Thursday, April 20, 2017
The New York Times ran an article earlier this month about a 94 year old genius. To Be a Genius, Think Like a 94-Year-Old features Dr. John Goodenough. who "at 94, has just set the tech industry abuzz with his blazing creativity. He and his team at the University of Texas at Austin filed a patent application on a new kind of battery that, if it works as promised, would be so cheap, lightweight and safe that it would revolutionize electric cars and kill off petroleum-fueled vehicles." Back when Dr. Goodenough was 23 and starting college, he was told by a professor that he was too old to succeed in his chosen field of physics. The article mentions how for some creativity increases with age but there are biases and hurdles in their way.
At least in Silicon Valley, the article notes, youth seems to be the common denominator. But, for others "there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that late blooming is no anomaly. A 2016 Information Technology and Innovation Foundation study found that inventors peak in their late 40s and tend to be highly productive in the last half of their careers." Even someone from the Patent Office has noticed that “there’s clear evidence that people with seniority are making important contributions to invention.”
The author asks Dr. Goodenough for his thoughts.
When I asked him about his late-life success, he said: “Some of us are turtles; we crawl and struggle along, and we haven’t maybe figured it out by the time we’re 30. But the turtles have to keep on walking.” This crawl through life can be advantageous, he pointed out, particularly if you meander around through different fields, picking up clues as you go along. Dr. Goodenough started in physics and hopped sideways into chemistry and materials science, while also keeping his eye on the social and political trends that could drive a green economy. “You have to draw on a fair amount of experience in order to be able to put ideas together,” he said.
Plus being a 94 year old scientist is freeing. "Last but not least, he credited old age with bringing him a new kind of intellectual freedom. At 94, he said, 'You no longer worry about keeping your job.'"