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Your Big Creative Breakthrough Will Come In Your 30s

Or at least, that's what history has to say.
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If you're under the age of 35, take heed: Your creative best might be yet to come.

Or at least that's the finding of a recent paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, covered by The Atlantic.

The paper compiled a wealth of past studies on age and creativity to consider the age at which Nobel Prize winning scientists and history's greatest inventors produced signature achievements. Research has consistently found that creative breakthroughs come in inventors' late 30s.

Source: NBER

Why Then?

The reason that the 30s look like the golden decade for innovators? Education, largely, the authors write. School takes many great inventors into their late 20s or even their early 30s. By the time they get to work, it might take a couple of years before the lightbulb goes off.

"One could think of people exclusively accumulating human capital through most of their education, then going through a period mixing further investment and active research after leaving fulltime coursework," the paper reads. "...Both because human capital has accumulated during the training phase and because researchers may transition relatively quickly towards active production, productivity may naturally increase rapidly at the beginning of the career."

The takeaway there: Historically, it has taken at least a little bit of time in the workforce before an idea comes to fruition. If you're a young innovator, that's worth knowing lest you hurt yourself banging your head into the wall. Aside from that, though, any manager should keep this in mind when it comes to hiring and managing young employees fresh out of college.

What About All Those Early Breakthroughs?

The paper notes that interest in the topic has largely been born from public fascination with young creators. From Albert Einstein's contributions to the theory of relativity (age 26) to Steve Jobs's founding of Apple (21), history is full of young innovators.

But anecdote is not the same as data, and beyond that, some anecdotes don't tell the whole story. For instance, focusing on somebody like Einstein obscures the fact that 93 percent of Nobel Prize winners were older than 26. And focusing on Jobs's early start obscures that his most commercially successful products came much later.

 




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