You have to be a young, twentysomething white male hoodie-wearing Ivy League dropout to innovate. It's easy to believe the myth, especially if, like me, you lived in Silicon Valley. I left to see the world and, as I learned speaking from my book The Ultimate Bite-Sized Entrepreneur, my startup success as an older (and non-white) founder wasn't the anomaly, but becoming the norm.
The beautiful part is that your innovations - in the startup world and out in the real world - do not have an expiration date. You stop innovating when you decide to.
Exhibit A: Quincy Jones
Before wrapping up this season, the inspirational Complex Media series Blueprint interviewed acclaimed hip-hop and R & B producer Timbaland. Best known for bringing out the best from music mogul Jay-Z, rap innovator Missy Elliott and the late songstress Aaliyah, Timbaland recounted one of the best pieces of advice he ever received:
I heard this from Quincy Jones: He didn't make Thriller until he was 50. He had records, right? [leans in to whisper] But when he made Thriller, the whole spectrum changed. Now, I take that same model.
Quincy Jones had been producing for decades - and calling his catalog impressive would be an understatement - but his definitive album via Michael Jackson didn't come until middle age. The 1982 album was so innovative, it not only shifted the consciousness of modern R & B, but it turned into the milestone that Jackson would unsuccessfully try to top until his death. It is still one of the top selling albums of all time.
Timbaland is now approaching middle age. It's clear he feels like he hasn't hit his peak, either.
The gift of time (and perspective)
It really is about honoring your own diversity. As an older entrepreneur or creative, you have absorbed years of life, study and insight that will color your leadership, your decisions and your innovation.
Why did Mark Zuckerberg decide he needed to visit each of the 50 states? Because he started Facebook when he was still in college and never got a chance to see them. You can bet many older entrepreneurs already had.
There is a certain wisdom that only comes from your unique perspective as an older founder, as a minority founder, as an immigrant founder, as a female founder or as a gay founder. It's not something to make people feel good about themselves, but just a fact.
Your original view is not a handicap, but a superpower. The more you embrace it, the sooner you can make an impact worthy of the world.