Experienced Innovation: The Older Entrepreneur
The Entrepreneurial Spirit is age blind. It is not the seeker; rather it exists as a character trait that lives within each of us. The bravest among us will surrender to it, feed off its energy and confidence and let it lighten our way down ambitious paths. Whatever awaits…success or failure, the Entrepreneurial Spirit remains faithful. It is neither diminished nor dissuaded by achievement or downfall. It lives on, continuing to prod and encourage both young and old.
The impact of the entrepreneurial energies and creative thinking of middle aged Americans garnered significant attention following a remark by Vinod Khosla, co-founder of Sun Microsystems, who said: “People under 35 are the people who make change happen. People over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.” Mr. Khosla further claimed that older entrepreneurs are unable to be innovative because they are constantly “falling back on old habits”.
Immediate and justifiable backlash ensued. As for me, I find so many things wrong with these comments, I hardly know where to begin. Let’s get this straight; I’m not talking about political correctness here. I am addressing the blatant inaccuracies, flawed research and unadulterated ignorance that would result in such an irrational statement.
According to a research project conducted by the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity a few facts might disprove if not shame Mr. Khosla and his ridiculous theory:
– The lightening rod was invented by Ben Franklin when he was 44, he discovered electricity at 46, helped compose the Declaration of Independence at 70, and later invented bifocals
– We were introduced to Henry Ford’s Model T when Mr. Ford he was 45.
– Sam Walton built Walmart while in his mid-40s.
– Ray Kroc opened McDonalds in his early 50s
– Do you want a coke with that? John Pemberton invented Coca-Cola in his 50s
– And of course we can’t forget…the brilliant Steve Jobs, whose iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone, and iPad all came after he was 45
Aside from determination and perseverance, the older entrepreneur can bring a wealth of experience to any endeavor. More often than not, it’s an experience fueled resilience and resistant to pessimism and complacency. When all is said and done, experience is perhaps, the most valuable source of knowledge.
Rather than disregard or dismiss older entrepreneurs, Vinod Khosla would be better advised to study them. For there is something astonishingly admirable about individuals who continue to be hopeful, innovative and committed to effecting change for the greater good, particularly after living through decades of an uncertain world facing trials on every front.
For disclosure I am 49 years old. I started my first company at age 18. I have had tremendous success and “very expensive educational experiences” aka business failures. The Ed of age 49 can outsmart the younger “versions of me” plus react properly (maturely) to challenging situations. The 49 year old Ed could kick the 29 year old Ed’s ass up and down the balance sheet.
Just wait till I am 59 Vinod!
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