E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Solutions for An Ageing Population in the Era of Open Business

Gran Canaria - Risco BlancoIf you look into the corporate world of today, I am sure you would be able to identify a whole bunch of rather cringing and devastating business problems that somehow we keep trying to solve, but fail miserably in the attempt. Issues like fraud, corruption, bribery, lack of morals and ethics, and what not, keep adding further up into providing perhaps one of the most dodgy business environments, with a rather profound econoclypse flavour, we ever had in recent history. Yet, somehow, I do feel there is another much more fundamental problem that we even haven’t come to terms with when thinking of the huge impact it’s going to have over the next 20 years. Indeed, yes, you are reading that right! 20 years, at a minimum! And to define that business problem I won’t have to do anything else than just mention three simple words: Ageing Working Population.

I have always believed that, whenever we would want to end this financial crisis, we would eventually be done and dealt with in like no time. We just need to put our minds and hearts to work at it and it will be sorted out right away. In a heartbeat. Those business problems I have mentioned above somehow seem to be relatively easy to solve if the collective sets their own mind to it, too! It’s just probably a matter of time, intent and willingness to make it happen. However, the much more urging problem of an ageing population is something that would be rather tough to solve. At least, in the short term. 

The thing is though that we are running late on the short term already. I read somewhere, for instance, that over the course of the next 19 to 20 years in a row, yes, 19 to 20 years!!, every second, a single US (knowledge) worker will reach the age of 60. And that’s just for the US, country where perhaps ageing is not as alarming as in other countries like Japan, Spain or Italy. The thing is that ageing is not really the problem. It never has. It never will be. It’s actually one of the many many things to treasure as you grow older with experience, know-how, and an extensive fountain of knowledge readily willing to be shared across as part of what some of us have been identifying all along as leaving a legacy. Your legacy to the world.

The problem comes around when you don’t have anyone to transfer that knowledge to. And this is the main business problem that, right now, Europe, and, specially, Europe, is facing big time! And I suspect other geographies are not lagging behind too far. Right now, there are about 5 million youngsters, that is, young people under 25, without a job. In countries like Spain, as a rather dramatic example, the % of unemployment for the under 25 year olds is coming to 52%, which, eventually, is just unsustainable. So what can we do then to revert this tragedy? It’s well known how interconnected and complex the business world is nowadays, thus I am thinking how examples like this one are going to have a huge impact on the overall workplace of the future in the short, medium and long term. We are basically running out of time. And to such extent, I keep wondering whether technology, in this case, social technologies, could help us out solve this bleeding issue of renewing the corporate workforce over the course of time. Something tells me that technology will be playing a key, differentiating, paramount role. Here’s why…

I felt totally inspired  when I bumped into this IBM YouTube video from the series of Solutions for a Smarter Planet – Solutions for an Aging PopulationDisclaimer: Yes, you all know it already by now, I do work for IBM, but look at the beautiful and rather compelling story portrayed on the video about how technology can have a huge impact within our ageing population. The video clip is rather short, a bit over 4 minutes, and it tells the story of how Bolzano, Italy, has decided to think forward and help their elderly become even more autonomous and independent than ever, to keep enjoying their own lives to the fullest by putting technology to work for them: 

Now, think in that context of what it could mean for that ageing population still at work, but already on the brink of retirement, to have the unique, unprecedented opportunity to engage with the younger generations through the use of social technologies to transfer some of their knowledge, because we all know it’s going to be impossible to transfer it all, so that the younger knowledge workers would have a good opportunity to become self-sufficient and self-serving, along with rather autonomous, with that knowledge shared. Right there is the baton being transferred from one generation to another. Work will continue. It will not longer stagnate and things will move on forward. 

Yet, we are not doing it. At least, we are not doing it at a level that would be fast enough to react in time. Again, like I said, we are late into the game. Remember, there are 5 million youngsters under 25 currently unemployed in Europe. That’s some serious business issue that’s going to cost the corporate world millions of euros in terms of finding the right talent for the right job, but most importantly in helping prepare that talent for the job. If I were a CEO running a business that would pretty much depend on the knowledge and skills and expertise of my ageing knowledge workforce I would be extremely worried by now, if I didn’t have a plan already in place of how I’m going to be capturing the knowledge of those older generations to be able to transfer it to the younger ones. Yes, I will repeat it. If I don’t have a plan already by now, I’d be extremely worried, because I’d be coming late into the game. Gran Canaria - Guayadeque in the Winter

Social technologies are pretty inexpensive nowadays, we all know that. Social technologies have helped us understand, as knowledge workers, we cannot longer work alone, in silos, disconnected from the rest of the world. Instead, we are now much more hyperconnected, engaged, collaborative and knowledge sharing prone than ever before. Younger generations don’t need to be told, educated, enabled and whatever else, on how to make use of all of these social networking tools. We all know they bleed them. Older generations are adjusting really fast! Think of it, the current largest population of new Facebook users, as an example, is people over 65! Ha! Who would have thought about that, right? 

