Conventional wisdom holds that breakthrough discoveries in science are made by innovators under the age of 30. Consider Albert Einstein as a case in point: he made his most exciting discoveries in 1905 when he was only 26. But here’s a fascinating new development: the “age of invention” as one scientist called it, is rising. A survey of
Nobel Prize-winning chemists revealed that those who conducted award-winning
research before 1905 did their major work at an average age of 36 while those whose big findings were made after 1985 had their breakthroughs at an average age of 46.
Why? Some researchers think that this may be the result of longer lifespans; others believe the trend is the result of the fact that there is simply more information to absorb or because scientists spend a longer time as students. However, in a field that’s young or veering off in a whole new direction, years of schooling don’t make a difference: Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, and Bill Gates were all in their 20s when they came up with their innovative ideas.
Interesting you may be thinking, but what does all this have to do with writing dangerously? Here’s what grabbed my attention: According to David Galenson, a University of Chicago economist, people in the creative arts fall into two different categories: “conceptual innovators” and what could be called “technique perfectors.”
Conceptual innovators who break away from convention — artists like James Joyce, Orson Welles, Picasso — make their marks early in life according to Galenson. On the other hand, artists who build on the past and perfect time-tested techniques — masters of their craft like Robert Frost, Cezanne, Rembrandt, and Alfred Hitchcock — create their best work later in life. Mmm… interesting theory. What do you think?