Stephen Pober

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Do old men innovate ?

In a conversation with my brother regarding a plan I had to for a start-up, his only comment to me was "Old men don't innovate." Do they ?

P. S. I will be 68 in a few days.

  • Nov 12 2013: Congrats on living to 68.

    Answer: Yes

    Explanation: Imagine something only you can think of. You just innovated an idea.
  • Nov 10 2013: Mmh... I believe they do, BUT perhaps it's the amount of old men that innovate that makes it seem like it gets harder as one gets older. Perhaps in 20 years we will have 65 year old that go around trying out new stuff. I believe it's more a matter of culture than capacity.
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    Nov 9 2013: Fritzie, Lejan,

    I read your discussion below with some interest. My “younger partner” does volunteer work, she teaches computer skills to seniors at senior centers and nursing homes. We asked, “Are there any seniors who are not, but could or should be using computers ?” The answer we came up with was yes. That is our start-up. The seniors she has worked with also have great difficulty with their cells, even with apps meant to make it easier for them.

    Computer interfaces produced by the young for the young just don’t cut it with older users just learning how to email grandchildren, or even to get onto Skype to see their lastest great-grandchild. Forget about downloading almost anything. These may not be problems any of us take seriously, but the people she works with literally have gotten tears in their eyes when they finally grasped some point she was trying to make to them. The ages of the men and women she has worked with ranges from early 70s, but has been as old as 95. Now there is an under-served, but growing population.

    Stephen
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    Nov 8 2013: Dear Fritzie,

    I did enjoy reading the Newsweek article you were kind enough to provide a link to : “The Golden Age of Innovation.” However, that short article didn’t quite answer my questions, and perhaps that is my fault I should have been much more specific.

    Why don’t the venture capitalists of Silicon Valley fund start-ups of the “elderly” ?

    Why do the all the photos of innovators on from Y Combinator appear to be of the very young, with just a smattering of 30 year olds. Perhaps the older innovators are scared off by the photos ?

    [I use the words “old,” “aged,” “elderly” quite intentionally. Times arrow, as yet, only travels in one direction. My utopian vision is of a world where people literally innovate from early youth til the grave.]

    A friend, who happened to read my question on TED Conversations, sent me a link to a February 2012 article in the MIT Technology Review which proves quite interesting, going a bit further than the Newsweek essay. The author, Vivek Wadhwa, is merely 54 years old.

    http://www.technologyreview.com/news/426760/innovation-without-age-limits/

    It begins ...

    “Venture capitalists in Silicon Valley prefer to fund the young, the next Mark Zuckerberg. Why? The common mantra is that if you are over 35, you are too old to innovate. In fact, there is an evolving profile of the ‘perfect’ entrepreneur—smart enough to get into Harvard or Stanford and savvy enough to drop out. Some prominent figures are even urging talented young people to skip college, presumably so they do not waste their ‘youngness’ on studying.”

    But then The author continues ...

    “We found twice as many successful founders over 50 as under 25, and twice as many over 60 as under 20.”

    and here ...

    “Are venture capitalists misguided, then, in funding companies with baby-faced CEOs?”

    What is there to say to the folks at Y Combinatior and there Silicon Valley brethrens, but ... FUND THE AGING !

    By apologies for going on and on. You know how the old can be ?

    Stephen
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      Nov 8 2013: Perhaps the answer to your question is that venture capitalists prefer investing in the industries where younger innovators happen to be dominant, not because the innovators are young but because of the industry itself.

      May I ask what your start-up idea is, if it is not important to keep it secret at this time?
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        Nov 8 2013: Nice try, Fritzie! ;o)
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          Nov 8 2013: Do you think venture capitalists invest in tech start-ups because the people behind them are young?
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        Nov 9 2013: Good venture capitalists run their numbers and risk analysis beforehand and by this people of older age die statistically earlier than younger ones, thus are either more risky or less profitable.

        For the same reason people at age 60 and without additional 'security' will have difficulties to get a loan from any bank to buy or build a house.

        Simple statistics, unfortunately.
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          Nov 9 2013: Hmmm. What if Stephen were to go in with a younger partner?
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        Nov 9 2013: Then the numbers turn less risky, at least statistically and if the business plan is complete and promising, the chance to get funding significantly higher.
  • Nov 7 2013: Yes they do, but I think more than innovate, they optimize.

    By the time you are 68, you should have figured out what really matters and what doesn't, what is important to do and what is not, and how to amplify the work you do have to do to get the most benefit.

    In all seriousness, many careers take many years to develop, so some are hitting their stride in their 60's.

    Many have had so many different life experiences to draw from that they can readily apply bits from many experiences to the problem at hand.

    Usually by 68 you have had to deal with children, aging parents, and many of life's hardships... and survived.

    This confidence can manifest into new ventures, a focus on the important things in life, and no fear of failure.

