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Surprising Science

Prime Innovation Years? Middle Age, Not Youth.

Despite Mark Zuckerberg, venture capitalism and the myths of Silicon Valley, the increasing complexity of our technological systems means successful innovation is occurring later in life.

What’s the Latest Development?

Despite the popular notion that somewhere there is a 20 year-old whose next idea will change everything, successful innovation gets better with age, says new Harvard research. Today, average and median age of the founders of successful U.S. technology businesses (with real revenues) is 39. The study found “twice as many successful founders over 50 as under 25, and twice as many over 60 as under 20. So everyone has a shot at success, but age provides a distinct advantage.”

What’s the Big Idea?

As systems become increasingly interconnected, they become more complex. So while a 20-something may grasp social media, he or she will not likely understand the intricacies of nanotechnology or artificial intelligence as well as an older generation. The young, however, do dominate new-era software development “and software will be a key driving force in the convergence of other technologies that are expanding exponentially. So we badly need our young and our older entrepreneurs to develop cross-disciplinary solutions…”

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