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Science communication is important in today's technologically advanced society. A good part of the adult community is not science savvy and lacks the background to make sense of rapidly changing technology. My blog attempts to help by publishing articles of general interest in an easy to read and understand format without using mathematics. You can contact me at ektalks@yahoo.co.uk

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Routines; Habits and Addiction; An Outreach Feature

Who am I?  Index of Blogs.

Routine is a set of behaviours we do regularly, but not automatically, in a particular order.
Habit is a process by which a stimulus generates an impulse to act as a result of a learnt stimulus-response association.                 ...Ben Gardner
40% of daily decision-making processes are unconsciously driven by habits...
Addiction is a primary chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.   ...American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
[Note the older definition:  Addiction is a state in which an organism engages in a compulsive behaviour, even when faced with negative consequences.]

Our lives are organised around habits and routines.  A recent feature describes how diet, sleep and exercise routines are fundamental to a child's proper development.  Adults need routines too - we do many things at particular times in some definite order - routines give structure to our lives.  We intentionally devise routines because we hope to derive some benefit out of them - to achieve some desirable goal/objective. 
Many of the routines when repeated over time become habits and we carry them out without even thinking about them; the benefit or reward gets hard-wired in our brain. Routines and habits have powerful influence on our health and well-being.  

Routines and habits:  what is the difference? 

Routines:  A set of behaviours we do regularly, but not automatically, in a particular order. 
A routine requires a high degree of intention and effort.  Generally, routines are not thought of as fun or pleasurable but they help us in self-development by focusing on things that are important for our physical, social and emotional well-being. Good routines have a purpose - a why. Examples of routines: Setting alarm for 7 am, preparing a healthy breakfast and doing some exercise; Having dinner with family in pleasant environment; etc.
Routines are powerful because it is only through a well-designed routine that bad/undesirable habits may be changed (broken).

Habit: An acquired mode of behaviour that has become nearly or completely involuntary.  
Habit is behaviour that we do automatically in a regular and repeated way with little or no conscious thought.  We engage in habits because there is some kind of payoff/reward - we get some kind of physical or emotional pleasure that, in some cases, may only be transitory. All habits are not necessarily beneficial. 

Some habits are good - They have positive outcome and enrich life by improving health, relationships, finances - they generally make you feel good and relaxed.  For example, going for a walk after meals, talking to a friend, taking tea-break at 11 am; keeping your place tidy etc.
Habits can be bad too - Some habits have negative outcome and create stress, anxiety, affect your sleep pattern, annoy people around you. For example - picking your nose in public, poor posture (or slouching), watching TV for hours etc. Such habits should be avoided.

How habits form?Habits make up a major part of our behavioural and cognitive livesMany acts (behaviours), after repetitive practice, would transform from being goal directed to automatic habits, which can then be carried out subconsciously and  efficiently. Habits free
up the cognitive load required for routine procedures, and allow the brain to attend to new situations; habits make us utilise our energies more efficiently.   On average one needs about 66 days to form a habit - although sometimes it may take much longer.

Driving a car or riding a bicycle are demanding activities.  Initially, it requires a lot of attention and concentration but with practice, it becomes more or less effortless.  There are occasions when I would drive six or seven miles before realising that I have covered such a distance - it is like being on auto-pilot. This certainly frees the brain to become more efficient and concentrate on dealing with other situations.  Life would be impossible if we had to pay attention to every little part of all the task we do - how to take the next step while walking, or how to use knife and fork at the dinner table etc. Our brains have an “inborn tendency to maximise reward and minimise cost".

Over the past 25 years, numerous studies have linked habit formation with the basal ganglia. We now have a good understanding of how our brain forms habits and which parts are involved in this process. 
The following slide shows the main parts of the brain.

The basal ganglia (BG) are a group of subcortical nuclei that represent one of brain's fundamental processing units.  BG are present in brains of all vertebrates and situated at the base of the forebrain and the top of the midbrain.

