Where does innovation come from?
Is it in the technology circulating all around us, or is it in the hearts and minds of people?
To me, the answer is obvious — people are the key to innovation. But what is less obvious is who are the possessors of the knowledge driving disruptive ideas?
We live in a world where there is a tremendous focus on the younger generation — as they are looked upon as the harbingers of tomorrow’s breakthroughs. And while there is a great deal of truth to this, what puzzles me is why the older generation seems to be largely disregarded, when it comes to innovation, in favor of the younger generation.
You see it all the time. CEOs and other business leaders sweating over how to attract new talent and replace an aging, soon-to-retire workforce — a very legitimate concern. But I feel often there is missed opportunity on both the part of companies and an older generation that still has a lot to contribute to “what’s next” in their specific discipline or industry.
Until now, I’d really not read about anything compelling to back up my theory. But a recent New York Times op-ed by Pagan Kennedy spurred me to look more into aging innovators.
In her article, Kennedy features John Goodenough, a 94-year-old innovator, who is still actively pursuing new projects well into his twilight years.
Goodenough, who is credited with co-inventing the lithium-ion battery in 1980 at the age of 57, recently co-filed a patent along with his team at The University of Texas at Austin, for a fast-charging, non-combustible battery that, if successful, has the potential to revolutionize electric cars and change the face of transportation as we know it.
As a society, we assume people’s creativity and drive wane with age. But it shouldn’t be that way, and moreover, if Mr. Goodenough is any indication, it certainly doesn’t have to be that way.
Golden Age Innovators
In 2013, MIT published an article featuring seven innovators over 70 years old.
The amazing people featured in the article included notable personalities, such as electrical engineer, Carver Mead, 82, and computer scientist, Barbara Liskov, 77.
Today, Mead, known as a pioneer of modern microelectronics, teaches freshman physics at Caltech, and Liskov, who is one of the first women to be granted a doctorate of computer science in the U.S., teaches at MIT.
Similarly, all the other people featured in the article remain active in their respective fields or disciplines to this day.
When Innovators Hit their Creative Stride
Ironically, while the younger generation is usually associated with being more innovative, the numbers actually tell a different story.
In a 2016 study, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation found that inventors peak in their late 40s and tend to be highly productive in the last half of their careers.
Similarly, professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Hitotsubashi University in Japan, who studied data about patent holders, found that, in the United States, the average inventor sends in his or her application to the patent office at age 47, and that the highest-value patents often come from the oldest inventors — those over the age of 55.
As the old adage goes, “things get better with age,” and it would appear that innovators do as well. That’s not to say as a population we all of the sudden become innovative or creative when we reach a certain age — generally older innovators are driven, curious and have a constant desire to learn and try new things throughout their lifetime — but the point is the older segment of the population that is innovative should be tapped for their abilities.
At ChaiOne, we recognize that innovative ideas can come from anyone and any generation — and we thereby foster a culture that rewards innovation and forward-thinking ideas from every segment of the population.
– Gaurav Khandelwal
Tapping Innovation in Today’s Workforce
In today’s dynamic enterprise environment, digital innovation and digital transformation require entrepreneurial and creative thinking.
To harness this kind of thinking, startup incubators and innovation labs have become a part of forward-thinking companies’ missions to drive and accelerate the innovation process.
At ChaiOne, we leverage our unique relationship with START Houston, a company founded by ChaiOne founder and CEO, Gaurav Khandelwal, to keep a steady pulse on “what’s next” and encourage entrepreneurs to push their creative ideas forward.
Largely, startup incubators and innovation labs have been viewed as the domains of a younger set of the population — but it is our firm belief that all innovators need to have a place at the table.
– Gaurav Khandelwal
To learn more about ChaiOne — and our commitment to innovation for the modern enterprise — read our complimentary eBook, The CIOs Guide to Developing an Innovation Strategy for the Digital Age.