Given all the new complexities in the sciences, it is no surprise that innovators are actually getting older.
Kellogg School of Management economist Benjamin F. Jones looked at the backgrounds of Nobel Prize winners and other great inventors of the 20th century. He found that the average age at which they made their greatest innovations was 39. The largest mass of great advances – 72 percent – came in an inventor’s 30s and 40s, and only 7 percent came before the age of 26. What’s more, Jones found that the age at greatest achievement is actually rising, by about six years over the last century. Indeed, that effect was due to decreasing rates of invention at younger ages. The explanation is probably simple. People are spending more time in training as a prerequisite to contribute to complex fields.
The reality is that there is no age requirement for innovation. The young and old can both innovate. The young dominate new-era software development, and software will be a key driving force in the convergence of other technologies that are expanding exponentially. So we badly need our young. And we need our older entrepreneurs to develop cross-disciplinary solutions that solve the grand challenges of humanity.
Vivek Wadhwa is VP of academics and innovation at Singularity University and has affiliations at Duke, Stanford, and Emory. He is 54 years old.