The Habit Loop:  Repeated execution of a routine develops into a habit.
Essentially, a routine starts with a trigger - be it alarm at 7 am or nice smell of baking or the clock showing a particular time of the day.  The trigger then causes a behavioural action - getting out of bed or serving yourself a freshly baked cake or having a coffee break at work.  The action leads to a reward - feeling of accomplishment or satisfaction. 

We say that a habit has been formed when encountering a trigger (or cue), the brain involuntarily executes the action anticipating that the reward will be forthcoming.

Experiments with monkeys have demonstrated that, once a habit is formed,  the expectation of the reward is strongly felt as soon as the trigger appears - even before any action happens.  One kind of craves for the reward which - so does the brain believes - is bound to follow the trigger.  If the reward is denied, the subject feels disappointed, angry and can become very upset.  This is particularly evident in case of addiction where an extreme form of reaction may be observed. For example, a smoker must have the cigarette after his meal or a chocoholic denied her favourite treat to go with a nice cup of tea.

How Does the Brain form Habits:  What goes on in the brain during the time when a routine becomes a habit?  The reward from the routine generates a good feeling -- striatum (part of basal ganglia) is central in processing the reward system. In the reward system, via a reinforcement learning process or temporal difference learning, the brain makes a prediction before a reward is delivered; it then compares the reward yield to predicted expectation and, depending on the difference, the brain makes an adjustment leading to a learning curve. 
The brain, thus, begins to expect an appropriate  reward as soon as a trigger is encountered.   

How to Break a Habit:  Old Habits Never Die.

Good habits are useful but sometimes it is good to be able to break a bad habit.  
We can only make a habit latent (mask it) but it will come back to life if proper conditions are present.  Even if you have controlled the habit of not eating chocolates with your coffee, it is very hard to resist the temptation if you happened to be feeling tired and a good opportunity presents itself. 

It is really difficult to break a bad habit.  I must be seriously motivated to do so - first step is that I should be convinced that the particular habit is something I want to eliminate. 

The next step is to study the habit and find the trigger, behavioural pattern and reward - effectively identify the habit loop.
For example, if I prepare a cup of coffee and go for the box of chocolates then coffee is the trigger and action is the process of finding and eating the chocolate.  The reward is obviously the feeling of satisfaction.

It is best to use the same trigger but change the behaviour - may be I should replace the chocolate by a small quantity of nuts and dried fruits - which will still give me a sugar/energy boost and similar reward.  
Essentially, I am forming a new habit; and it takes time to establish a new habit - I need to persevere and remember to go for the nut/fruit mixture. After a couple of weeks, I can start reducing the amount (in small steps) of dried fruits (rich in sugar) and eat only nuts with my coffee.  The next stage will be to reduce the amount of nuts (again in small steps) until I am able to drink coffee on its own. 
The reward system will adjust itself and I should be able to get same pleasure from a cup of coffee that I was able to derive from coffee cum chocolate.  However, my brain will still remember the old habit and the enjoyment that chocolate provided and it will be all too easy to fall back into that routine  - I shall be on guard not to give in to the temptation at the next opportunity.  

Breaking a habit is not an easy process and can not be done in haste.  Forming a new habit takes on average 66 days - breaking one will need similar length of time but also greater motivation. 

Habits and Addiction:  what is the difference?

Habits may be good or bad.  Good habits are desirable and help us to live our lives in a relaxed and efficient manner.  Bad habits are undesirable but they are under our control.  In bad habits, even when a cue/desire is present, we can normally control and stop behavioural actions, and consciously decide to  forgo rewards - we are in control.  

Although initial experimentation with a drug of abuse is largely a voluntary behaviour, continued drug use can eventually impair brain circuits and connectivity  to such an extent that we lose control (prefrontal cortex is responsible for such executive judgements) on our behavioural actions and continue with substance abuse or other addictive activities like eating, drinking, sex, gambling etc. even though it is clear that such actions are causing harm - drug use turns into an automatic compulsive behaviour (addiction).

