“The Next Big Thing”: An American Tradition in Which Seniors Excel

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Many advertisements use the phrase “the next big thing” in touting their wares because a lot of “next big things,” like Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook, wound up making billions of dollars. Zuckerberg’s vision transformed not only the way people socialize, which was his intention, but also how the world does business. Innovation is now a watchword among businesses worldwide. They are all looking for the next big thing to transform their marketplace.

Yet, who is to say that the savvy, experienced and bright minds of older persons will not lead to the “next big thing”? Invention and innovation are by no means the sole province of the young. In fact, transforming the world through invention and innovation is a United States tradition that goes back to the Founding Fathers.

Benjamin Franklin may be the best example:

He was 70-years- old when he helped draft the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution. Talk about reinventing the world at an advanced age!

  • He was 71 when he invented bifocals
  • He was a mere kid of 46-years-old when he discovered that lightning is indeed electricity through his famous key experiment.
  • At 69, Ben Franklin invented the odometer when he was serving as Postmaster General of the United States.
  • He was 77 when he helped bring about the Paris peace settlement that ended the Revolutionary War and essentially invented the United States.
  • Ben stumped for George Washington to be the first President of the United States as a blushing youth of 83.
  • He petitioned Congress to abolish slavery when he was 84 years young.

George Washington was no kid when he became the Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. Our first president was elected at age 57 and served to foster the infant nation until age 65. He would have been eligible for membership in AARP!

Keep in mind that these men were considered elderly in their time. The average life expectancy was about half of what it is now. Although this was due in part to how many children did not survive infancy and early childhood and the high mortality rate of child-bearing women, these men were exceptionally old in their time. They lived at a time before scientists understood germs. People died of simple infections, which a dose of penicillin would conquer now, and they often died young.

A more modern example is Arthur Fry, who had a strong hand in inventing and promoting Post-its. Arthur Fry worked at 3M and knew of the work of Spencer Silver, a middle-aged 3M chemist who was trying to create an extremely strong adhesive. Fry became interested in Silver’s mistake–an adhesive that only stuck lightly–when he found his bookmarks continually falling out of his hymn book in church. Sticky notes that would adhere to the page temporarily and could be pulled off without ripping the page were just the right thing, Fry thought.

Fry had to lobby for this visionary product. It was not until he was 49 that 3M rolled out Post-its in a major, successful way. It transformed the business supplies market worldwide.

Inventing, reinventing and innovating do not belong just to the young. It is an American tradition that mature people lend their honed and fertile imaginations to bring about the “next big thing”—whether it is a new nation or a revolutionary business idea.

 

Sources

Benjamin Franklin Biography. Scientist, Inventor, Writer (1706–1790). Available online at http://www.biography.com/people/benjamin-franklin-9301234.

George Washington Biography. U.S. President, General (1732–1799). Available online at http://www.biography.com/people/george-washington-9524786.

Glass, Nick & Hume, Tim. The ‘hallelujah moment’ behind the invention of the Post-it note. CNN, April 4, 2013. Available online at http://www.cnn.com/2013/04/04/tech/post-it-note-history/index.html.

Leonard, Mike & Chancellor, J. (1990, January 2). Inventor of Note: Arthur Fry and the Story of Post-it Notes. January, 2, 1990. [Television series episode]. NBC Today Show. Available online at https://archives.nbclearn.com/portal/site/k-12/browse/?cuecard=52415.