Innovation is ageless: Five reasons to engage baby boomers in your innovation projects

Written by Rhonda Honke, InVision Edge

I like to think of myself as an open minded, inclusive person, but I have to admit that, at times, I too fall victim to stereotyping. I am a child of baby boomer parents. I have often thought, like some of you perhaps, that while ‘boomers’ bring a wealth of experience and knowledge to business, they aren’t forward thinking or innovative. Tell me you haven’t either heard (or said) any one of these things in the past year:

“Baby boomers are just too set in their ways to change.”
“We just have to wait it out until the baby boomers retire, then we can make changes.”
“Boomers don’t have the interest or ability to learn new things.”

Over the last three years, I have learned just how wrong those statements are.

Consider the sixty-three-year-old assembly line employee who speaks proudly about the role he played in helping design and build a new product that no one else in the industry has. And what about the business owner who is mentoring his son to take over and pushing him to embed innovation systems into how they will grow moving forward?

No doubt about it: baby boomers bring a lot to the table. Here are the top five reasons you need to leverage their skills and talents to innovate and grow your business:

1. They are loyal.

According to the US Department of Labour, in 2014, baby boomers stayed with their employers three times longer than millennials (an average of 10.4 years). As a result, they feel more invested in the future of the company and its growth because of the time and effort they’ve put into the organization.

2. They are change warriors.

Think about it. Baby boomers have witnessed major changes in their lives – from the implementation of hydro grids, to computers, to the latest hand held devices and wearables.

When you talk to a boomer about change, you’ll generally find that they’re not negative about the advances these technologies brought to their lives. If anything, they’re thankful for them. Their frustration usually relates to HOW the changes were communicated and managed — and they’ve lived through the pain of implementation and adoption. We can learn from that experience so that we can do it better moving forward.

3. They see market opportunities from a different perspective.

Baby boomers are the largest part of our population and carry the majority of the wealth. This cohort represents a huge market — so ignoring their perspective is like turning our back on growth opportunities.

4. They thrive on purpose.

Like most of us, boomers need to feel that they have purpose to contribute to their full potential. By excluding them from innovation teams and strategic initiatives, we give them reasons to disengage and ‘ride it out’ to retirement. When we include them and communicate the purpose of our initiatives, they come to the table wanting to help. They also understand the value of perseverance and hard work and model that for others.

5. They recognize the need for focus and execution.

One of the things I have valued most about including boomers in project teams and strategic initiatives is their ability to support the flight of good ideas while still grounding teams in reality. It’s easy to create ideas and try to do twenty things at once — but taking on too much at one time means nothing gets done. Boomers have learned that to execute and get results, we need to focus on a fewer number of initiatives, but hit them out of the ballpark. They ask great questions to help us get at what is really important and create structures to drive results.

The bottom line is that boomers are an asset for more than just their knowledge of past initiatives and projects, or their technical understanding of the business. They can contribute just as much to an innovation project as a younger counterpart. We know how important diversity is to the innovation process — and boomers add an element of diversity that’s invaluable.

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