Category Archives: innovation & creativity

Are You Too Old to Innovate?

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photo by CutandChicVintage

With the Rolling Stones celebrating their 50th anniversary, I was surprised to hear recently that the average age of the band (69) is older than the average age of the Supreme Court Justices (67). More specifically, the Stones are one year and 10 months older than the Supreme Court.

I was less surprised to read last week that the average age of employees at technology companies is significantly lower than the overall median age of U.S. workers, which is 42. See “Technology Workers are Young (Really Young)” from the New York Times blog Bits. Among the companies with the youngest employees are Facebook (28), Google (29), and AOL (30). PayScale, a company based in Seattle, looked at age, gender, and turnover at 32 of the most successful technology companies. Some of the companies with older workers are Cisco Systems (35), Samsung (34), and Microsoft (34). Turnover in the industry is also very high. At Amazon.com and Facebook, the average stay is just 12 to 13 months.

Katie Bardaro, the lead economist at PayScale, explained there are a number of factors in the youth of these workforces. One is skills: “Baby Boomers and Gen Xers tend to know C# and SQL. Gen Y knows Python, social media, and Hadoop.” Another is the current focus of these companies: “The firms that are growing or innovating around new areas tend to have younger workers. Older companies that aren’t changing with the times get older workers.”

What do you think? Does innovation have an expiration date?

Are You Orbiting the Giant Hairball?

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I recently interviewed someone for an interactive job, and he told me his ideal job would be 80 percent strategy and 20 percent tactical. I chuckled and asked how he’d feel if those numbers were reversed. The truth is, whatever field you’re in, there’s a good chance that you spend most of your time reacting to the latest crises and requests rather than sitting back and shaping strategies. But I’m a big believer in finding purpose and enjoyment in your work, and for me that includes being as creative as possible.

To re-charge my creative batteries this summer, I’m going to re-read a book I read several years called Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool’s Guide to Surviving with Grace,” by Gordon MacKenzie. This is not just a book for people in the corporate world — it could just as easily be titled “how to be creative in any environment.” MacKenzie writes about his 30 years working for Hallmark Cards, where he learned that even innovative organizations can become giant “hairballs” — with a big mess of rules, traditions, and systems that stifle creativity. MacKenzie found ways to cope, and inspired many of his colleagues to orbit around the hairball instead of getting sucked in. First published in 1998, the book is fun, irreverent, and funny, with lots of illustrations and anecdotes.

We can all benefit from more creativity in the workplace. Read this book, and you’ll find ways to improve your attitude, satisfaction, and performance. What books have inspired you in this way?

How Can You Make a Difference Like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Ben Franklin?

If you want to hear great speeches, I recommend two sources — TED talks and commencement addresses. Walter Isaacson, who wrote Steve Jobs’ biography, recently gave the graduates of Pomona College some great advice: “You are officially credentialed as smart. That’s the good news. The bad news, as you’ll learn, is that smart people are a dime a dozen, and they usually don’t amount to much.”
In telling three stories — about Jobs, Albert Einstein, and Ben Franklin — Isaacson pulled no punches in telling the graduates that the real measure of their professional lives will not be how much money they make, or what titles they achieve, but by what they create to improve people’s lives. He advised the graduates: “At the end of your days when you look back…it’s not just about saying how successful you were, how many toys or trinkets or how much power you accumulated. It’s about what you created, about what you did to make the world a slightly better place because you were here.”
Read highlights of Isaacson’s address, “Three Stories About Steve Jobs, Einstein, And Ben Franklin Prove That Creative Beats Smart.” Or watch it below.