Sunday, August 24, 2008

Lifelong Innovation

It can't be denied: I'm not as young as I used to be. But, in spite of the shoulder ache that keeps me up at night, and the various other reminders of the onward march of time, I do not believe that my best years are behind me – quite the opposite, in fact.

That's why it was refreshing to read this piece in the Wall Street Journal, written by George Anders. Leading companies are looking for ways to support creativity in employees well beyond the traditional age for epiphanetic experience. Indeed, according to the article, over the course of the last 75 years or so, the average age for breakthrough discoveries has risen about 10%, to 40.

Is it reasonable to expect our more experienced staff to contribute at the same level as energetic, recently matriculated newcomers? Much has been made of the simple fact that employees produce according to what is expected of them. (If you have a citation for me on this point, please send it along - I couldn't come up with one quickly enough to make it into this entry.) If we expect creativity and innovation from our employees – all of them – a few interesting things will happen:

  • We will set goals according to that expectation.
  • We will reinforce creative behavior among all our employees, young and not-so-young.
  • We will see breakthrough thinking coming from unexpected quarters.
Accepting less from more mature employees amounts to simple disrespect. I am pretty sure that my bosses expect me to supply, directly or through my team, a more-or-less ongoing series of innovations and creative solutions, in spite of my graying (remaining) hair. I wouldn't insult any of my own staff by expecting less from any of them. As the article suggests, finding ways to support that level of productivity among employees of all ages is an important characteristic of people centered leadership.

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