Companies suffer when leaders and managers assume that someone is too young or too old to solve complex problems, collaborate in new ways, contribute to the innovative design of a product, or skillfully lead a process improvement project.
Reinforcing age-related myths for targeted sectors of a workforce reduce real opportunities to raise the innovation bar for everyone, which is why I'm calling out ten age-related myths for the over forty crowd that we should debunk in 2017.
Myth #1. Business Transformation Requires a "Fresh Face"
"Fresh faces" can reference a strategy that includes hiring those with the capacity and bench strength for introducing fresh viewpoints and perspectives, but it can also be code for youth, regardless of whether the younger person has the required skill sets.
Why debunk this myth: Visionary leadership isn't an age thing. Rethinking mentoring programs by including reverse mentoring and peer mentoring helps to expand workforce views on the 'how' of transformation and building this bench strength at any age.
Myth #2. Entrepreneurial Moxie is Easier When You're Young
Resetting the entrepreneurial moxie button requires a mindset shift--one that occurs at any age. Instead of wondering if someone is the "right age" for a higher risk, higher impact job, leadership teams could focus on helping everyone across the age spectrum tap their entrepreneurial spirit.
Why debunk this myth: Entrepreneurial thinkers and doers realize moxie is part of their career strategy that leads to their creative breakthroughs and innovative contributions. By leveraging an entrepreneurial mindset across the generations all boats are lifted.
Myth #3: “Seasoned” Workers Have Difficulty Navigating Disruptive Change
The art of the pivot stems from both work and life experience. It's true that some people learn from their setbacks and become adept at navigating change while others ignore these opportunities. But to assume the more experienced worker is someone who cannot navigate workplace and business disruptions due to age, wildly ignores seasoned and savvy professionals who are skilled in navigating change.
Why debunk this myth: Business leaders and managers won't want to overlook talent with the expertise of managing organizational change efforts. Seasoned professionals can provide you with different perspectives on disruptive change and innovation.
Myth #4. Personal Risktaking is Risky for Older Workers
Associating age with personal risktaking is a recipe for limiting workplace innovation. Encouraging people (of any age) to step outside their comfort zones and become more entrepreneurial dreamers and doers gets them out of their own way in moving the innovation process forward.
Why debunk this myth: Responsible risktaking is ageless and sustainable because it encourages individuals and teams to responsibly assess, manage, and own the upstream and downstream impacts of their higher risk decisions.
Myth #5. Self-Reinvention Slows (or Stops) After 40
Self-reinventions occur either by choice or by necessity. Assuming that self-reinvention slows, or even stops, after the age of forty guarantees glass-empty thinking. But by teaching workers how to reinvent themselves by choice builds confidence in their ability to anticipate and navigate inflection points as part of the innovation process.
Why debunk this myth: Learning to reinvent in front of the curve keeps people of all ages agility, aware, and adept at monitoring undercurrents of change in the marketplace and within the business.
Myth #6. Never Expect Top-Notch Creativity from Anyone Over 50
Curiosity is the foundation of creativity. And if you come at it from this premise, it's difficult to place an age limit on creativity. Instead, focus on encouraging curiosity in the workplace as the brain juice that stimulates ideas and actionable, entrepreneurial behavior.
Why debunk this myth: Curiosity will look and feel different for workers of different ages and life experiences. And while the output of their curiosity will translate into unique creative endeavors and even innovative masterpieces, by using a wider net you increase your chances of pulling in a larger haul of creative ideas.
Myth #7. Adaptive, Agile Workers Don't Require Backup Plans
What is the "hidden" message here? Older workers need back up plans because they have trouble pivoting and adapting and, thus, are less agile? A Plan B designed with potential pivots as part of an implementation plan is always a smart move, whether you wind up needing it or not.
Why debunk this myth: Solid backup plans provide a great skill set for career professionals of all ages. All too often product and project managers attempt to speed up the process by cutting corners and not developing Plan B's. Learn from CEO Elizabeth Holmes who likely wishes that Theranos had not avoided having a backup plan.
Myth #8. "Over-Qualified" Workers Are Less Resilient
Over-qualified for a position that doesn't require the depth of "in the trenches" experience may be a singe factor in the hiring process. But to make a direct correlation between someone's life years and professional experience with that of being less resilient, less flexible, and less adaptive is a blind spot that puts many a hiring manager at odds with reality.
Why debunk this myth: Resilience--the ability to recover or "bounce back" from setbacks--stems from successful experience having done so. It's better to understand how someone has managed professional setbacks in the past, how they've identified key learning from these setbacks, and how this learning has increased their adaptability and flexibility than to assume an over-qualified person is less resilient.
Myth #9. Cross-Generations and Digital Collaboration Don't Mix
Today's complex business initiatives, programs, and projects require rich tapestries of creative experiences and diverse ideas--an "all hands on deck" approach to collaboration and innovation. It's critical that business leaders learn how to play to the strengths of different generations given that today's workplace reflects the larger population pool of four, sometimes five generations working together under the same roof--physically and virtually.
Why debunk this myth: Mindfully mixing workplace generations with digital tools that enhance collaborative efforts often lead to unexpected results and innovative solutions when solving complex problems.
Myth #10. Getting Stuff Done Slows with Age
Getting stuff done is about managing speed bumps while achieving results. Expecting less of someone because they're older lowers the bar for everyone. It makes more sense to focus on ensuring that professionals--of all ages--understand your expectations about what "getting stuff done" means to you.
Why debunk this myth: There's a reason why Execution is the last of the essential elements in my book Innovation in a Reinvented World: 10 Essential Elements to Succeed in the New World of Business.
Remaining competitive in a reinvented world requires a different blueprint. Let's do our best to take age-related myths out of the mix in 2017!