When I was invited to join the group of judges for the Silver Linings Competition, I went in and looked at the concept more deeply.
Silver Linings is “A think > do competition for brainwaves and business plans to make care for older generations sustainable”. During the initial ‘brainwaves’ part of the competition, we saw a wide range of short, snappy ideas that could address some of the myriad of challenges in building sustainable care solutions for older generations.
While thinking about those brainwaves, I was reminded of Elizabeth White.
Ms White’s curriculum vitae reads like a dream: she has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a Master’s degree in International Studies from Johns Hopkins University. She started her career in the World Bank. She grew up middle-class and cosmopolitan.
Ms White first came to many people’s radars with her article “You know her” where she described how her middle-class lifestyle came crashing down and how, now, as she approaches “retirement age”, she is finding herself underemployed and financially precarious. In other words: for many, there is no retirement, no pension.
Her TEDx talk gets even more real as it describes her own and her peer group’s lived experiences, making clear the scope of this hidden financial crisis.
Then came her book “55, Underemployed, and Faking Normal” which makes clear the landscape in which many 50-somethings are living, while pretending to be solvent, wealthy, and living upmarket lifestyles in nice neighbourhoods; aka “faking normal”.
This is not the experience of just one person.
Research by Teresa Ghilarducci of The New School for Social Research found that in the United States from ages 45 to 55, wages decrease by 9 percent, from 55 to 65, another 9 percent.
In the United Kingdom, Statista research found similarly that during the year 2019/20, the highest average amount of disposable income for any age group occurred in the 45-to-54 year-old group, at 42,852 GBP. The age group with the lowest average disposable income were those aged 85 and over. The step drops in disposable income for each 10-year cohort are notable.
These are sobering numbers. They should focus the mind on the siren-call for radical re-examination of the structures, society, and -isms (especially ageism both at the older and the younger ends), that we are currently living through.
Worse though is that there is yet another generation right behind this with the same financial precarity, low asset ownership, and portfolios, where they exist, perching on crypto, digital art and luxury “collectibles”, and other similar vapourware.
Now, as we invite strong, investable ideas for building sustainable care solutions, I would ask those keen to submit business plans heavy on technological literacy, and assumptions of seamless connectivity and affordable – and dare I add, accessible – smart devices, to think radically.
Here is some practical advice.
Use one I – inversion – to sharpen your idea: When we think innovation or creativity, we think of solving problems ‘forward’. With optimism bias, and the high of creative excitement, we can sometimes forget to take into account what needs to be avoided, what hidden beliefs about the problem are driving the solution that we are about to pitch. Inversion thinking – the idea that sometimes a solution to a problem can be found easier by thinking about how not to solve the problem – can help with those challenges; especially as many who pitch the ideas may be younger than the ages of persons they see as users or consumers for those solutions.
Build 2 Rs – resilience and reliability – in your idea: Does implementation, operation, maintenance and replacement of whatever solution you are pitching require a lot of collaborative partnerships or financial and expert resource and technology fixes, especially of the connected tech kind? Basic engineering thinking tells us that the more moving parts there are in a system, the less reliable and resilient it is. Resilience may come from subtractive creativity: “simplify, then add lightness”, to quote Colin Chapman who founded Lotus Cars.
Think 3 Cs – contribution, care, community – to find ideas: For many, our older age will unfortunately be marked by financial precarity, not least because ageist thinking models in the workplace kick older persons out of the workforce when their expertise and knowledge is deemed less valuable due to wrinkles and grey hair. Do you have an idea to focus on enabling, scaling and monetising the contribution that older persons can make, and that provides competent older persons get a fair income? Pitch it to us. Do you have a solution that enables care with the involvement of community resources than a lot of upfront investment with a case based in forward-solved ROI (see inversion above)? We are excited to hear about it!
HL Mencken, the American journalist and writer, once said: “There is always a well-known solution to every human problem: neat, plausible, and wrong.”
Enabling ageing populations to contribute and providing sustainable care to those who need it, when and where they need it are both complex challenges. Not all neat and plausible solutions need to be wrong.
We at Silver Linings are aiming to unearth the solutions that are not so well-known. We are eager to hear from you.
(This piece was written to support the Silver Linings Competition, and a version of it appeared on the Responsible Investor website on 5 November 2021.)