Don’t tell anyone, but I’m in my shhh 70’s as fogey as that sounds . . . well into them. Some think I’m still in my 60’s, which of course is the new 50’s, but try to tell that to my cousin David when his hips are hurting. Still, let the euphemisms fly about the golden years because there is definite bias against persons of our vintage, especially business owners of which I’m still one who’s bouncing off to work each day.
I’m in that crotchety category called late bloomers as it wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s, early 40’s, did I discover I had talent, that I could write books, create TV shows, invent products, build successful businesses, including a successful PR firm, TransMedia Group, while raising a family and commuting on The Long Island Railroad to Manhattan and later from my Palm Beach condo to our new corporate headquarters in Boca Raton.
Recently I heard about another late bloomer. You probably never heard of him. Well, in 1946 John Goodenough was a 23-year-old Army veteran heading to the University of Chicago with a dream of studying physics.
When he arrived, a professor warned him that he was already too old to succeed in the field.
Just like me, he ignored the advice about his being too long in the tooth and today, at 94, he has just set the tech industry abuzz with his soaring creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles.
This was not the first time he caused a stir. In 1980, at age 57, he co-invented the lithium-ion battery that shrunk power into a tiny package.
While many assume creativity wanes with age, Dr. Goodenough’s story suggests that some people actually become more creative as they grow older. I know that for a fact, personally.
I was just a kid in my late 60’s when I invented and patented my KNIFE AND FORKLIFT™, a combination of dumbbells and utensils that enable you to exercise while you eat and in the process slow down, eat less and lose weight. I sold tons of them worldwide until I just got tired of lifting.
A decade before that I invented home shopping. That’s right! It was well before the Internet and home shopping channels like HSN were born. My home shopping was called “Shop Around The World With Elke” starring then sexy actress Elke Sommer. It was rentable on a videotape cassette from your neighborhood video rental store. Remember those? You popped my cassette into your VCR and voila you’d be off on an exciting shopping spree in Europe with Elke and could call a toll-free number to order any of the products she was showing.
Unfortunately today, us late-blooming geniuses have to contend with powerful biases against us when the Mark Zuckerberg’s of the world connect youth with creativity and say insensitive things like “young people are just smarter.” Yes many of them are, but as someone who hires and fires a lot of young people, I can assure that youth, while whizzes at social media, have no corner on creativity.
So you middle-aged and older folk take heart. Don’t believe that innovation belongs to the millennials.
According to The New York Times, which I now read on my Samsung tablet every morning, evidence suggests that late creative blooming is no anomaly. A 2016 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study found that inventors peak in their late 40s and tend to be highly productive in the last half of their careers.
Similarly, professors at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Hitotsubashi University in Japan, who studied data about patent holders, found that, in the United States, the average inventor sends in his or her application to the patent office at age 47, and that the highest-value patents often come from the oldest inventors — those over the age of 55.
Because there’s now clear evidence that people with seniority are making important contributions to invention, I believe the Patent Office should give a “senior discount” and a round of applause to white-haired creatives who just never quit.