovation increases with age, despite the popular examples of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates. They are notable largely because they are counter to the norm, which is vast numbers of innovators in midlife and beyond working away in companies, science, academia, and more.
Tom Agan recently wrote about this for the New York Times, where he raised excellent points about changes companies should make, to reward retention, for example, rather than set their sights on short-term profits with younger employers who cost them less.
He notes that a key to innovation is also the 10-20 years after the initial discovery, when development and further study of the applications are key to how much the innovation takes off. Nobel Prize winners, for example, usually win the prize a good 20 years after the initial discovery, when the world has had a chance to learn about and recognize just how game-changing the discovery was.
I wholeheartedly agree with his recommendations for companies, but I think the more important perspective is from the innovators themselves. What are you doing to foster your creativity in your Third Age? How can you make the most of your most innovative years to not only profit but make a difference in the world, all while enjoying the lifestyle you’ve worked so hard for all these years?
Yes, more and more companies are realizing the need for flexible work, such as work-at-home arrangements, job sharing, flex hours, and more, but you don’t have to wait for your company to evolve to where you are. You have another option: entrepreneurship (aka Boomerpreneurship).
Studies have also consistently shown that the most successful entrepreneurs, long term, are between ages 55 and 64. I have no doubt that there’s a link between this and innovation, but it also reflects more and stronger connections, experience, and wisdom, not to mention a stronger financial base for starting a business compared with younger people today especially.
In what areas are you most creative? In what areas have you worked? Do the two dovetail? Finally, in what ways do these two overlap with ways you can make a difference in the world around you, not just short term but for generations to come?
What will you do with your most innovative years?