My friend Roger Wu wrote an interesting and timely article on diversity and why it matters. Although Roger, an Asian-American, didn't believe diversity mattered growing up, founding his own startup quickly convinced him that it does matter. Leading his startup Roger came to understand clearly that diversity, broadly defined, is a key to innovation. Recognizing that innovative startups have been the engine of the US economy, creating the lion's share of jobs in recent decades, there should be no debate that innovation is critical to all of us.
Silicon Valley, a major source of innovation, has been fielding lots of complaints of late about its utter lack of diversity. Look no further than the complete dominance of young white males on the upper rungs of the tech industry ladder. Are they the only ones with good ideas? If nothing else their dominance suggests that something is out of whack. Where are we going next, will we continue on the same path? Look at the current output of the tech community and what you see are, in Roger's words, "lots of startups attacking frivolous first world problems". More apps for dating, other social needs satisfiable by seconds long bursts of images or words that often disappear, food ordering and a panoply of other "me too" products are being churned out by the dozens. If the goal is to actually change the world, it is time to get on the radio and tell Mission Control, "Houston we have a problem"!
Roger goes on to provide numerous examples to demonstrate that we can improve our innovation outcomes with diversity of seeing, doing and thinking. There can be no doubt that our odds of real success degrade substantially without them. He concludes that there is hope because some early adopters in the startup world are beginning to push a range of diversity initiatives. However, the initiatives he highlights have to do with various incubator, bootcamp and accelerator programs emphasizing diversity of race, gender and sexual orientation. I don't discount any of those, they are all important. However, there is a jarring omission on this list - age diversity.
In my last blog post I began to focus on age, a theme I intend to stick with by actively covering the needs of the 50Plus demographic going forward. There are 108 million of us in the US alone. If we formed our own nation we would be the 12th most populated nation on earth. Most of us are getting ready to, or have already begun to, make major life changes. "Finding purpose" is high on the list of key attributes of what many of us want to do next which is why I entitled my first post on age Finding Purpose. My prescription for my 50Plus brethren on how to find purpose includes a strong dose of "entrepreneurial thinking". However, that same prescription can also apply to innovation.
Let's face it, we are going to be around longer than most of us ever expected. We still have lots of current needs but will have new ones soon, some that are a direct result of the biological aging process, but others that will arise just because we have more time. Some of our needs going forward may be classified by other generations looking over our shoulders as frivolous but I know there will be a lot that can't. The elephant in the room is the fact that not all of us made the financial plans needed to make it through the extra decades we are likely to have. Alternative sources of income are going to be a critical need that many will have to address while also searching for purpose. There is no question that we are going to have to innovate.
Who is going to drive this innovation? Technology will undoubtably play a role in many solutions given the pervasiveness of the web, tools based on the web or connected to the cloud via the web. I am not going to wait for a homogeneous team of millennial males in Silicon Valley to read our minds. Don't be afraid to step up. Join me and let's collectively lead innovations, tech-based and otherwise, to solve our own problems and fill our needs. We all have an "inner entrepreneur", not all the same, but very valuable when it's unleashed. Whatever we do it's important to take to heart the lesson of Roger's article and avoid taking too narrow a view. We need to gather in small groups purposely diverse on as many dimensions as makes sense, include younger and even older generations and take advantage of everyone's experience, talent and knowledge.
#DiversityMatters / #AgeDiversityMatters