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  • Don’t give up: Older people can have creative breakthroughs

    The Washington Post - 12/10/2016

    Many of this year’s cohort of Nobel laureates achieved their award-winning efforts when they were quite young — a phenomenon detected by decades of research on creativity. J. Michael Kosterlitz, co-recipient of the Nobel in physics, was 31 at the time of his prizewinning discovery, and his collaborator, David J. Thouless, was 39. Bob Dylan, the literature winner, wrote his defining work even earlier, in his 20s.

    Based on this pattern, one might assume that once you pass this early career stage, your chances of making a breakthrough drops precipitously. Einstein, who developed his theory of special relativity at the tender age of 26, put it bluntly: “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of thirty will never do so.”

    Yet as we show in a paper recently published in Science, our ability to have a creative breakthrough does not diminish with age. It is our productivity and will to keep trying that decline, not our creative potential. For those who stick with it, success can come at any point in their career, and if they keep trying, it can return over and over again.

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