Studies have shown that impairment begins in the more primitive areas of the brain that process reward; and then moves on to other areas responsible for more complex cognitive functions. The addicted person can experience severe disruption in learning, decision making, cognition and emotional functions.

Addiction is now accepted as a primary disease - not caused by something else, such as a psychiatric or emotional problem.

Addiction:   In the following slides, I shall describe addiction in a more formal way. I feel it is important to understand that addiction is a disease and not just a bad habit that has become much worse. In the following three slides, the information is directly obtained from the public policy statement by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) - in my opinion this is the best source for the purpose of this publication (the emphasis - italics and colour text are mine)

Dopamine (DA): The Master Molecule of Addiction
(Ref.)  The brain's reward system uses the neurotransmitter (a molecule that carries signals across the gaps - synapses - between neurons) dopamine (DA) as its major currency to relay information (dopaminergic pathways). All addictive drugs work by triggering exaggerated but transient increases in DA in nucleus accumbens (NAc) located in the ventral striatum of the limbic system.  Such DA surges resemble, and in some instances greatly surpass, the increases triggered by pleasurable stimuli (food, water, sex, gambling etc.).  
Brain imaging studies (PET) have shown that in the NAc, drug induced increases in DA are linked to euphoria (highs) during intoxication.  In awake human trials, greatest changes in DA levels result in the most intense euphoria.

The rate at which a drug of abuse enters the brain determines the speed at which DA increases in NAc and hence the euphoric effect it produces.  The drug has to raise DA abruptly.  
For example, smoked and intravenous cocaine act faster and produce greater high than snorted cocaine (which is faster than oral cocaine). While the fast rate at which cocaine act on the brain plays a major role in its rewarding effects, cociane is rapidly removed from the brain.  This promotes a craving and frequent use leading to rapid addiction to cacaine.
Drugs like MPH (methamphetamine a.k.a. meth) or amphetamines are much less effective when orally administered because of their slow uptake in the brain but are potent drugs when administered intravenously or inhaled.

In the following slides, I shall describe the regions of the brain that are most directly implicated in addiction.  

Final Word:  This blog was meant to be a discussion of routines and habits but expanded into a longer discussion to include addiction.  To keep the article of manageable length, I have missed out some important aspects of addiction, particularly relating to dug dependence, tolerance and treatment.  Addiction can also happen with prescription drugs. 
Teenagers are most susceptible to addiction as their prefrontal cortex is still developing and may be easily manipulated by drug use. Ironically, the society is moving in a direction that young persons feel more alienated and mental illness has been on increase.  This can be a potent factor in experimentation with drugs leading to addiction. 

Thanks for reading.  Please pass on the link to friends and family...

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Are the Young More Creative/Innovative? - Not Really (Part 2)

In Part 1, I had looked at the prevailing perception that younger people (age less than 30 years) are more innovative than their older peers.  In reality, scientists and business workers innovate far more effectively only after reaching an age of about 40 years.  Fundamental research by Nobel Laureates and profit-directed innovations (patents) in the industries show a close similarity of innovation frequency and age. Given the  very different motivations in the two groups, this is an interesting finding. The slide shows the age at the time of innovation.
Slide 1:
In the 20th century the age at the time of innovation has shifted to higher values by 6 to 8 years.  The shift has happened for Nobel laureates and for innovators in business alike as shown in the next slide:
Slide 2:

I would like to understand - What are the factors that determine creativity/innovation dynamics and how one might be able to boost the innovation output?

AGE: Young children are more creative as they interpret the world around them with few preconceived notions.  Child prodigies can manage astounding feats but most 'burn-out' rather quickly. 'The road from kid-genius to adult-dud is a well travelled one'.  The available evidence does not support the notion that child-geniuses will mature into prolific innovators - in most cases their contribution has been minimal.
Even laureates, who make significant contributions in their twenties, do not always continue to make seminal contributions to fundamental research in later life. In physics Heisenberg, Dirac, Einstein, Lawrence Bragg and many others did their Nobel Prize winning research in their early to mid-twenties but did not publish much after the age of 40 years. One wonders if there is a limit to the total innovation that human mind can create.  
As we have discussed above, age itself is not a barrier to great innovations. John Goodenough is still innovating at age 94.  

