Super Cities №217—Innovation Is Not Only For Young People

Brendan Hart

When I say startup, my friends roll their eyes. I get it.

For people who didn't grow up with an iPhone or never lived in Silicon Valley, the word startup is more confusing than clarifying.

The mythological startup – beanbags, flip flops, artisan coffee – is the result of a college-aged hotshot and a team of young brainiacs. All really, really love their gadgets.

In this story, the founder's youthful inexperience – think Zuckerberg in The Social Network – is an asset. After all, it takes fresh, daring eyes to see new opportunities.

It turns out that the truth is more nuanced than the dropout-as-revolutionary tale.

According to Adam Grant, a widely cited Wharton professor, the average venture-backed founder is 38. Grant describes the misconception:

I've always thought of originality as something that belongs to the young. We've heard over and over again that you need to come up with all your great, creative ideas early in your career because, at some point, you’re either going to run out of novel thoughts or you’re going to get too stuck in conventional wisdom.  That doesn't turn out to be true.

As anyone who has ever done it will tell you, hard-earned perspective is essential when starting a business.

Experienced founders tend to be more cautious. They know their strengths and their weaknesses. They empower people, especially younger colleagues, and take a long view grounded in reality.

They also remember what the world was like before always-on connectivity. They know that technology is a tool that improves human functionality, but does not replace it.

As more people come online, the future of innovation will be about increasing wealth, improving health, and extending security.

In this world, wisdom – the type that comes from age and experience – is a competitive advantage.

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