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BOOK REVIEW: How a longer life can be a curse

Jul 05 2016 07:31
Ian Mann

The 100-Year Life: Living and working in an age of longevity by Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott

IF YOU are in your 20s today, based on demographic trends you have a 50% chance of living more than 100 years. If you are in your 40s, you have the same chance of living to 95, and if you are in your 60s, of living to 90. “Just as globalisation and technology changed how people lived and worked, so over the coming years, increasing longevity will do the same,” say the authors, Professors Lynday Gratton and Andrew Scott.

This transformation is already under way, and forewarned is forearmed. A longer life can be a curse if not handled correctly. Let me repeat that: A longer life can be a curse if not handled correctly. Hobbes talked of life in the 17th century as “nasty, brutish and short” – yours could be worse if not correctly handled: nasty, brutish and long.

I will focus on only one aspect of this book, the “Intangibles” necessary for a successful career as the tangible aspects, the need to finance your retirement, rising medical costs and the like, have been raised in many publications. Only a few will be able to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living if they retire at 65 and live to 100.

“The danger is that the gift of a long life will only be open to those with the income and education to construct the changes and transitions required,” the authors note.

It is unacceptable that a good, long life, should be an option only for the privileged few.

The last century has been dominated by a three-stage view of life: education, career and retirement. Not only will longevity lengthen the career stage, but the very nature of a career is fast changing. A hundred years ago, agriculture and domestic service provided the majority of people in the UK with jobs. Today, these occupations are miniscule compared to the number of office jobs.

As described in this column recently, robotics and artificial intelligence will replace or augment swathes of occupations from office processing, to management, to radiology. Over your lifetime, you will undoubtedly have two or three different careers.

This evolution creates the imperative to make serious investments to ensure you have continuous employment in your very long second stage. The investment you will have to make will be in your ‘Productive’, ‘Vitality’ and ‘Transformational’ assets, in addition to the 'Financial'

The first category, ‘Productive Assets’, are what help you to be effective and successful at work, and can boost your income. The most obvious examples of productive assets are the skills and knowledge you have acquired over time, and the longer the time you have, the more important the investment in knowledge and skills becomes.

It seems impossible to imagine that a specialisation learnt early in a career  will sustain someone through their long working life, Gratton and Scott point out.

In the past, if someone told you they were an undergraduate, you would know their age. The stage and age were connected, but it will no longer be so. Stages will be increasingly age-agnostic as we re-create our lives, and earn and learn at the same time, to remain current and relevant.

Re-creation will be more important than recreation

We will need to invest ever more of our leisure time in skills, unlike in shorter lives where leisure time was primarily a form of relaxation. Re-creation will be more important than recreation.

Undoubtedly, what we learn, when and how we learn our new skills and knowledge will change substantially. Experiential learning will increase in value as knowledge acquisition through the web and online learning becomes more accessible to all. Having portable credentials will be become even more essential.

There is much evidence that the importance of human and empathetic skills, judgement, creativity and innovation are growing more necessary, as robots replace humans’ routine work.

The second category is your ‘Vitality Assets’, one’s mental and physical health and well-being, friendship, positive family relationships, and partnerships. These will prove to be critical to a long and productive life, both as an end in themselves, and as a means to generate financial assets. Managing them all well is fast becoming an inescapable imperative.

Making knowledge productive has always been a team game. A seminal study by Boris Groysberg of employees at Wall Street investment banks showed that star analysts’ productivity dropped when they left for another bank. The study showed that their stardom (like that of all others) was dependent on their networks of associates.

Gratton calls these collaborations one’s ‘posse’ – “a network of close professional relationships with people who have mutual trust, who coach and support each other, introduce each other to their own network, and are prepared to give important and valuable advice”.

Social capital takes time to develop, but its value increases if these relationships continue to be the thread across multiple careers.  

The final category is your ‘Transformational Assets’ - your self-knowledge, your capacity to connect to diverse networks, and your openness to new experiences.

Making the most of a long and multi-career life requires taking transitions in your stride. It requires flexibility, the acquisition of new knowledge and new ways of thinking, and seeing the world from different perspectives. It will necessitate coming to terms with changes in power, leaving old associates, and building new networks. This mental agility cannot be over-emphasised as we craft new identities.

Self-knowledge is fundamental to making sure that our futures are highly likely to be successful, and that change is not seen as a threat.

In the past one’s reference groups and role models rarely changed, but now there will be frequent shifts. To manage this will require a strong balanced portfolio of transformational assets.

“A major challenge over a lifetime is not just achieving the right level of tangible and intangible assets, but also keeping the two in balance,” Gratton and Scott conclude. This book provides insight as well as guidance to making longevity into a gift - enjoyable and satisfying - and should be read slowly, carefully and thoughtfully.

Readability:      Light --+-- Serious

Insights:          High +---- Low

Practical:          High -+--- Low

* Ian Mann of Gateways consults internationally on leadership and strategy and is the author of Strategy that Works. Views expressed are his own.

ian mann  |  longevity  |  book reviews
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