Older workers bring plenty of ideas to the table. Here’s why

Life experience has value
Opinion
Older workers can combine business wisdom with game-changing ideas.

Does professional and life experience – also known as ‘wisdom’! – have value when it comes to big ideas and innovations?

You might think not, from reading this quote by billionaire Vinod Khosla, who was one of the co-founders of Sun Microsystems. He’s been quoted as saying that “people under 35 are the people who make change happen … people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas”.

But if that’s your view of older professionals in the workplace, you should get ready for a shock. People over 50 years of age are not actually void of new ideas, nor averse to taking risks and or lacking the drive to build new ventures. And there’s evidence to back this up. 

A study conducted by Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University and director of research at Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke, found that twice as many founders were older than 50 as were younger than 25, and there were twice as many over 60 as under 20.

After studying 549 successful technology ventures, Wadhwa recaps: “The average age of a successful entrepreneur in high-growth industries such as computers, health care, and aerospace is 40.

“Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are over 50 as under 25. A clear majority – 75 percent – have more than six years of industry experience and half have more than 10 years when they create their start-up.”

I suggest paying attention to a recent move by Google.

They’ve initiated a pilot program to support “a neglected group of innovators in the UK”. That’s right, the over-50s entrepreneurs and idea people.

The Founders over 50 accelerator provides a free platform for “inspiration, training and skill-sharing, to bring the support needed to grow a new business,” Sarah Drinkwater, Google’s Head of Campus, told Techworld.

These are complex times in business, government, human relations and with respect to rapid change. And expertise in coding or technology R&D alone, likely won’t cut it in many cases to build sustainable business ventures.

Perspective, experience, life lessons, communication skills, education, contacts and other capabilities the arise from living more than 35 years hold value.

So cheer up, those of you at 50-plus and those younger who recognise the benefits of collaborating with some folks with business wisdom to develop game-changing ideas.

And if you’re doubting what older thinkers bring to the table, here’s a reminder:

  • Experience developing products/services and marketing them
  • Life experience sensitivity to be advocates for customers
  • Perspective on business and product/service lifecycles
  • Skills related to forming and sustaining partnerships and alliances
  • Appreciation for responsive and value-based customer relations
  • Capability to analyse trends and identify valid evidence to evaluate products/services
  • Experience pitching start-ups to strategic partners and investors
  • Understanding of business growth issues and solutions
  • Extensive networks of relevant contacts
  • Patience and perspective in response to adversity
  • Resourcefulness based on business and life experience
  • Credibility within the industry or a related one
  • Cultural balance from experience and values
  • Experience with failure and turning lessons learned into positive actions
  • Collaboration skills with diverse teams
  • Mentoring capabilities relative to institutional/industry knowledge and real-world business skills

Doug Freeman is a US-based, national award-winning creative services professional and serial entrepreneur who’s worked with Fortune 500 companies, federal agencies and start-ups through his consultancy Ideascape. Doug blogs regularly about 50-plus career issues and entrepreneurship on LinkedIn, Medium and Twitter. He’s an advocate for older workers pursuing entrepreneurship.

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