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What is the best age for innovation?


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    Apple's former chief executive Steve Jobs unveils the iPhone on January 9, 2007. While Jobs was a great thinker at a young age, some of his greatest innovations such as the iPod and iPhone came later in his career.

    - TONY AVELAR/AFP/Getty Images

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    Ray Kroc, the founder of the McDonald's empire, joined the company in his early 50s and pioneered its fast-food franchise model.

    - via McDonalds.com

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    Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics, didn't launch the beauty company until she was 45, after being passed up for a promotion at door-to-door retailer Stanley Home Products.

    - via Texasswimming.blogspot.com

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    Barry Diller, chairman and senior executive at IAC, has shaken up several industries throughout his career -- film, television, e-commerce. Now in his 70s, Diller is taking on the publishing world.

    - KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

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    Saul Perlmutter, an astrophysicist at the University of California Berkeley, won the 2011 Nobel Prize in physics in his early 50s for the discovery of the accelerating expansion of the universe.

    - Kimberly White/Getty Images

What is the best age for innovation? Are you more innovative in your 20s or your 50s?

Tom Agan, managing partner at innovation and brand consultancy Rivia, has come up with answer that might surprise you.

"The real innovators average about age 40," Agan says, adding that the popularized image of a young college age innovator -- think Mark Zuckerberg -- is a "total fallacy."

Agan cites Steve Jobs, who introduced the iPod and iPhone in just the last decade of his career, after years of personal computing experience.

The upshot? Companies looking to lower costs by hiring a younger workforce may be losing out on innovation.

"The number one factor for innovation is learning from past experiences, learning from past successes and failures" Agan says. "Now that we've moved into a knowlege-base world, experience becomes much more important."

To hear more about the relationship between age and innovation, click on the audio player above.

About the author

Jeremy Hobson is host of Marketplace Morning Report, where he looks at business news from a global perspective to prepare listeners for the day ahead.
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Also look for opportunities to learn from those with the experience, such as Sanjay Sarma from MIT, who teaches a short course for professionals: Radical Innovation - June 10-12. shortprograms.mit.edu/ri

Short of recognizing older workers as innovative becoming yet another MBA herding B-school fad I doubt corporations will quit dumping middle aged workers in favor of lower cost youngsters. Corporations see the Steve Jobs example as proof of their belief that innovators rare stars and the rest of their workforce are high but narrowly skilled replaceable do-bees.

Noam Wasserman's book, The Founder's Dilemma offer empirical data that supports the fact that innovation is much older and success much more common among older experienced entrepreneurs than characterized. Mozart-like genius is always amazing, but there are many more examples of smart people with experience succeeding. I guess it just isn't as astonishing when experienced, smart people innovate, so it doesn't make headlines.

Thanks for making this point as a lot of hard-working, experienced people need to be encouraged to innovate. Focusing on the Zuckerberg's is like focusing on winning the lottery. It's not a good strategy and the risk is too high for a good return.

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