Have you ever noticed that almost all superheroes are adults? I am not speaking only of Marvel’s. Real life superheroes don’t escape from this rule.
In the past few years I have realized that most leaders reached success when they had grey hair. The rare Zuckerbergs and Bill Gates put aside, if we look around us, the average age of the people we consider successful is way beyond the scrappy college years. I am even under the impression that aside from show business and sport, most world leaders reach prominence after their 40s, when most superstars could be contemplating retirement.
A Harvard Business Review (HBR) research from 2018 confirms this feeling for the field of entrepreneurship and debunks the media-made myth of the early 20 superstar founder. The average age of a successful startup founder is 45, it finds. On the other end, solo artists at the top of the Billboard 200 are, on average, 29.25 years old. This is a whole 15 years later, enough time for a newborn boy to reach puberty.
I believe that when we are able to reach the top is linked to how much we practiced the needed skills, how early we started developing our experience. HBR’s study corroborates this idea as it points out work experience as a plausible underlying reason for a higher chance of entrepreneurial success. Needless to say, compared to other fields we start developing professional skills relatively late in life. On the other end, when it comes to playing sports or learning arts, we begin much younger – in our childhood. A study from the Association of British Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) finds that children, on average, start playing at 7.6 years of age. In comparison, the average person on her first job in the UK is 18 years old. Ten whole years older.
In our current system, we rarely start fixing problems before our early to late 20s, depending on levels of education. However, neither Zuck nor Gates did follow this path. They started toying around, conceptualizing things, and building products from an early age. There is no doubt that this is what equipped them with the skills and mindset they needed to reach the top and make a difference when their time had come. They were no longer beginners where their were faced with their big opportunity.
In Outlier, Malcolm Gladwell demonstrates how allowing people and children to practice more than others, conditions how far they go in their field. He tells the story of those who could practice a skill 10000 hours and shows how more likely they were to reach a top-level mastery of their craft and, consequently, to be a success when presented with the right odds. The author, with his usual humanist approach, don’t miss a chance to make us contemplate the need for a fairer society where everyone has the chance to develop their exceptional skills from a young age.
As a social entrepreneur, I wish I had started earlier. This way, I think I would have be even better equipped to address the massive challenges we are facing today. Indeed, the best experts and scientists agree: we have 10 years to change our system and avoid a global catastrophe. If we want a future, we need all of us to be ready to lead the change during this decade of action- not later when we are in our late 40s. Changemaking, like most things, is a combination of mindset and skills. Looking at music top acts and Gladwell’s righteous thought, something is clear: we need to make it possible for everyone to develop, early in life, the skills, mindset and experience they need to change the world.