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!