    Of course, it depends who is defining innovation as well. Some may consider it innovative to realize you can change channels on a TV without the remote, write a letter without a computer, or walk someplace if your car won't start.
  • Nov 25 2013: I didn't get really creative until I reached 45 and am now far more creative at 62 than I was at 45.What should be pointed out in the sciences what we are really addressing is risk taking. Scientists are more willing to take risk when they are young, don't have a family to support or some other constraint where risk taking is frowned upon e.g. getting caught in a bureaucratic trap.

    The young in the sciences must try to make a mark to gain recognition; simply parroting the status quo gets you nowhere. Once you are the status quo, you don't want someone rocking the boat.
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    Nov 14 2013: We seem to be wrapped around an axle of numbers. Is 65 young and 66 old?

    How about a definition I learned as a youth....

    " you are young as long as you feel you are immortal.... You are mature when you understand that you are very mortal"

    It's more politically correct to say mature rather then old. I am mature enough not to be concerned about being politically correct. Maybe that is the cutoff.

    However, ... innovation. Nothing I know of has ever connected the meaning of innovation and maturity or youth.
    As I have said before, it was a cheap shot, given out of sibling rivalry. No great philosophical question here.
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    Nov 13 2013: Define "Old Men".
    What about old women?

    I believe if you have been an innovative thinker all your life, then you can think innovatively in your old age.
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      Nov 13 2013: I suppose I could answer flippantly, and say, “You’ll know it when you get there.” But in truth I suppose I might as well pick an arbitrary age, say 65; but certainly 70 must be considered old. “Old” to my mind has nothing to do with how active you might be, how healthy you are, it’s just an arbitrary number, when you just know you’re no longer “young.”

      With apologies, of course, I meant to include “old women” on my question.

      Define “innovative.”
  • Nov 11 2013: I can say yes since I am over 68 and starting another company. 8>)). Donald Knuth is still improving TeX and he is 75.
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    Nov 11 2013: the beautiful i remember it from my brother, he always find the way to makes me think awhile, what i thought about him yesterday still what i think about him today, he is my Muse forever now, let's prove to them with doing today for they'll understand how much we were modest with them yesterday , good luck :)
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    Nov 10 2013: Older people innovate all the time to compensate for the aging process; but they might not innovate in the latest techy things because a lot of it is less relevant for them.
  • Nov 9 2013: If they don't they die.
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    Nov 9 2013: You kids just want to go out there and stir up things.

    Then again, why not. As my pappy said, whatever floats your boat.

    I have an idea why the youngun's out in silicone valley take all those risks with new toys.... if they go belly up, they are still young and can come bouncing back. Us older timers have already been there, done that and starting over at 70 is not as much fun as it used to be... just saying.

    As far as bro's go, my bro is always giving me shots, just to ruffle my feathers.... So, your response should have been
    "They do and the sex is better."
  • Nov 9 2013: Yup. Old men innovate.
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    Nov 8 2013: It never occurred to me that the capability to innovate might be age dependent.
    So, according to your brother, when does a man become old. 68 ? 65 ? 50 ?
    I also could very well imagine that to a 100 year old a 68 year old appears pretty young.
  • Nov 8 2013: "The young man knows the rules, but the old man knows the exceptions"- Oliver Wendell Holmes
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    Nov 8 2013: What does your brother say to support his view?
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      Nov 8 2013: His comment was merely an off the cuff comment, nothing more. It just effected me more than he imagined it would.
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        Nov 8 2013: I understand. Yes, our closest family and even friends can unwillingly and even unintentionally effect us on highest degrees, which at times and even centuries after make a good laugh over a beer or two and when we are lucky.

        My older brother became a ministrant even though he wasn't really interested in it, because I told him that I would become one when I was just old enough. This was in our youth and I never became a ministrant myself, because I broke with religion pretty early in life and before I came to live up to my own words... :o)

        He told me this just recently and that he was pretty angry with me for some while, because he was the one who got up early on Sundays and who was holding candles on graveyards while it was raining.

        And I can't even recall that I ever said that! :o)

        So no, don't listen to much to what your brother tells you, especially if he's younger ... :o) Get things rolling instead and never stop inventing, ever, if you so choose to!
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          Nov 9 2013: Lejan, I now use the aphorism "Old Men Don't Innovate," printed out and in a place of honor at the top of the screen of my laptop, as a spur to remember to always innovate, at whatever level I am able. It is not the first time, nor it will be the last that my brother keeps me on my toes.
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    Nov 8 2013: What's the name of that old fella who used to be a biologist? Oh yeah, Dawkins.
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      Nov 8 2013: I certainly agree that age is no deterrent to continuing to work in one's field of specialization, for which, see :

      http://www.nature.com/news/2008/081028/full/4551161a.html

      But, again, that is not quite what I mean. I was hoping to clarify my own thinking on this matter by asking my question. Or at least clarifying my question.
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        Nov 8 2013: No, that's my point. He's done nothing worthwhile since his twenties. Now he's passionate about debunking 2000 year-old belief systems, the way my grandpa used to garden and fix old bicycles to pass time.
  • Nov 8 2013: I agree Stephen. Admittedly my post was a bit tongue in cheek. But the truth is still there.

