Former Microsoft innovator Scott Berkun, author of “The Myths of Innovation,” has some noteworthy observations about young geniuses and older experimenters in a recent interview in the “How to Change the World” blog from former Apple evangelist Guy Kawasaki.
His observations are interesting, but would be more useful if they incorporated insights that David Galenson brings to the discussion.
On experimentation: Berkun sees experimentation as a supplement to the conceptual approach, which often be, of course. He doesn’t describe it as an approach that can stand on its own: “The best bet is to be an experimenter, a tinkerer—to learn to try out ideas cheaply and quickly and to get out there with people instead of fantasizing in ivory towers. Experience with real people trumps expert analysis much of the time.”
On age: Berkun believes that innovation declines with age, which tends to be true for conceptual innovators but not for experimental innovators. His explanation is that older people tend to shy away from the risks that innovation entails.
“Innovation is difficult, risky work, and the older you are, the greater the odds you’ll realize this is the case. That explanation works best. Beethoven didn’t write his ninth symphony until late in his life, so we know many creatives stay creative no matter how old they are. But their willingness to endure all the stresses and challenges of bringing an idea to the world diminishes. They understand the costs better from the life experience. The young don’t know what their is to fear, have stronger urges to prove themselves, and have fewer commitments—for example, children and mortgages. These factors that make it easier to try crazy things.”
Readers’ comments on the interview are also interesting. They touch on the works of James Burke and Clayton Christensen on innovation and Frank Lloyd Wright as aging innovator.