IT IS A MYTH “that our powers of invention peak in youth and diminish as we age” according to Steve Almond in his article “The Age of Invention”. Mark Zuckerberg, inventor and CEO of Facebook was wrong when he told people at Stanford University in 2007 that “young people are just smarter’ and that ‘as people grow older, their ideas grow staler”. . . there is actually a growing body of evidence that the opposite is true.
There are many factors that are believed to play a role in the creative thinking process and some of these factors are not obtained until a person is older:
- Different types of intelligence
- Independence regardless of other’s judgement
Many well regarded artists, inventors and scientists produced works over a long period of time. Benjamin Franklin invented the bifocal lens at age 78, Frank Lloyd Wright was working on the Guggenheim Museum when he died at 91, Verdi was 80 when he wrote Falstaff. Lesser known creatives include Shelly Carson who earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychopathology age 51, wrote her first book age 60 and delivered her first TED talk age 66. Then there is Lorna Page who wrote a thriller novel age 93 and used the proceeds to buy a large house and invited her nursing home friends to live with her. John Goodenough just filed for a patent on a new revolutionary car battery at age 94. He was 57 when he co-invented the first lithium-ion battery in 1980.
Some creative efforts lead to BIG impacts on lots of people but for most of us, the aging creative process involves smaller and more personal matters like solving puzzles, organizing stuff, learning a new hobby, or creating a new recipe. As one approaches ‘retirement’ at age 65, it would be better to think of the change of focus as a ‘transition’ into a creative arena of wisdom, service, experience, writing, art, and music.
Read Steve Almond’s full article “The Age of Invention” published in The Rotarian September 2017.