Thursday, July 13, 2006

Age and Entrepreneurship

A Silicon Valley axiom equates entrepreneurship with youth - think of Jobs, Dell, Gates, Yang, and many other founders who built industry-changing companies in their twenties. I once heard a Valley veteran remark that if you were either A) over thirty or B) had children the odds of you starting a company were close to nill.

While working 24x7, living on Red Bull, and a low personal burn rate may all be traits of young founders, is it true that entrepreneurship is inversely proportional to age?

I once asked a 30 year veteran of entrepreneurship at GSB, Chuck Holloway, that very question. He answered unequivocally no. He maintained that there are two natural age peaks correlated to entrepreneurship - late twenties and mid-forties.

Today, I read in Wired magazine an article that argued that creativity comes in two distinct types - quick and dramatic and careful and quiet. David Galenson, an economist at the University of Chicago, analyzed the creative output of leading artists. He plotted the relationship between an artist's age and the value of their paintings. He quickly realized the artists clustered into two distinct groups - conceptualists, who did their breakthrough work early in life and then declined and experimentalists - who developed slowly, experimented and iterated, and peaked later in life. In the former camp are artists such as Mozart (age 30), Andy Warhol (33), Picasso (26), F. Scott Fitzgerald (29), and in the latter camp are figures such as Twain (50), Cezzanne (64), and Beethoven (54).

Conceputalists rewrite the rule book and in their extreme creativity revolutionize their area of focus and specialty. Experimentalists innovate more incrementally and while not as radical do infact generate great creativity over much longer periods of time. It is fascinating to apply the two mental constructs to the high-tech industry.

I look forward to reading more of Galenson's work and perhaps he will turn his analytical attentions away from artists and to business entrepreneurs. For those of you with kids and over thirty, it may not be too late after all!

5 comments:

  1. Anonymous5:00 PM

    As a painter and a geek, I thought that was interesting. The thing with painters though, a break in your career doesn't have that much to do w/ your ability as an artist. You have to consider politics, wars, etc. WWII made the NY School painters. The patrons, like Peggy Guggenheim, fled Paris and moved to NY. The money was there, so the painters gave up their day jobs and got to spend more time doing interesting work. Before WWII these NY painters simply were not recognized and their paintings were worthless. I guess you could argue that the best artists would find a way to get to Paris or wherever by age 30.

    I think my point is that "value of painting" doesn't have a direct relationship with the nature of "genius" because there are so many factors that determine the value of something new. You need good art critics with passion, someone with a lot of money to display the work (like a Guggenheim or a Hirshhorn) and usually some kind of behind-the-scenes genius like a Marcel Duchamp or a Hans Hoffman, and of course you need other artist "followers" to recognize the genius, because critics alone are not enough.

    While Cezanne was probably better than the entire NY School combined, I don't think profit was his motive. He lived off his dead father's wealth--his dad was a banker. He was very lucky in other ways. I'm pretty sure that Cezanne had a son who became an art dealer and he was fortunate to have lived near Paris where he probably met Monet and other VIP artists. So he wasn't just a good painter--we are damn lucky to have him too. And you also have to thank Picasso for the value of Cezanne's paintings. If it wasn't for Picasso, Cezanne could not be recognized today as the father of modern painting.

    As for age though, I think the "40" number sounds right. The value of de Kooning's paintings was also really helped by the fact that he "outlived" most of his competitors. He became a leader, gateway to the past, a beacon of truth. The world came to him for his increasingly rare knowledge/memories.

    As I read somewhere recently, there has never been a better time in history to be a painter. Maybe at one time you had to live in Paris or NY, but these days all you need is Internet access and you can almost reach the entire world.

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  2. Anonymous12:01 AM

    Perhaps not too late, but sounds like we might have to wait for a decade...

    Of course, artists in the study didn't stop doing art or let their "lifestyle" decisions impact whether they were doing art, but that's nit-picky, perhaps.

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  3. Anyone who advocates, advances, or otherwise champions any sort of binary relationship or duality when speaking in context of the human mind's operation; especially, when said individual is speaking about the most subjective of areas--such as in this instance--I believe is fundamentally and severely in error.

    However, if I may recant the popular cliche, what do I know? ;)

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  4. Harry1:49 PM

    American kids need to start learning about business early on. I believe that our kids will take a backseat to kids from China, India etc... if we don't tackle this issue. My sons have read the book "Tyler and His Solve-a-matic Machine" by Jennifer Bouani, and they loved it. The story teaches kids ages 9-12 entrepreneurship and business concepts in a fun fantasy way.

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  5. Carl Peters7:57 PM

    Indeed, I agree with Harry. Kids in America need to be introduced to business concepts early on in life. My child also read Tyler and his solve-a-matic machine by Jennifer Bouani and he loved it. Now he wants to be an entrepreneur, we need more kids thinking that way so they can compete.

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