Younger people might be better placed for creative activity as they are less encumbered by the many demands that adult life brings, but they lack experience and breadth of knowledge that focused innovation demands.  
There are special situation, such as presented by technological revolutions, that might override the need for a wide knowledge base and allow younger innovators to come to the fore.  
This has happened at the start of the first industrial revolution, at the beginning of the 20th century with the paradigm shift due to the theories of relativity and quantum mechanics, introduction of the personal computers in the 1970s, the Internet in the 1990s etc. 

IQ and Innovation: 
The intellect and achievements are far from perfectly correlated

About a hundred years ago, IQ tests were designed (1) to 'measure' intelligence.  50% of the population has scores in the range from 90 to 109 (average IQ). Only 2.1% have an IQ greater than 130 and 0.1% have an IQ of 190+, these are highly gifted people or geniuses.  
You might think that those with IQ of 130+ will be extremely innovative but studies have shown that they do no better than average population in life - 'children with high IQ turned out to be run-of-the-mill people'. It will be fair to say that IQ tests examine some areas of intelligence but neglect others such as creativity and social intelligence. An IQ of about 110 to 120 is all one needs to have a good chance of becoming a successful innovator.  

The longest study, of how successful high-IQ people are in real life, was performed by Lewis Terman (1877-1956).  In 1921, Terman selected and followed the progress of 1470 primary school children with IQ of 140 to 200 (top 0.1% in IQ intelligence) - they were called termites
Termite progress reports were prepared and published as 'Genetic Studies of Genius'.  By adulthood, of the 730 termites still reporting, Terman could classify them, according to their achievements, in three distinct categories - 20% As, 60% Bs, 20% Cs.  
A - high achievers, professionals with high earnings, 98% with graduate degrees 
B - average achievers
C - low achievers, blue collar workers, some with no jobs at all, only 5% had                graduate degrees

Remembering that during early life, Cs were geniuses in the top 0.1% population - the results are deeply confusing.  Terman had believed that termites were destined to be the future elites.  
Most schools, universities and employers still perceive that those who score high in IQ tests have the greatest potential and formulate their selection policies accordingly. This is another example of perils of perception - we know that a high IQ score has limited relevance for success in later life but we still use it to determine our selection policies.  By doing this we might be squandering talent and doing immense harm not only to the individuals but to the national prosperity.

Thankfully, such longitudinal studies provide much additional data that could be usefully analysed to help create a better picture of what contributes to success.  I shall return to this topic later in this blog.

For a recent December 2019 article with examples click here.

Burden of Knowledge:  
'If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants'     Isaac Newton

Successful innovators gain their insight from previous accumulated knowledge - one does not have to invent the wheel again.  In the STEM context, the accumulated knowledge is increasing rather rapidly and an innovator has much more to learn before starting to innovate effectively.  More than 85% of Nobel Laureates in the sciences had a PhD.  The average age at the time of their PhD was 26.2 years.  Interesting to note that most laureates, who did their award-winning work before the age of 30, did the research as part of their doctoral thesis (Einstein is an obvious exception here). In 2013, the median age of completion of PhD in USA was 29.9 years - a considerable increase over the age at which the laureates completed their PhD in the 20th Century. Most innovators in sciences and in business do their best work after receiving their highest degree and it seems reasonable to infer that the mean age of innovation is increasing partly because people are taking longer to acquire a solid knowledge base.

Let us look at the age at which Nobels were awarded in the 21st centuryThe second slide in this blog shows the data - some numbers will be useful:  In chemistry, until the year 2000, 66% of the chemistry laureates were age 40 or less; however, in the 21st century no scientist under the age of 40 was awarded Nobel Prize in chemistry.  
In the 20th century, 60% of the prize winning work in Physics was done by those under the age of 40 years - this has now fallen to less than 20% in the 21st century.

