Published on: April 11, 2017by Michael Sansolo
Back in the 1960's it was popular among Baby Boomers to believe that we should trust no one over the age of 30. Of course, we said it before we started actually turning 30.
Today, our perspective has changed. Now 70 is the new 50 and that makes us feel good, even if our Millennial children might disagree.
But to paraphrase an old Frank Sinatra song, fairy tales can true if you are young in the brain. For inspiration, just think of John Goodenough, a 94-year-old physicist of great renown who is still trying to reinvent the world.
Dr. Goodenough (who clearly has never settled for being just good-enough) is an inspiration to all of us grappling with the challenges of a new day and wondering where to find the creativity to surmount them. As he explained in an interview with the New York Times last week, age and experience aren’t impediments; they can both be advantages. And he offers all of us a lesson in the importance of finding and retaining older workers, who can be a source of innovation and wisdom.
“I’m old enough to know you can’t close your mind to new ideas. You have to test out every possibility if you want something new,” he said. In Goodenough’s case, that open mind is focused on developing new batteries that could provide the power source of the future. Which means he isn't just generating innovative thinking and new ideas. He is quite literally generating energy.
When John Goodenough was in his 20's, he was told he was too old to study physics. When he was in his late 50's, he helped create the lithium ion batteries we use in countless devices today.
The odds are that you aren’t trying to do anything quite as complicated as developing an entirely new energy source today. But you are still dealing with some mighty complex problems, be they figuring out how to best employ the newest technologies or how to serve swiftly changing consumer demands.
The answers never come easily, but that again is why we need consider what Dr. Goodenough is doing. Like him, we all need to have an open mind to the challenges of the future by letting the lessons of the past guide, but not limit us.
As he told the Times, “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to be able to put ideas together.”
That is, of course, if you can see past the successes of the present to find the answers for the future. Doing just that is a challenge that knows no age limit, which is why age diversity is just one more asset you need on your teams.
But Goodenough offered one more reminder why older workers might be essential to finding some break-through solutions for the future. As he said, at age 94, "You no longer worry about keeping your job.”
In fact, all you have to think about is doing it.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available on Amazon by clicking here. And, his book "Business Rules!" is available from Amazon by clicking here.
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