In his blog, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen has started to explore the topic of age and the entrepreneur. He has begun with research from 1988 by psychology Prof. Dean Simonton at UC-Davis, which concludes that productivity declines from a peak near the beginning of a career — the basic pattern for conceptual innovators.
In the process of collecting data, I hope that Andressen will acquaint himself with the more recent work by economist David Galenson at the University of Chicago that also finds a second pattern — experimental innovators whose achievements increase with age and peak later in their careers. This second pattern appears in many — perhaps all — fields, including painting (Cezanne), poetry (Frost), film making (Hitchcock), etc., as regular readers of this blog have heard, probably ad nauseam.
By lumping the two types of innovators together, as Simonton and other researchers such as Harvey Lehman have done, they let the experimental pattern get lost in the overall average. As a result, they wrongly conclude that innovators overall tend to peak early in their careers, when that’s only true for some.
Andreessen, by the way, seems to fit the pattern of a conceptual innovator. He wrote the Internet browser software Mosaic, the basis for Netscape, at age 21 as an undergraduate in Illinois.