Why the age of innovation doesn't care about your age

Photo: iStock

The world’s best innovators are in the business of breaking down barriers. They question the habits we live by – whether they happen to be social, geographical, technological, financial, or something else – and break them apart. They bend them into new shapes we don’t recognise, until, quickly, we do.

I work within the technology industry supporting small businesses – and they are two areas you don’t want to be without a healthy culture of innovation. Done well, the ability to challenge the norm becomes your team’s mindset and your company’s competitive edge.

Trent Innes. Photo: Supplied

When you’re always thinking to the future, the next generation of leaders often come into conversation: How are millennials positioned to lead the charge? What are the roadblocks that still stand in their way?

What the culture of innovation really cares about

The way I see it, the ability to innovate and execute your vision actually has nothing to do with age. That’s one of the barriers that we don’t need to break down.

That’s no bad thing for millennials – quite the opposite. It’s one of the most freeing and exciting reasons I can think of to throw yourself into the thick of things, right now.

In today’s connected world, you can be a respected school-leaver making waves in business just as easily as you can launch an innovative new venture at the age of 50. Access to world-class tools are no longer restricted to big businesses, and technology doesn’t care when you were born.

It cares about your ability to challenge, create and change. So how exactly do you keep doing that, at any age?

Recognise your biases

We all make decisions based on assumptions, especially when we’re thinking fast. Every now and then, take the time to slow down your thought process and challenge those assumptions. Ask why, and listen to the answer.

Value action and speed

Cloud technology enables us to act faster than ever, on a global scale, but organisational structures don’t always allow us to keep up. Smaller businesses, less bound by red tape, are well placed to make speed their ally, once they’ve given an idea some thought. Build a culture where you can act first and deal with permissions later, whatever the size of your business.

Don’t value tech above all else

Technology is incredible. It can offer connection, data, insights, efficiencies and more, to anyone willing to use it. But it’s only one part of the puzzle. Always think back to the people your idea seeks to serve, and those who will help you bring it to life. That’s how ideas become innovations.

Seek out others who believe in your purpose

You have an idea – and it matters to you because it fulfils a purpose. So find other people who believe in that purpose too. Whether you’re planning your own startup or innovating from the inside (and whether you’re just out of school or nearing retirement), mentors help us neutralise our biases and lift our ideas.

Align with attitude

Our team in Australia is now almost 300-people strong, and it’s full of very smart people. But that’s not always enough. By the time someone reaches me for an interview, it’s not about job specifics: I want to know their goals, dreams, aspirations and attitude to life and work. In the age of innovation, attitude trumps experience every time.

I’ve met innovative business owners who are 25 and ones who are 50. Passion and purpose know no limits.

Trent Innes is the Managing Director of Xero.

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