Innovation and age

S. Chandrasekhar mentions in Truth And Beauty: Aesthetics and Motivations in Science “that a man of science past sixty does more harm than good.” I believe it is the same way with business leadership. Not only that. I believe any sort of key department leader should be no older than late thirties. I look around, and 99.9 percent of department managers in Japan’s major companies are well over 40. Which means they are good at avoiding failures.

Okay, quick quiz. How old were current major IT companies’ CEOs and their officers when they made tremendous difference, and grew at steep rate? Apple? Microsoft? Dell? How about Japanese manufacturing companies. How old were Konosuke Matsushita when he started his business? Ibuka and Morita? Honda? Now, how old do you think the executives for these companies are?

Innovation comes easily to younger generation. We need to learn to support them, not hinder them.

2 thoughts on “Innovation and age”

  1. Your observations are interesting, but I think we should be careful when making absolute pronouncements about human activities. We in industrialized rich countries like to say that the world is in an age of unprecedented innovations. Is this true? I wonder. We know more about outer space than we do about the inside of the human body. Does age really matter when it comes to innovation? Is it not the social conditions and beliefs that lead us to think so? Older people cannot think as actively as young people. That is what we are told by the media, by society. In the so-called “primitive” societies innovation never stops because conditions demand it from everyone.

    After I retired at 61, I was asked to teach university courses at a Japanese university in Japanese. I began reluctantly because it meant struggling to improve my Japanese at my age, but now enjoy it because I can meet and help to nuture young minds; not only the students, but young educators as well. More recently, I was asked to replace the younger head of my department as head because I am better adpated to receiving and using new ideas.

    Does age really matter in innovation? What Japan needs is fresh ways of looking at all problems. Life is complex. Society is complex. Why make it even more complex with established misconceptions.


  2. Many thanks for your comment, ????????????-san! I re-read my entry, and found that it does indeed sound really strong, and I see it can easily lead to misconceptions. I appreciate comments like yours, since it makes me more aware of the fact that what I say on the blog sometime is misleading.

    As I quote S. Chadrasekhar, he also says in Truth and Beauty that there are exceptions to such generalization too. Konosuke Matsushita was known for innovative ideas as he grew older. Peter Drucker keeps on going with his innovative ideas. The point I wanted to make is not that older people cannot think actively. Perhaps you might have worked with major Japanese companies in Japan who had young department managers, but in the few companies I worked with, it is such rarity that a department manager is younger than 40.

    In general, younger people do rash things. They are not often not afraid of doing these kind of things. Breakthrough innovation often comes from not avoiding failures. I am making a generalization that older people in Japan who are in department manager’s position at major companies are good at avoiding failures. Thus, avoiding failures often mean putting a lid on wild ideas, possible seed for innovation, by people.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s