Friday Book Club: The 100-Year Life.
As many of you know, we have an MEA Library with more than 400 books in 25 sections each defined by a question, not a topic. This is my favorite book in the section defined by, “What are the socio-political implications of aging?”
I’ve gotten to know one of the co-authors, Andrew Scott, over the past few years and we had dinner last summer in London where he teaches at the London Business School. Given that he’s had a new book just launch, we’re fortunate to have caught up with him for this Q&A.
CC: Good morning, Andrew, or likely afternoon as you’re in London. The book you co-authored with Lynda Gratton, “The 100 Year Life: Living and Working in the Age of Longevity,” was such a revelation when I first read it. Could you succinctly outline the most important points of the book?
AS: Thanks Chip - it’s always great to spend time talking with you. Glad you like my stuff because your own words are wonderful but even better you also are out there making things happen. That’s so important.
There is a lot of negativity around an aging society but on average we are living longer and are healthier for longer. That should be good news so it’s striking how much negativity there is around the issue. That’s because the standard narrative is at best incomplete and at worst just plain wrong. It’s incomplete because it doesn’t focus on the extra time longer lives give us or the fact that these longer healthier lives can change how we age. To make the most of an aging society we need to seize on those advantages and that’s really what “The 100 Year Life” is about.
In “The 100 Year Life” we argue that with more time you have more choices and can arrange life differently. Don’t copy what your parents did but do things differently. For instance, as life gets longer options become more valuable and early commitments less so. That means taking time out to experiment and consider possible future selves – that can be done in your 20s, your 40s and 50s or 60s and 70s. You need to experiment and find what you want to do next.
It’s also important to recognise that a three stage life of education, work and retirement cannot be stretched out to 90 or 100 years. Working from age 20 to age 75 in one block is a horrible thought! How we structure time is a social convention and we need to structure the life course differently. We will move away from a three stage life to a multi stage life where each stage may have a very different motivation. Being multi stage it can also be arranged in many different ways breaking the link between age and stage.
CC: The book enjoyed worldwide attention, but nowhere more than Japan. What can we learn about how Japan is adapting to the 100 Year Life?
AS: The book has sold phenomenally well which indicates that something is afoot globally. People recognise that how we are ageing is changing and the need to do things differently as a result. In Japan “The 100 Year Life” was a sensation and even came out in Manga form which I am thrilled by.
Japan is leading the world in terms of the number of older people and set up a Council to Design a 100 Year Life. Japan is pioneering the world in many ways especially around supporting work for older individuals that is flexible and a natural extension to working careers. However, what is really interesting for me is how in Japan there was a lot of interest in The 100 Year Life from younger women. Longevity means doing things differently and a more flexible life course. That’s something that younger Japanese households and especially women need. We need career options that help support meaningful careers but also flexible ones that help us support ourselves and our families. Another problem with the ‘ageing society’ narrative is it makes it seem it’s something only for older people. Longer lives changes everything for everyone at all ages.
CC: You have a new book that has just come out in the UK, “The New Long Life: A Framework for Flourishing in a Changing World.” What new ground do you cover in this book and I’m curious why you used the word “flourishing” in the subtitle as “flourishing” is one of the qualities we’ve seen our Modern Elder Academy students exhibit after they leave our Baja program?
AS: When I talked about “The 100 Year Life” and the need for longer careers one of the questions I was inevitably asked was where will jobs come from given AI and robotics. So in “The New Long Life” we go a lot deeper into longevity but also look at how it interacts with technology. We also look at the issues in a broader way and not just for individuals but also draw out what we need from corporations, our educational system and our governments.
Just as there is a lot of negativity around aging so too there is negativity around technological developments. I call it the ‘Frankenstein syndrome’. We feel that the products of our own human ingenuity will rise up against us and cause us problems. If we are smart enough to add years to live and invent new technologies then we should be smart enough to make them work for us both individually and socially.
That’s where the flourishing comes in. It's really important that the changes we make in response to longer lives and AI aren’t driven by corporate needs or government’s fiscal challenges. It has to be based around what we want as humans. AI is going to make machines more machine-like. That gives us a great chance to be more human-like! I think the focus of MEA on flourishing is wonderful as surely that lengthening of life should be about us truly finding our own identity and values and using that gift of extra time to really be ourselves.
CC: The tyranny of the three-stage life (learn, earn, retire) seems to be evaporating and more and more people are recognizing that life-long learning is a necessity. At MEA, we talk about “long-life learning,” as in how does one prepare themselves for living a longer, better life? What do you think of the premise of MEA as a “midlife wisdom school” and how will higher-education adapt to this growing need to offer “resets” to those in midlife?
AS: I am a huge fan of all you are doing, Chip, and the MEA is a great initiative. I love the idea of ‘long-life learning’. It's clear that longer lives and technological change will require lifelong learning and much of that will be skills focused and based around jobs. And that’s appropriate. But education has a much deeper role to play. The Latin root of ‘education’ is linked to ‘educere’ which is about the ‘drawing out of oneself’. As life expectancy extends we need to find time in midlife to update our views and values, consider what we have learnt, update it by mixing with new people and new challenges and then thinking about what comes next. The insights and values that are forged in our early 20s at college may still be the right ones but for many their relevance has often been lost and commitment to them loosened. Education isn’t just about learning how to code in Python but working out who we are, what we stand for and using that as a core foundation for what we do. In a longer multi stage life we need to ensure that our identity is not formed by our roles but the other way around. That’s why I love the idea of ‘midlife wisdom school’ and a reset. Fantastic!