What you need to know about age and innovation

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Ideas at any ageA reader asked me this great question a week or so ago:

QUESTION: I’ve read about all these innovators below the age of 30 forming new businesses, mobile apps and Internet businesses. What chance has someone got if they are older? Is it too late after a certain age to innovate?

CHESNEY: Right off I’d say that age doesn’t matter at all. But at the same time who’s going to argue that youth doesn’t have a strong head start? Especially when it comes to energy and drive. And the reason why so many young people are making it especially in the online world is because they have grown up with the technology.

Makes me think of a rerun movie the other night. Burt Reynolds as aging stuntman Sonny Hooper in Hooper. He’s sitting next to the young jumpstart Jan-Michael Vincent who wants to get into the professional stunt business. Vincent has what we’d nowadays see as a laughably primitive calculator with him computing the distances to jump a supercharged stunt car over a gorge. Reynolds using old-style guts and intuition works out some rough figures in his head. He moans about these whippersnappers with their new technology (calculators!) wanting to steal the older guys jobs.

Many mature people today have bridged the technology divide. If they’re not running their own websites and blogs, they’ve got technology-savvy youngsters helping them to do it.

It’s not all about the technology. Mature people are coming up with ideas for products and services and having fun doing it… and making money.

If you look through an age prism, you’ll only see people younger than you succeeding. Colonel Saunders wasn’t thinking about the downsides of age when he decided to take his $120 Social Security cheque to start making money from his secret chicken recipe.

Research has knocked over stereotypes about age: The Kaufman Foundation has data that shows the highest rate of entrepreneurship in America has shifted to the 55 to 64 age group. People over 55 are almost twice as likely to start successful companies as those between 20 and 34. Mature entrepreneurs have accumulated experience in their fields, a deep knowledge of their customer needs and larger networks.

Innovation seems to differ depending on age profile. David Galemon, a University of Chicago economist, has identified two types of creativity:

One based on radical new concepts at which young innovators excel; the other on probing experimentation that comes together later in life.

Mature people can increase their innovation by using tools and techniques that help generate ideas and updating their skills regularly.

Staying open to possibility and experimentation are important at any age.

Whatever your age profile, it’s important to be reminded of a research study that shows that in 10 years more than 70% of all businesses fail.

The biggest reasons: lack of clear focus, market awareness, going into business for the wrong reasons, burnout and bad advice. This applies to any age.

Anyway, that’s my angle on innovation and the age profile of entrepreneurs.

You can learn more about generating new business ideas and innovation here at www.ideaaccelerator.co.za.

Stay inspired

Chesney Bradshaw

PS By the way… Keep tuned into Ideaaccelerator for an article on the biggest mistakes small business owners make and how you can avoid them. Sorry you’ll have to wait. See you then.

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