Nieuws - 27 oktober 2015

Blog: While you are young

Lately I hear the buzzwords ‘youth’, ‘creativity’, ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’ being used together, across talks, academic initiatives, and events. To what extent is it good to encourage people to become engaged with societal problems at an early stage, and use their own — alleged — talent to solve them?

Everyone who wishes to outclass in music and sports knows that they should start exploring their potentials when they are still young. However, this has much to do with strenuous, repetitive training. Instead, this hype has more to do with boldness and geniality. The ascent of all the Zuckerbergs and Persons, Bills and Steves, IT geeks and start-up owners who made great money by following an inspiration, generated a role model that is readily taken up by discourses in education, media and funding institutions.

The premise of this ‘young creative entrepreneurship’ is to just be yourself, pick a social issue you are keen about and build a sustainable and profitable business around it. This seems highly rewarding, with many opportunities for under 25-year-olds, that were not there before. Wageningen University is also investing in these particular vocations by giving room to the Start Hub initiative — although I am confident that, in the previous 95 years, Wageningen UR has not missed on creativity and innovation even without dedicating a specific section to it.

Why does the whole ‘geek-tycoon-flower power’ discourse bother me? I see it as a problem of commercializing passions. First of all, it seems yet one more way consumer society has found to make segments of the population feel inadequate and powerless — the older person who has creativity to spend, for not being young, and the young for not being entrepreneurial mavericks. By the same token, there is nothing wrong with you if you don’t achieve breakthroughs before the age of 25, or 30, or 50...

People have different ways of expressing their talent, and different maturity. Instead, age can be an advantage: to innovate you need experience, have learnt from mistakes, be humble, and to mix all of this in the right amount with intuition and creativity. It is also a problem of skewed expectations: I think that entrepreneurship and innovation is not for everyone. This brings me to my last point: creativity and passion do not necessarily go along with making money, contrary to what they seem to repeat to my generation.

‘Stay hungry, stay foolish’ might be one of the best quotes about human curiosity in the age of the internet… Not because I am a Steve Jobs admirer, but because it means exactly the opposite of what we are doing: looking where very few others are looking, sometimes at the cost of remaining hungry.