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The stereotype of an innovator is a youngster bringing his dream alive like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Bill Gates of Microsoft, and Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple. But they are not the rule. They are the exception.

Tom Agan wrote an inspiring article in The New York Times on innovators and age. According to research by Benjamin Jones of Northwestern University, 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.

Do innovators in companies also get better with age?

I am 53 now, and have been working for 25 years. I think I became a better innovator, for three reasons:

1. I first had to learn the patterns before breaking them. As junior manager I was very eager to learn at the first 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”. As I got older I dared to challenge and break patterns within the companies I worked.

2. I learned from my mistakes. Breaking patterns wasn’t always successful. But I learned continously from my mistakes. This created a better business intuition of what will work and what will not.

3. Grey hair helps convincing others. In companies you can’t innovate alone. You need a lot of others to get an idea out there on the market. Getting older, growing grey hair helped me in getting confidence of others to follow me and my innovative concepts and methods.

So what about you? Are you getting a better innovator with age?

By Gijs van Wulfen

About the author


Gijs van Wulfen (The Netherlands, 1960) is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. FORTH is an effective and structured method for ideating innovative products and services. His latest book is “The Innovation Expedition: a visual toolkit to start innovation”. His clients are international companies in industry and services, as well as non-profit organizations in government and health. Gijs also trains facilitators in his method.

Gijs is a key-note speaker at international innovation conferences, chosen by Linkedin as one of their 150 Thought Leaders and the #2 in the Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2012.

Photo from shutterstock.