Science shows Old Dogs are great at learning New Tricks

I am very wary of the term “Golden Years” partially because of the irritating adverts for retirement homes and villages depicting greying yet still fit elders living the good life in wine estates and riding bicycles and taking brisk walks. This image seems sad, portraying as it does a period of closure, a step closer to the graveyard and the incredible burden of spending each day without any real constructive task or mission.

     Golden Years? I think not. Far preferable would be the word Platinum, (which actually does cost more per ounce than gold) because we associate the silver metal with industry, innovation, and modernity. So if we refer to a unique and valuable group of people probably into their 60’s and even 70’s using their experience and vast knowledge to be directly involved in the workplace as a Platinum Tribe , we begin to honour and acknowledge the secret weapon of the next decade or so.
    In South Africa we are witnessing the gathering of a Platinum Tribe, modelled to an extent on Californian Hospitality guru Chip Conley’s Modern Elders and the UK’s Camilla Covendish’s Extra Timers who are proving what science is telling us about the ability of our more mature generation to reinvent ourselves to best use the 20 or 25 extra years denied to previous generations. What a waste it has been for people at the absolute peak of their crafts and careers to be cast out at 55 or 60 years to stagnate on cruise ships or in their gardening boots until they die of disease brought upon in my opinion by boredom.
    With modern medicine, nutrition and better living conditions we are thriving into our 80’s and our bodies are playing ball by remaining resilient and able, especially if we continue to exercise and eat properly. Thankfully our brains have the capacity to remain quick and sharp, so it is almost criminal not to embrace this later period as possibly the most creative, productive, and best years of our lives.
    MRI scans have revealed that as we age we start to use more regions of the brain when tackling hard problems which when coupled with our lifetime of experience builds a rich integration that can fuel creative thinking, and indeed may cause a new creativity burst. A theory is that ageing alters the structure of the brain in ways that boost creative thought as the breakdown of the myelin sheath loosens up neural architecture and allows ideas to flow around with greater ease. ‘You have fewer brakes on your frontal inhibitors, and you are able to put things together in more novel and useful ways’ says Professor of Neurosurgery Rex Jung.
     What this tells us is there is not only life after retirement or formal employment, but a whole new world of possibility. We have everything going for us if we choose to embark on a new career or even create a brand new start-up. Oldies actually make great entrepreneurs and the Harvard Business Review reports older entrepreneurs have a much higher success rate than younger ones. In 2017 entrepreneurs over 50 employed more people in UK start-ups than under 50’s. And it is being suggested in the new world of virtual meetings and work from home jobs, the older guys are certainly more inclined to be productive without constant supervision than the younger, short attention span generation who are susceptible to being lured away from the job by social media and other distractions.
    Carl Honore in his book Bolder believes our new world is crying out for the diminishing breed of people-people with a talent for collaboration, teamwork, cross-cultural exchange, negotiation, persuasion and networking, all the things we more mature folk have already learned and practiced. These skills are becoming the new lifeblood of the modern, disbursed workplace. He says the world is changing in ways that favour the social smarts that come with ageing and that the longevity revolution is a blessing rather than a burden. Chip Conley believes the time and magic of inter-generational collaboration is here and is a very potent force for the future. Once we become accustomed to the fact our new boss is probably half our age, and he in turn realises what an asset he has in the Platinum worker, unimagined potential is released.

Covid 19 has accelerated the many trends and changes that have been emerging since the turn of the century, and the understandable gloom of increased early retirements and layoffs is at least matched by the advantages of retaining experience and good old know-how. In our country we foresee a move to encourage new start-ups and home-based industries, and modern technology makes this even more realistic. Groups and platforms like our Platinum Project (www.platinum-project.com) will play an important role in skilling and supporting people wanting to reinvent themselves for the next chapter in our lives, and to adopt Chip Conley’s call to “Rewire, not Retire”.

Words by Mike Hook

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