Garrison Wynn
Speaker, Consultant, Author

Garrison Wynn

Founder of Wynn Solutions, this keynote speaker is a former stand-up comedian and author of "The Real Truth About Success

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Youthful thinking

Q: For years, we were told that human brains peaked in their 20s, and then came a slow, downhill slide. But a new book ("The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain") says that researchers, thanks to high-tech brain imaging, are proving that's all wrong. In fact, we get smarter, calmer and happier in middle age, defined as lasting into the 60s. Has this been your experience? Are there aspects of age that are far more positive than you expected?

I think brains absorb what they are consistently exposed to; but I also suspect a person's intellectual peak has something to do with the specific "brain cards" you're dealt, and it does not always run in families. Recently I saw 5-year-old identical twin boys hanging out by the hotel pool with their parents. One of the boys was attempting to read the Washington Post and the other was eating sunblock!

So, I think brains are very individually functioning units that are affected by everything from childhood interpretations of early experiences to ingesting too many packets of artificial sweetener. That stuff will make you forget things that you had forgotten you remembered! It also may explain why people you know who seemed pretty sharp in the past could now actually fail an MRI.

I have seen some of the research that "The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain" is based on, and let's just say that our thinking about how we think could use some more thought. I do think, however, that we are getting closer to some of the commonsense discoveries that we should have been working toward years ago (not to offend hardworking guys in lab coats around the world).

I believe some people do think more effectively in middle age and show signs of genius that they did not display as a teenager. I think I fall in that category, based on my invention of the Swiss Cheese Pizza during my employment one late-'70s summer at Pizza Inn. (I was apparently not Pizza Hut material.) As you can imagine, my Pizza Inn location struggled, and people would travel 50 miles just to get away from our food!

However, most of the great things done by the human mind seem to happen before age 40. Thomas Edison perfected the light bulb at age 32, Alexander Graham Bell built the first functioning telephone at age 29, Orville and Wilbur Wright flew the first airplane when they were both in their early 30s, Henry Ford was 33 when he built his first car -- the list goes on and on.

So if we consider middle age as 52 (as "The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain" does), then we may need to rethink how we define brainpower. Seven-year-old kids can learn languages much more effectively than adults, and even the most ADD-riddled teenagers don't leave the remote to the TV in the refrigerator. It would seem baby boomers are not, as defined by age, the sharpest knives in the proverbial drawer. As always, however, many exceptions can be found.

My mother was a brilliant, highly educated woman with great ideas. In her mid 70s, after she had suffered several strokes, I saw her struggle, but she still seemed to have her moments. One week I had a hard time getting her on the phone, and she explained that she could never find the cordless telephone but she was always stepping on that "damn cat" my dad had bought her. She said, "If I could just strap the cat to the phone, my life would be easier."

As a professional speaker, getting older has been very good for me because it's always fun to see people make the mistakes I made earlier in life. Of course, that statement alone is proof that, in my case, maturity does not necessarily come with age.

By Garrison Wynn  |  August 23, 2010; 12:06 PM ET  | Category:  Success and age Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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