Old dogs, new tricks

Doris Lessing passed away at the end of last year. She was the freewheeling Nobel Prize-winning writer on racism, colonialism, feminism and communism who died November 17 at the age of 94, was prolific for most of her life. But five years ago, she said the writing had dried up. “Don’t imagine you’ll have it forever,” she said, according to one obituary. “Use it while you’ve got it because it’ll go; it’s sliding away like water down a plug hole.”

In the very fast changing world of IT, it is common to feel like an old fogey. Everything changes at bewildering speed. From hardware specs to programming languages to user interfaces. We hear of wunderkinds whose innovations transform our very culture. Think Mozart, Zuckerberg to name two.

Tara Bahrampour examined the idea, and quotes author Mark Walton, “What’s really interesting from the neuroscience point of view is that we are hard-wired for creativity for as long as we stay at it, as long as nothing bad happens to our brain.”

The field also matters.

Howard Gardner, professor of cognition and education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education says, “Large creative breakthroughs are more likely to occur with younger scientists and mathematicians, and with lyric poets, than with individuals who create longer forms.”

In fields like law, psychoanalysis and perhaps history and philosophy, on the other hand, “you need a much longer lead time, and so your best work is likely to occur in the latter years. You should start when you are young, but there is no reason whatsoever to assume that you will stop being creative just because you have grey hair.” Gardner said.

Old dogs take heart; you can learn new tricks as long as you stay open to new ideas.