    I believe the key to an innovative mind is awareness and a life of curiosity. And that never changes. In addition it has been shown that we retain synaptic plasticity when we engage in problem solving on a regular basis. There is absolutely no reason someone can't explore their entrepreneurial inclinations at any age (apparently it helps us live longer too).

    You have a distinct advantage over many innovators. You have an understanding of a niche market that is a dominate demographic. The aging baby boomers. This market is ripe for a good idea.

    I think most great ideas have been in response to difficulties we encounter in our daily routine. The old adage build a better mouse trap applies here...or better yet find a way to harness their power (exercise wheels by the plug ins that generate electricity!).

    So to answer your question...if they don't want to be "old" men...innovative pursuits will keep them fit.
  • Nov 8 2013: Is 68 old? I need to know because I'm 66 already and would like to know how much time I have before I'm old. I'm just not feeling it yet.

    Perhaps, however, the reason less venture capital goes to older persons (there's no need to limit it to men, after all), may be that investment in innovation has at least something to do with the prospects for longevity. At 28, an investor may see (incorrectly) that the innovator will have time to develop and grow the innovation over a longer period of time than the 68-year-old.

    In other words, it isn't about the ability to innovate, but about our mistaken ideas about aging.
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    Nov 8 2013: nope. old men just want to pee, but they can't.
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      Nov 8 2013: I vehemently disagree with your first premise regarding innovation, but wholeheartedly confirm your second and third.

      Stephen
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      Nov 8 2013: Intelligent!
  • Nov 8 2013: Your brother is a victim of societal conditioning....like the rest of us. :-) We repeat the patterns over and over. Setting innovation aside as a parochial endeavor, can one recognize and then transcend societal conditioning?Or, like your brother, are we trapped in these deep grooves of belief until death?
  • Nov 8 2013: They have to be innovative. Every morning brings new challenges...

    How do they get out of bed when their back has stiffened?
    How do they survive on a pension?
    How do they read the label on the tiny tablet bottle?
    How do they find their glasses when they need their glasses to find their glasses?
    How do they schedule the holidays so they get to see all the grand children?

    They innovate!!
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      Nov 8 2013: I agree with what you say regarding getting older ... Hmm. Creaky bones in the morning ... of course; lost glasses, been there, done that; money troubles, who doesn’t have them, etc. etc, etc.

      But these are merely the average every day stuff .. I believe, that they require a certain tenacity, a willingness to face the inevitable, to get over, rather than suffer. I just can’t believe that they are the sort of innovation I am thinking about. They require us to be indefatigible, perhaps, innovative, I just can’t see that.

      Stephen
  • Nov 7 2013: Definitely. Actually, in my opinion, elderly people are more likely to innovate than young people because they have more life experience and they also are more realistic; sometimes young people imagine too much and in the end they don't know how to put all the ideas in practice. Elderly people already have seen a bunch of innovations during the whole life; this is a good step ahead in comparison with young people. They probably can note easily what can be a good or bad idea. Be innovative is not an age matter, to be innovative you need imagination and knowledge, these two aspects are essential to put an idea in practice. If possible a mix of ideas should be done, old and young people working together can be more valid than one of both alone.
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    Nov 7 2013: It's not about how old you are, it's about how much are you ready to do something innovative.

    Maybe, your brother thought about criticism in old age. Usually, when older man (I rather say "experienced" than "old") got an idea, he used to think more about things that could get wrong so you give up of idea, and that is the self brake for innovation.
    Also, happy birthday (it's early, but I wish you all the best) :))))
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      Nov 8 2013: Dear Jelena,

      Thank you, most sincerely, for your birthday wishes.

      I keep a journal and have added this line from your answer to it : “It's not about how old you are, it's about how much are you ready to do something innovative.”

      I also appreciate your wanting to use “experienced,” rather than “old.” I really like being “OLD.” It’s such a short, precise word. To call myself anything but that would involve me in a sort of self-deception I would prefer to leave to others.

      Once again, that you ever so much for your answer.

      Stephen
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    Nov 7 2013: Enjoy: http://mag.newsweek.com/2010/08/20/innovation-grows-among-older-workers.html

    I could add that connections between age and creative achievement vary greatly by discipline. Breakthrough achievement in mathematics or theoretical physics usually occurs when a person is young. In other fields, the story changes. There is one seminal piece of research on this, which I will try to find, but the article I have linked looks in any case more relevant to your situation.

    The scholar I was thinking of was Dean Simonton, if you want to look him up.