The Bailey Group is a partner with Minnesota Public Radio for Conversations on the Creative Economy—a series of discussions with Chris Farrell and local business founders and chief executive officers that explore how they encourage creativity and innovation in their organizations. The second event featured an interview with AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins who shared her insights on the importance of innovation and mentoring, plus her belief that you’re never too old to better yourself.

In the age of Kickstarter and start-ups, it is no surprise that young people are at the forefront of many new and innovative products, but what is surprising is how many of them have picked their parents as business partners. Jenkins shared how this is a unique trend—the connectedness of young adults and their parents—and is just one example of how adults over 50 do not fit the stereotypical mold.

Turning 50 once meant “over the hill” and on the verge of retirement, but that’s no longer true. A 50-year-old today is healthier, looks younger, and is often 20 or more years away from retirement—making this group a powerful consumer segment with some big buying power. Jenkins hopes that entrepreneurs—young and old—will take a closer look at “whole system” products and services, which make the lives of everyone more comfortable. She shared examples from swiveling car chairs to single-level homes.

Innovation isn’t just about coming up with new products for the marketplace. For Jenkins, who has dedicated her life to public and government service, it is about innovating in whatever job you are in. This is a similar notion that was discussed with THOR Construction CEO Ravi Norman on intrapreneurs. “Everybody’s job is to innovate,” said Jenkins, and she continued to explain the importance of co-creating solutions with others—in other sectors with other perspectives. An example she shared was AARP’s investment in technologies that benefit its members. And a creative “mentor-up” program AARP developed to partner younger, tech-savvy mentors with older mentees. This program has been widely adopted all over the country.

As a transformational leader, Jenkins challenges the status quo and encourages her team to do the same. By setting this example and enabling others to lead, Jenkins is helping future leaders to transform. The Bailey Group supports this type of leadership by providing coaching for CEOs and their teams. And as Jenkins pointed out, it is never too late to pursue an education or improve yourself. We work with many CEOs who have tackled the same challenges over many years of leadership, moving beyond those challenges through coaching.

Jenkins wants to ensure that older people not only have a seat at the table, but that they innovate from wherever they are in their careers or lives—retired or not. I applaud Jenkins for encouraging others to show up and better themselves. Improving ourselves, at any age, requires courage. And courage is an essential part of transformational leadership.

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