Opportunity Knocks! There are instances when innovation may happen at an earlier age.  I shall illustrate this by describing two such situations:

Physics in the early 20th Century:  The decades preceding the year 1900 were some of the most traumatic years for physicists.  Classical physics (largely based on common sense) had been extremely successful except that work in the previous 50 years or so had revealed deep anomalies between empirical measurements and theoretical expectations.  It was only the emergence of the quantum (with Max Planck but mainly from Einstein in 1905) and relativistic (single-handed by Einstein) theories that physics was put on a much firmer footing and by the year 1935, it was the beginning of the realisation that we have a good grasp of the laws of nature.
The genius of Einstein was to think laterally and bravely follow a completely new approach (Look at the link for my 8-hour outreach course on Einstein's work) .   

For younger physicists from about 1900 to 1935, it was a god-sent opportunity when they could simply concentrate on the task at hand in their respective research groups and innovate without acquiring a complete knowledge base.  Much of the seminal research was done by scientists at the graduate student and post doctoral level in European labs.  This is evident in the statistics of Nobel Prize winners and is largely responsible in the observed drop in the mean age when award winning work was done and as the recognition was swift too, the age when the Nobel was awarded also came down.

Arrival of the Personal Computer in 1975: The main frame computers were bulky occupying a big room, power hungry and most required water cooling.  First personal computer arrived in mid-seventies, they were small portable and inexpensive for an ordinary person to own and use - they totally transformed the way we now use computers.  A large amount of innovation occurred - particularly in software development.  Young innovators were extremely well placed to start businesses offering digital technology through the lap-top.  People who were best placed to exploit this opportunity were those who were not too old to have settled in a family and work routine or too young to still be at college - the innovators who were born between 1950 and 1960 had the fortunate break and they grabbed the opportunity with enthusiasm.  The next slide lists some of the entrepreneurs (Inspired by Outliers):

Most of these characters are multi-billionaires, are some of the richest people in the world. They run mega-sized technology companies with a combined worth of more than 5000 billion dollars.

It Matters Where You Come From: Innovation is having a good idea and then successfully implementing it.  The first part (creativity) is an inspiration - one generally has a lot of interesting novel ideas every day.  How we efficiently convert these abstract ideas into reality is something I do not have a recipe for.  For sure, for success one needs discipline, persistence and encouragement - all require a supportive environment from early childhood.  Habits, formed when you are young, will stay with you - you develop 'good' habits if you are fortunate to be born in a family that has role models (normally your parents) and reasonable financial resources. 

The most important thing appears to be that many successful entrepreneurs start young - I suggest that you should read this link to learn first hand what the entrepreneurs say about how they achieved success.  

With determination and hard work, some became successful in life even though they had an unfavourable start in life - what they had in common was a will to succeed. They had grit - rock-solid resilience and extra drive that keeps them focused on the end result.  A gritty individual approaches achievement as a marathon; his or her advantage is stamina.

Serendipity: The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident  …The OED

Many chance observations have led to Nobel Prize winning work and successful inventions. Some everyday items like teflon, velcro, nylon, penicillin, safety glass, sugar substitutes, plastics, post-it notes, viagra, microwave oven and many more were accidental discoveries.  In sciences - pulsars (neutron stars),  cosmic microwave radiation, neutrino oscillations, X-rays are just a few of the many examples of serendipitous discoveries.  See also for role of serendipity in drug discovery.

In the context of innovation, serendipity does not mean pure luck.  Many discoveries appear to be lucky accidents when the discoverer happened to stumble on the idea  - but, it is not so simple. On the basis of her previous knowledge and experience, the discoverer must be prepared to recognise the significance and potential of the observation. As Pascal had said: Chance favours the prepared mind.

An analysis of 117 Nobel Laureates, in Physiology or Medicine and Chemistry in the past 25 years, came up with 14 discoveries as totally serendipitous, 72 problem driven and 31 hybrid in which serendipity contributed substantially.  

