Rats are tested in maze experiments to determine learning abilities. The rats who have been through more mazes, the experienced rats, complete new ones faster. In a similar vein, the motto of today's technology driven world is 'fail fast'. It's a concept from software engineering that has been applied to modern entrepreneurship. The idea is that each failure brings you closer to success faster.
Thomas Edison failed more than 1000 times when trying to perfect the light bulb. James Dyson's bagless vacuum cleaner took five years and over 5000 prototypes to perfect. Edison and Dyson gained learning and experience that is so much broader than it seems. Both inventors became savvy businesspeople, broadly applying their knowledge, experience and wisdom to other areas.
Experience and wisdom come with age. There is a tipping point however, when mental faculties decline and agility passes. Are we truly saying that this happens at around 50 years of age?
I had the privilege of meeting Dan Lyons in 2008 when we were both speaking at a TED style conference. Dan's talk was one of the highlights. He clearly wasn't a tired, old, worn out guy. He was quick witted, exceedingly funny and incredibly knowledgeable.
Over the years we've sporadically kept in touch courtesy of social media and he's since become more prolific, more successful. Ironically, at the same conference, there was a talk from Aubrey de Grey about preventing and stopping ageing. Apart from the major medical challenges, he spoke about changes in society, retraining for second and third careers, being fully productive beyond 100 years of age. How ironic that our working lives are being cut short at a time of increasing lifespan and rising mandatory retirement ages.
What future awaits for the likes of today's current crop of Wunderkinds?
In his late 50s, Bill Gates left technology to become the world's largest and arguably greatest philanthropist. He has applied his wisdom, experience and vast financial resources to now solving the world's most intractable problems, the ones that impact humanity the most.
His efforts have created significant benefits to the world and he's far from ‘past it’. Colonel Harland David Sanders , the man behind KFC, went through multiple careers before succeeding with the now famous chicken recipe. He only saw great wealth in his seventies.
Will Keith Kellog, the founder of the famous cereal company, charted a similar story to Sanders. He founded the Kellogg company in his late 40s and like Bill Gates, became a philanthropist in later life.
Young and smarter doesn’t mean success
People today are not more intelligent than those entrepreneurs of 150 years ago, some might even argue that today we are less intelligent because of technology. In the past you needed time, patience, tenacity and luck to become successful.
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