Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Why Age Matters With Innovation

Ken Bates, Chair of the Department of Business at Houghton College in Upstate New York, sent me an interesting New York Times article that I share with you below.  It sparked my thinking about age, work, and innovation. 

Business is definitely a competition, and one advantage younger participants often try to leverage is the benefit of having fewer hours logged on the clock of life.  Younger workers are perceived as more flexible, lower cost, more future potential, more energetic, and so forth.  Older workers are caricatured as set in their ways, slowing down, resistant to change, and lacking fresh ideas.
As a middle age executive level manager, I look at those behind and ahead seeing great value in both cohorts.

Our organization is comprised of
people of various ages.  Each age segment adds value to our organization and in turn, we value all our workers on the basis of their contribution. 

We have employees in their 60s and 70s who are harder and smarter workers and in better physical shape than some of our younger team members.  Our older employees are often coming up with our better ideas.

On our team, we have a 20 something recent biz school grad Operations Manager with a great analytical and operational mind who developed our lean manufacturing plan.  He co-manages with a Production Manager almost 60.  As a 40 something I lead the team and our innovation initiatives. 
While our younger team members add great value, they also carry liabilities. 

The major downsides of a younger workforce I see are as follows.  1.) Lack of experience leading to errors (and added costs), 2.) An entitlement attitude (a millennial generation issue of trophy kids and helicopter parents), and 3.) A lesser work ethic on average than those older.  Our older team members do trend toward being too conservative when it comes to risk for growth, yet also do bring most of our product innovation to the table. 

As the following article and study point out, innovation production is simply not being produced as much by younger innovators as older innovators due to the reasons presented below.  This is indeed true in our organization as well.