It helps if you are in the top universities: While Nobel Prizes have been awarded to scientists who have graduated or worked in lesser known universities, the bulk of awards go to those who are affiliated in one of the top universities.  Wiki lists -  Nobel laureate number in brackets -  Harvard (158); Cambridge, UK (118); Columbia, NY (96); Chicago (98); U of California, Berkeley (107) among the top five. (There might be some double-counting in these numbers due to the problem of defining affiliation)  
Interestingly, out of 915 awards, USA and UK scientists have won 368 and 132 awards respectively but have only 5% and 0.9% of the world population. 
Even within the country, not all regions do as well.  In the USA, most Nobel Laureates come from New England and California while in the UK, University of Cambridge dominates.
The people around you, the academic culture means a lot in motivating a young graduate.  The reputation of the university draws talent and all-important research funding. The concentration of highly talented and motivated people who can exchange and discuss ideas (brainstorming) creates a synergy to move innovative enterprise forward.  This is not only true of scientists but equally so in the industrial context - although, in businesses the need of confidentiality is greater.

Barriers to Innovation: There are many.  Our discussion already points to potential damage done by selection processes based on IQ and by supporting research that is mainly problem solving. Such policies disadvantage innovative activity.

The way things are organised just now, highly innovative people are promoted to administrative work that pays better but hinders them from effective innovation.  This might be particularly true in Japan where innovation drops sharply at age 40 years (slide in Part 1).  

When a scientist reaches a preeminent position in his/her discipline, it is zealously guarded.  New ideas may not be supported, or are actively discouraged. In this context, the actions of ageing Lord Kelvin make interesting reading (see 3rd slide from the end in the link). There are many such examples.

In industries, the pole position is defended with all might - start-ups are bought and dismantled, competition is suppressed etc. - the energy/oil industry is a good example here.

Gender bias:  Females have formed a tiny percentage of innovators in the past and the situation continues to be unsatisfactory.  We are essentially losing about half of the innovation potential of the human race.  I shall refer you to many studies on this topic.  Thankfully, deeply held prejudicial beliefs in our society about women are gradually being dismantled and one hopes that in the coming decades they will be able to play a more prominent part in the advancement of knowledge and wealth creation. 

Final Word: To write this blog has been a pleasurable task - it has helped to organise my thoughts about creativity and innovation.  The way human mind operates is rather mysterious (or I should say - not well understood).  We have been able to identify some situations that help innovation and changing the way we select and promote innovative activity could help.
Technology - in the form of artificial intelligence - will be able to identify potentially fruitful lines of research and development - we are not there yet.  Interesting times ahead.

Love to hear your comments.  Please pass on the link to this blog to friends and family.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Are the Young More Creative/Innovative? Not Really - Another Example of Perils of Perception

Creativity is to come up with new and useful ideas. Innovation is the successful implementation of those ideas.

People under 35 are the people who make change happen; people over 45 basically die in terms of new ideas...                                                                                                                                                                        Vinod Khosla (Venture Capitalist)

Age is, of course, a fever chill; that every physicist must fear.
He is better dead than living still; when he is past his thirtieth year.                                                                                                                    Paul Dirac (1933 Nobel Laureate in Physcis)

Mark Zuckerberg became CEO of Facebook (one of the biggest companies in the world) at age 23, Gauss and Ramanujan died at age 28 and 32 years respectively, but both contributed enormously to the field of mathematics.  When I talk to people, the common perception seems to be that the young are more creative than older adults - but is this true?  Do the facts bear this out?  Look a little more carefully and the reality is completely different. This perception is a classic example of how our brain overestimates the significance of outliers.  From the exceptional achievments of a few young innovators, we start to believe in a general rule. Once the society starts to believe this perception - decisions are made on wrong premises and potentially can be very damaging - decisions like which projects should receive venture capital fund, should middle aged employees be trained, we need to get 'new blood' to move forward etc. 

