I’ve been on the business school circuit this past couple of weeks, spreading the world on longevity and its consequences to some leaders of today and tomorrow. It’s surprising to hear from them how off-the-radar the topic remains. But the discussions, when you put longevity on the agenda of both the young and the older, are fascinating. Longevity will impact everything, from careers and couples to companies and countries. It’s urgent that we get leaders longevity-ready.
Skilling Up Leaders on Longevity
There are two dimensions of this debate in business schools (not to mention the opportunity it offers the schools themselves to broaden their markets).
INDIVIDUAL: What longevity means for individuals and their lengthening careers.
ORGANISATIONAL: How the issue will impact the talent and stakeholders of the organisations they lead or work for - and how well positioned they are to serve the longevity economy.
So here are is some of the buzz I picked up from the biz school front:
INSEAD: a webinar for global alumni started a conversation with a few hundred people across the world. Most of the feedback was gratitude for the gift of the idea of the new 3rd Quarter. So many people in their 50s and 60s feel out of sync with traditional expectations of slowing down or retirement. But they haven’t been able to put a word or a name to the feeling and the frustration. Just pointing to the bigger forces at play, and normalising the massive shift we are all experiencing is enough to get people seeing their situation in an entirely new light. Which also gets the business leaders most of these people are to broaden their reflection to how this must also be impacting their talent and their customers. We’ll build on this momentum to develop a 3-part workshop for alumni in the fall. More soon.
HEC: a session with young MBA students showed just how relevant the message of 4-Quarter lives can be to the young. As much as it opens up horizons for those currently in Q3, it also allows people in Q2 to plan and pace for an entirely new life map. If careers are going to stretch to six decades, it makes sense to take more time in Q2 to establish firm family foundations (and not stress about it so much). It also allows dual career couples to rethink how they navigate two careers and family. My generation’s delaying of children may not make as much sense if you factor in Q3 (I developed this idea with Harvard Professor Debora Spar in an earlier elderberries called The Time of Our Lives). Will we one day see Q2 as just the first half of adulthood? A time to build professional and personal foundations, which will leave time to reach career peaks in full maturity? Watch this space.
Catolica Lisbon: I spent a lively morning with an Executive Education class at Portugal’s leading business school, in their Advanced Management Programme in Lisbon. I titled the session Leadership in the Age of Longevity, and looked at the topic through three lenses for a room full of people on the cusp of Q3:
what longevity means for the world/ my country
what it means for me
what it means for my organisation
Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs: Just to round out the list, if you’re interested in listening in, here’s a podcast I did with Philip Guarino earlier this year. He’s the head of the Harvard Alumni Entrepreneurs association, and we discuss Thriving to 100 - Expanding Life’s Possibilities.
From all of these groups and exchanges, my biggest takeaway is that the subject is still very new to the majority. While people in the longevity/ ageing/ coaching space feel like it’s been around forever, moving beyond the ‘old’ echo chamber is key. Few business schools have it on the agenda yet (please email me if you know of some). I often compare where we are on longevity to where the gender topic was 20 years ago when I started in on that: very visible in the data, a massive global shift that just keeps getting bigger, but low awareness among mainstream business leaders and managers. That’s the work of the next few years.
Linking Retirement to Life Expectancy
Demographics, i’ve been learning, is a bit like climate change. It’s huge and obvious in the data and on the horizon, but because years can pass without feeling its impact, humans tend to underestimate the guaranteed, long-term hit. It’s also way out of whack with the electoral cycle, so that changes like raising the retirement age (and linking it to a country’s life expectancy as the Netherlands has recently done) can be politically unviable. Although it looks like France’s Macron may have gotten it through, despite all the agitation in the streets. It was, after all, part of the platform he was elected on.
The Dutch have now legislated that for every year that life expectancy at age 65 (referred to as LE65) increases, the retirement age will go up by 2/3 of a year. This reality has been quietly spreading and the other countries that link these two numbers include Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Italy. Why are the Nordics always so intelligently ahead?
Also in related news this week, Portugal has finally managed, after three unsuccessful attempts, to pass legislation allowing assisted dying. The country’s conservative President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, had successively vetoed all prior attempts, despite a clear majority of Portuguese people wanting control over their ends. That brings to a dozen the number of countries that now allow some degree of exit support. This is a subject I’ve done a lot of thinking and writing about (see here), and desperately hope that I (like my mother before me) will be living in a country where I have choice about how and when I go. For the moment, the UK looks blocked, but I’m counting on the next generation to shake things up. Macron, in France, is moving forward on legislation after his ‘Citizens Council’ voted in strong favour for it. It will likely be the next European country to adopt it.
Demography as Destiny
And a final demographic note in the news is the debate around ‘Peak China.’ Economists are starting to revise earlier estimates about how far and how fast China would take over the US. Now, the thinking seems to lean towards the two countries remaining on some kind of economic par over the coming decades. In part, because 2023 marks the year when China began to shrink population-wise, with India taking over the mantle of the world’s most populous place. Efforts at trying to convince young couples to have more children have fallen flat.
Here’s a chart of the world’s top 10 GDP countries and the percentage of their population that are over and under the age of 50. If demography is destiny, and if we don’t quickly learn how to better manage the world’s ‘Second Billion’ of older folk, this chart may tell us a lot about the future.
What does your country and company look like? How many over and under 50s are we talking about? Half the challenge is in data collection. Most data is collected and categorised according to old concepts - so ‘working age’ is 15 to 64, even though we may all be working into our 70s pretty soon. I much prefer measuring populations by my Quarter concept. But it’s hard to find this data. Or rather, it was hard to find it. Now, you just have to ask ChatGPT.
76-year-old Trump is convicted thanks to a very determined 79-year-old E. Jean Carroll. That’s one hell of a brave, determined woman. Although few things were more depressing than watching the convicted Trump make fun of it all the next day in his Town Hall. While these stories redefine age, impact, and gender rules, they also prove that we can become increasingly dangerous with time and axes to grind. Trump is truly terrifying - and having him back in the news cycle (let alone the election cycle) is depressing beyond all measure. But all our thanks to Carroll’s proud and uncompromising push. She was picture perfect, dressed to the nines and right on pointed script. Hoisted by his own petard one might say… although that may come back to haunt us. Justice at any age is still sweet.
And in the series of older women swooping in to clean up after the actions of some badly behaving men, see who Elon Musk just appointed as CEO of Twitter? A 60-year-old advertising veteran, Linda Yaccarino. For anyone who thought the 60s was a good time to slow down, here’s another example of just how much some people are gearing up as the decades pile up. May she bring the little blue bird - and the 10% of staffers who remain after Musk’s slashing (sic!) - some respite, maybe even some revenue.
Have a good week! I’m off for a walk with you-know-who:
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I heard a podcast where E. Jean Carroll was interviewing the first woman to go public about being assaulted by Trump. Both were smart, funny, tough women. One of them should be president.