Experience versus Youth is a topic that rages all the time. Vinod Khosla as a venture investor upped the ante by declaring that people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas.In the same article, there are enough instances of older people who have been creative.
I think there are two distinct things – creativity and impact. If creativity is defined as something that is novel then one perhaps has to accept that younger people tend to be more creative — mainly because of lack of experience and exposure to many things. Thus, there are no voices telling them this has been tried and this path is unlikely to succeed. They go with pure intuition and go where older people have not dared to go. On the other hand, if one were to define impact as something that may or may not be novel but has relevance to many people’s lives, then it is my take that older people tend to have a higher hit rate there. Primarily because they are able to eschew some paths that are statistically more improbable.
I want to mention two personal experiences from my two sons who are as different as chalk from cheese. Both of these experiences were when they were around three or four and had a free, uncluttered, view of the world.
The first one was when I was a proud father and quite impressed at my older son’s ability to distinguish one shape from another. I hurriedly drew squares, rectangles, circles, diamonds etc, and taught him those shapes. In order to test him, I then drew what looked to me like a diamond because one vertex (end) was at the top and the other was at the bottom and two at the sides at the same horizontal level. He confidently announced that this was a square. I was taken aback and a tad disappointed that he was not learning fast enough! Upon closer inspection, I had indeed drawn a square that was rotated with respect to the primary axes. I had been easily misled by the rotation but his keen eye noticed that the sides were perpendicular and that is what he had internalized as a square and for him there was rotational equivalence. Further, all the diamonds I had drawn for him had a much small angle at the top and the bottom and he internalized that.
The next experience was with my younger son who confidently declared that one of the ice creams I was having was non-vegetarian. I was taken aback and enquired how he came to this conclusion. He said there was a red circle which denoted that it was a non-vegetarian dish – indeed the ice cream had eggs and there was a red circle denoting this. He could hardly read at that time but was able to make this observation quite confidently while I was struggling with the notion that ice cream could be non-vegetarian!