I want to disprove the myth of 'young are more creative' by (i) giving examples of Nobel Laureates in the sciences, (ii) discuss evidence that relative to their younger colleagues, older business entrepreneurs contribute far more to innovation and wealth creation.  
In Part 2, we shall try to understand why the myth of 'greater creativity of the young' came about and the reasons that this perception is based on false premise; we shall also identify several factors that contribute to make people more effective innovators. 

Nobel Laureates:  In the past 118 years, about 900 Nobels have been awarded to people in sciences and other fields for outstanding, original achievements.  The statistical information available is impeccable and has been thoroughly analysed. The youngest recepient, Malala Yousafzai, was age 17 and the oldest, Arthur Ashkinwas 96 years (Ref, see also).  The following table summarises the data (1, 2) of the mean age of Nobel Laureates in Sciences:

 Age (years) at          All Awards    Chemistry     Medicine       Physics

Time of Award                  60          58±25          58±30         56±32

Prize-Winning Research  39±8.5       40.2±8.5     39.9±7.9      37.2±9.2

HighestDegree Earned    26.1±3.4    25.5±3.2      26.7±3.6    26.2±3.4            

What is important for our discussion is the age at which the prize-winning research was done, and it is nearly constant at 39±8 for all disciplines.  

Interestingly, we note from the table that after receiving their highest university degree, the laureates, on average, wait 16 years for their best work to be performed and another 20 years before the work is acknowledged for the award.  This is no coincidence - Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers - the STORY of SUCCESS - discusses how it takes 10,000 hours of hard work for a person to reach maturity in all fields of endeavour; this amount of effort is required to start contributing at your highest level - it does not seem to matter what field you are in - it could be music, arts, digital technology, medicine etc. Besides hard work, other factors pertaining to your family, colleagues, prevailing cultural norms also determine how quickly and securely you get to be the best in what you are aiming for. The slide shows the effect of the environment on your performance:

Innovation in Business:  Entrepreneurs, managers, scientists and engineers innovate meaningful, marketable products and services that create wealth and improve quality of life of the nation.  Such innovations are based on knowledge, expertise, opportunity, government policies, but most of all on hard work. (we all know of the old adage: success is 5% inspiration and 95% perspiration). 

Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in the USA have recently conducted, in 2016, a comprehensive study of award-winning innovators and international patent applicants.  A similar 2009 study in Japan broadly supports the conclusions of  the ITIF study.  I shall use the data from these studies to discuss the age profile of ace innovators in the USA and Japan. 
The ITIF study have found that innovators tend to be experienced and highly educated; and most hold advanced degrees in science and technology              (76.3% had a postgraduate degree -- MSc or PhD).

The following table lists the median age of innovators in different sectors:

                  R&D 100 Awards                     46 years
                  Large Tech Companies             44
                  Life Sciences                           50
                  Information Technology            53
                  Material Sciences                     47

An even better indicator of innovation is the granting of patents which are more likely to create wealth and success: 

The situation in Japan is similar:
Japanese inventors appear to be about 8 years younger than in USA.  This might be due to much greater emphasis in Japan on academic work at  school and university level and Japanese workers retire early.  However, both in Japan and the USA the quality of patents, according to their domestic economic value, is much superior for inventors in more senior age group (see the following slide)

Various studies have shown that the situation is the same in other OECD countries with older workers innovating far more than younger employees.

It should be appreciated that Nobel Prize Winners indulge in largely academic pursuits, fundamental research - without worrying about wealth creation; while for inventors in industries the main focus is wealth creation.  These are two very different groups of innovators, but as we have discussed above and the following slide summarises, the age of innovation is surprising similar in the two groups.  While age appears to be a significant factor; other important factors, that help people to innovate more effectively, are also in play.  

In this first part of my blog, I have found that people in sciences and business are most innovative at about age 40 years.   It is only later in life that the most impactful innovations are made.  There are some instances when young people in their twenties have made significant contributions but this must be looked at with correct perspective.

In Part 2 of the blog I shall address several questions like:

(i)  What factors help to make a person more innovative?
(ii) The role of IQ  - are people with higher IQ more innovative?
(iii) Why the mean age for innovation might be increasing?

Thanks for reading.