In his book, Geeks and Geezers, Warren Bennis uses the term neoteny as a metaphor to describe something that geeks and geezers have in common. The dictionary defines neoteny, a zoological term, as "the retention of youthful qualities by adults (p. 20). Neoteny is more than retaining a youthful appearance, although that is part of it. Neoteny is the retention of all those wonderful qualities that we associate with youth: curiosity, playfulness, eagerness, fearlessness, warmth, and energy. The Geezers in his study remain open, willing to take risks, hungry to knowledge and experience, courageous, eager to see what the new day brings. Neoteny is a metaphor for the quality–the gift–that keeps the fortunate of whatever age focused on all the marvelous undiscovered things to come. "The retention of youthful characteristics in adulthood, neoteny is an evolutionary engine. It is the winning, puppyish quality of certain ancient wolves that allowed them to evolve into dogs. Over thousands of years, humans favored those wolves that were the friendliest, the most approachable, the most curious, the least likely to attack without warning, the ones that readily locked eyes with humans and seemed almost human in their eager response to people; the ones, in short, that stayed the most like puppies" (p. 151).
For sages, neoteny is important. Bennis found that it is the essential quality that recruits others and cultivates social interactions. Often confused with charisma, neoteny was the almost magical quality that draws people to older, lifetime leaders, helping to insure that they have a constituency and a stage (p. 163). May we all seek to live life with neoteny.
Every one of the geezers in the study by Bennis was a neotenic someone whose vigor and openness to new experience marks him or her as the antithesis of stereotyped old age. Bennis realized that neoteny is also a useful metaphor for the vibrancy that characterized the younger leaders as well. To a person, they too are full of energy, full of curiosity, full of confidence that the world is a place of wonders spread before them like an endless feast (p. 120).
The capacity for "uncontaminated wonder," ultimately is what distinguishes the successful from the ordinary, the happily engaged players of whatever era from the chronically disappointed and malcontent (p. 21).