Inventory to invention

I am excited to share what I read last night in the Jobs section of the New York Times. Peggy Klaus states: “Contrary to popular lore that innovative ideas spring only from fresh, young minds in dorm rooms, a Northwestern University study found that people who are 55 and even 65 have more innovation potential than 25-year-olds.” Thank you, dear Ms. Klaus and Northwestern University. I am not surprised, as I’ve crossed over 50 and feel no shortage of creativity.

In fact, I have more creative tops spinning than ever. This must be due to my extensive inventory. A person’s ability to invent, you see, is linked to his or her inventory. Joshua Foer explains this in his bestseller Moonwalking with Einstein. The Latin root inventio is the basis of both words: inventory and invention, pointing to the notion that an inventive idea is derived from a person’s inventory. In order to invent, Foer suggests, a person first needs “a proper inventory, a bank of existing ideas to draw on.” Naturally, the older one is, the bigger the inventory and potential for inventing!

Inspiring examples of elderly creativity include an 80-year-old who just invented the “Safety Bubble” to prevent texting when driving and an 84-year-old who came up with “Dabble,” which won the 2011 Game of the Year Award from Creative Child Magazine. And so on.

Last month my husband, portrait artist Scott Johnston, visited the amazing John Howard Sanden who has been, for over thirty years, one of America’s best known portrait artists. Mr. Sanden referred my husband as a young man. He wasn’t just being nice; he knows how many productive years my husband is likely to have ahead of him, and that makes him young, relatively speaking.

ClassicAge doesn’t mean much when it comes to technology, either. My son, a sophomore at Cornell whose student job is computer science consulting, tells me that those who grew up with the development of the personal computer may have a deeper knowledge of technology than the generation that followed. Speaking for myself, when I first bought a Macintosh in 1991, I studied everything about it. I had a basic understanding of every single file and application on there. I had no patience for mysterious files; how could I fix my computer if I didn’t know what the general purpose of each file was? Today, however, many files are actually hidden on the Mac and people don’t even know they are there! This is shocking to me. But it does make sense since technology has increased at such a pace, no normal person can know everything that lurks on their computer. Over the years, I have had to relinquish control.

But I do not have to relinquish creativity. Never. That is the part of us that only gets better with age.