A company started by a 15-year-old, purchased by Yahoo! for $30MM, is the latest example of what many people and organizations assume is the “face of innovation.” Innovators are assumed to be young, usually male, and creating the next cool think out of a garage or dorm room. The problem with this assumption, really any, is in taking action before you know if this is in fact true.
Unfortunately, many companies are doing just that to their own peril says Tom Agan, the co-founder of an innovation consulting firm. In his article for the New York Times, “Why Innovators get Better with Age,” Agan wrote that companies focused solely on hiring young workers while gently “helping” or prodding 50-something’s out the door will suffer when it comes to executing on an innovation or spinning off new innovations from the original one:
There is a surprising downside, however, to encouraging older workers to leave or, at some companies, pushing them out: Less gray hair sharply reduces an organization’s innovation potential, which over the long-term can greatly outweigh short-term gains…. But there is another reason to keep innovators around longer: the time it takes between the birth of an idea and when its implications are broadly understood and acted upon. This education process is typically driven by the innovators themselves. Tom Agan, co-founder Rivia.com
In fact, as the economy gets stronger and stock investments flourish, more and more Boomers may now decide to leave, especially if they find themselves not valued or pushed out. Poof! Knowledge gone.
Meanwhile, for younger job entrants, Thomas L. Friedman, writes poignantly about how innovation, at the individual level, will be the key to surviving and thriving in the workplace:
The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge. As one executive told me, ‘We can teach new hires the content, and we will have to because it continues to change, but we can’t teach them how to think — to ask the right questions — and to take initiative.’ ”
How do we approach the issue of innovation in the workplace? Joel Barker, a futurist and author of books on business paradigm shifts that have led to opportunity and change, has studied innovation for over 20 years. In this riveting video training on innovation, he shows real life examples of how others have innovated and provides wisdom on how we too can lead change and innovate in our own organizations. Definitively worth taking a look.