Benjamin Franklin as role model for aging conceptual innovators

New from the Arts of Innovation Web site:

Benjamin FranklinBenjamin Franklin is the most prominent American inventor whose major successes came in middle age and later.

He’s remarkable not only because of his age, but also because of his style of innovation, which creates a double contrast.

First, he’s different from the many conceptually innovative inventors who achieve their greatest successes at a young age.

Second, he stands out from experimental innovators, who tend to achieve their greatest successes later in life, like Franklin, but whose approach differs from his.

Typically, successes come from older innovators who take a step-by-step experimental approach, such as Paul Cezanne, Alfred Hitchcock, Grace Murray Hopper and Elizabeth Hazen. That’s not what Franklin did.

His approach is conceptual, with sudden breakthrough ideas coming one after another. That’s a rarity even among young geniuses.

How did he do it? He was an exceptional man, needless to say. But in addition, without knowing it (of course) he followed this Web site’s advice, as outlined in “Tips for conceptual innovators.”

That advice was to keep changing focus. In each new field, he was a newcomer, which enabled him to make conceptual breakthroughs:

* He was 35 when he unveiled the Franklin Stove.
* He developed the lightning rod at age 44.
* He experimented with kites and electricity at 46.
* He invented the glass armonica at 56.
* He mapped the Gulf Stream at 62.
* He served on the committee that was named to draft the Declaration of Independence at 70.
* He invented bifocals in his late 70s.

By comparison, consider the similar case of Walt Disney. His achievements rank far below Franklin’s, but he too was a conceptual innovator — a finder — who achieved breakthrough successes in middle age. Like Franklin, he kept changing focus. Disney accomplished that by continually expanding his entertainment empire into new fields.


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