What does Creativity and Innovation have to do with age: A look at Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies
April 16, 2013 Leave a Comment
Over the last few months I had a chance to get together with folks I do not see very often. One of the folks I visited with was my manager from when I was in my early 20’s. He’s always been one of my favorites – a mentor, a great listener, and someone who has a way of calling a spade a spade. In our conversation, we chatted about how a person’s age effects his/her openness to new ideas. We shared war stories of the many “older folks” we’ve come across in organizations who would rather maintain the current course of business than risk doing something new and novel.
Unfortunately, these older folks tend to be in leadership positions which means they’re also the ones charting the future course of the organization. We also speculated these managers had an eye on retirement (and not rocking the boat) rather than a calling for innovation (hmm, this may be why there are so many companies clamoring for innovation, but very few actually achieving it).
So, I did a little investigating. Although not scientific, there definitely seems to be some qualitative evidence that creativity and innovation favors younger leaders. Read on…but, with a bit of caution. While age may be related to a decline in creativity and innovation (correlation), it does not necessarily cause the decline (causation). From prior research, motivation appears to be the culprit when it comes to older leaders opting for the safer route. Creativity and innovation have more to do with grit and determination than age.
With that disclaimer out of the way, here are my findings. First, I looked up Fast Company’s 2012 list of Most Innovative Companies, then researched the ages of the Top 10 CEO’s. Here’s what I found…
- Apple, Steve Jobs, 56
- Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, 28
- Google, Larry Page, 39
- Amazon, Jeff Bezos, 48
- Square, Jack Dorsey, 36
- Twitter, Jack Dorsey, 36
- Occupy Movement (no identified leader)
- Tencent, Pony Ma, 41
- Life Technologies, Gregory Lucier, 47
- Solar City, Lyndon Rive, 35
What similarities do you see? Yes, most of the CEO’s are under 50.
While there are indications that creativity declines with age (think hardwired neuro pathways of adults vs. the flexibility of a child’s mind), there’s also evidence that our brains are “plastic.” Meaning, we can rewire our brains to think differently. All we need to do is invite creativity and innovation into how we think and how we act.
What do you think? Will 2013 be the year for change?