"The capacity to innovate is a human trait. Our ingenuity when faced with a predicament defines us as a species. It's an aspect of ourselves we can count on, not a specialty reserved for a few." Al Etmanski, Six Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation
The notion that centennials (youth) or millennials are the leaders and innovators of today or that there is a robot or app for every problem we have, has somehow been planted in our global psyche. I argue that innovators are ageless. They can be found in all sectors and they cross all boundaries of gender, ethnicity, religion and socio-economic status.
Great innovators are curious thinkers and persevering problem-solvers. Some work better alone and others as a team. Take Gutenberg's invention of the printing press in 1440. Gutenberg was a goldsmith by trade and was "using unrelated skills, processes, technologies and assets available in the world around him" to invent the press (Rowan Gibson, The Four Lenses of Innovation). Gutenberg was 46 years old when he created this ingenious machine that changed the world.
There is no doubt that the last fifty years has seen a unique abundance of scientific and technological advancements. Today you can order and build your own robot, breed crypto kitties using block chain technology and purchase drones with aerial photography at your local business depot. In Canada, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is highly funded by the federal government (Budget 2017 provided 50 million over 2 years) and STEM remains a key focus for youth and the future work. The world is sufficiently excited, but mostly distracted, by the coolest of cool technology.
While the digital economy explodes and the bitcoin’s value surges our oceans are dying, entire generations are being murdered or displaced in countries like Syria, women remain underemployed around the world, and closer to home, an unacceptable number of indigenous women and girls have gone missing or have been murdered. Technology won’t save us. Humans will need to lead us out of the mess we have created.
“The most exciting breakthroughs of the 21st century will not occur because of technology but an expanding of the concept of what it means to be human.” John Naisbitt.
To solve the complex and wicked problems of today we need to empower and encourage everyone, from 2 to 92 to use their skills, knowledge and creativity to generate new solutions. Solving today's most pernicious problems is less about the age of the person and more about the human desire to contribute in a way that moves our society forward.