Innovation Is of All Ages

In BUSINESS, LEADERSHIP On
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A lot of managers assume that establishing a culture of innovation would require bringing in young people into their organisations. I tell them they are wrong. Innovation has nothing to do with age.

As international speaker on innovation, I travel all over the world talking to a lot of innovators. And I observe in practice that innovation is of all ages. And I am not the only one. I was delighted to read this statement of John Levis, global chief Innovation officer of Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited, in the Wall Street Journal, which really supports my view.

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 also 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 now 58 and have been working for around 30 years now. When I reflect on my personal skills of being creative and making innovation happen, I think I even became a better innovator when growing older, for five 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”.

2. I dare more. I notice that I dare more now that when I was young, as I do not care so much anymore about what others would think of me and dare to follow my gut feel. Only as I got older I dared to challenge and break present patterns and follow my gut feel.

3. I learn from my failures. my ideas were not always successful of course. I learned continuously 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 :-).

4. I am still high creative. My creativity has not diminished at all, compared to 30 years ago. I still get the craziest insights at unexpected moments like wakening up, driving a car or during spinning at my fitness club.

5. Greyish hair gives me authority. 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. Getting older and growing greyish hair helped me in getting the confidence of others to follow me and my innovative method.

What about you? Are you getting more innovative too?

Innovation is of all ages. It needs the creativity of a 5-year-old, the passion of a 30-year-old and the wisdom of a 70-year -old.

Note : This article was originally published on LinkedIn

Gijs van WulfenGijs van Wulfen is a recognised authority and keynote speaker on innovation and Design Thinking. He was chosen as one of the first LinkedIn Influencers and as of 2017, 300.000 people across the globe are following his notably engaging, prolific and insightful posts. In 2016 Gijs came number 2 in the international Top 40 Innovation Bloggers. In 2017 his book ‘The Innovation Maze’ was elected ‘Management Book of the Year’.

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