Is there an innovation divide looming on the horizon as the baby boomer generation retire? Do businesses “run the risk of losing subject matter experts and innovation evangelists“?

employee engagement means happy employees

In a blog for business2community.com, Rik Walters suggests that unless businesses work on “Engaging young innovators with older innovation visionaries”, innovation could, effectively, grind to a halt when the skills, wisdom and experience of two decades of innovation walk out the door.

Walters sees the solution as the need to “Focus on the injection of human capital to sustain innovation momentum and to provide a scalable ‘mentor transition’.” While nobody would disagree that mentors are required in innovation, and indeed their input is vital to the assessment of new ideas, his emphasis of getting as much out of the ‘old guard’ as possible before they hit the golf course and are replaced by young guns is missing a vital point.

You don’t hire new staff to think like your old staff.

You hire new staff to bring new ideas, new thinking, new experiences, new skills.

Walters suggests that the baby boomers could share their experiences with the next generation of innovators, which is fine in theory, but how relevant might all those experiences be to today’s market? Some will, some won’t. And, in all fairness, will the next generation (who are, more likely, as least two generations apart) actually want (or need) to hear all the ‘old stories’?

Sadly, Walters’ vision is probably neither realistic or attainable: “Sharing these experiences now with the next generation of innovators will help scale your talent divide faster, establish organizational competency, and speed up the time-to-launch for the next decade of innovation.”

However, the core of his premise is absolutely sound; make the most of your employees’ wealth of experience, skills, and sheer life history, for every moment you have them on the payroll. As Walters says, “Innovation management platforms leverage the wisdom of past learnings and combined workforce intelligence, in order to influence future innovation decisions and predict potential consequences that might be hiding in the details.”

Walters may be missing a trick here too. An online management system allows all stakeholders in a business to engage, not just current employees. By opening up selected challenges to retirees, businesses can still tap into that wealth of knowledge and experience as required, and retirees can engage when (and if) they want to. So, experience need not be lost once staff leave the payroll, and with mobile and tablet accessible systems, they really can contribute from the golf course!