So we can see how the Social Web is impacting big time our societies, yet, in the business world it doesn’t seem to be happening at the same scale, which is a real shame, if you ask me, because, like I said, I believe we are already too late.  Are we? These working styles from both older and younger generations mixing together are just not rooted deeply enough in the business world just yet, and I am not too sure whether it’s due to the fact that there continue to be plenty of struggles around power and money, entitlement, prestige, reputation and merit (For all of the bad reasons!) or just a lack of democratising and humanising the corporate world as we know it. Either way, it’s not helping us advance fast enough to adjust that worrying trend of older knowledge workers on the brink of becoming pensioners. 

Yet, the solution is just right there! Forget about the power and bullying struggles, forget about entitlement, forget about the oldest form of gamification in the workplace, the bonuses, forget about the old corporate business models operating in the 21st century still. We need to shake all of that off! And NOW!! We need to address what will remain as our biggest challenge event for the next 20 years, which, I am not sure what you would think, but I suspect it’s going to be requiring vast majority of our attention, effort and hard work just trying to retain a small % of that knowledge that’s just about to leave the workplace. 

Yet, like I said above, the solution is just right there! Right at our fingertips. It’s just as if we have been blinded all along when we just need to turn around and look into one of the most powerful techniques ever invented by us humans in terms of knowledge transfer: storytelling. Indeed, storytelling that moves people.

2013 is the year of storytelling. Apparently. Actually, I have always felt that every year is the year of telling stories. It’s who we are and what and how we learn. No matter what. The amount of knowledge that we keep absorbing through sharing stories can’t probably be equalled by anything else. Yet, we don’t do much, or not enough for that matter!, at the workplace in this aspect, despite the huge amount of incredibly insightful writings available out there to set the stage of how powerful business storytelling could well be in helping you solve your biggest problem today and in 20 years time.

Now, think of it, think of how both younger and older generations could make use of Social / Open Business and all of these social technologies to share their stories. Stories of how they have acquired and applied their own knowledge. Of how they have been bleeding these social tools all along since they were born. It’s all about convergence. And, yes, things are converging already, although perhaps not at a faster pace, because of lack of various different initiatives driven by the corporate world to try to adjust accordingly. 

Gran Canaria - Roque NubloHere’s an example. How many of you folks, specially, in Europe, are aware of EURES? (In Spain, as another example, how many of you are somewhat aware of Eurojoves?). Take a minute or two to answer that question. It’s important. You will need to, because if you are not aware of it, right now you are missing what promises to be one of the most powerful, yet rather hidden, it seems, resources out there to start working your magic into capturing what, without any doubt, would be one of the most talented generations out there in the last few decades; incredibly eager and rather thirsty to absorb the knowledge, experience and know-how from your ageing working population through that wonderful and inspiring world of business storytelling through the extensive use of social technologies. 

Wouldn’t that be quite something? That, instead of you trying to figure out where the young talent is nowadays in all of those social tools out there on the Social Web while you engage in useless talent wars, that you would instead head over to that giant pool of talent who has been waiting around for you to show up and proactively promote an opportunity to renew your own workforce, right with what you need, by just offering to become the social bridge between those generations? Isn’t that something that should have become a huge priority in the last 3 to 5 years? Again, are we too late? Did the train leave already?

How is your business facing that ageing population issue over the course of the next 20 years … Got a plan? Not yet? 

Ok, here are a couple of suggestions you can think about, not for too long though. Remember, we are running at full speed. Clock is already ticking…

Social technologies + (business) story telling = an empowered, engaged knowledge workforce across generations and working styles. 

A win-win situation for all, don’t you think? So WHY aren’t we doing it already then? What are we waiting for…? We have already lost some precious years we are not going to get back anymore. Let’s not waste more time, please.

It’s time to ACT NOW! Don’t leave it for tomorrow as the knowledge AND the talent behind it may be gone for good, with no return, by tomorrow. 

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    1. Hi Joahim! ROFL!!! Indeed! What the video said! It’s interesting to see how it doesn’t seem to have an urgent issue to tackle as many others when I *do* see it as the main challenge for over the next 20 years. The pyramid is about to get inverted and not being prepared for it is going to cost businesses millions of $$$ in adjusting accordingly.

      Perhaps I am missing something in here, but I am still not sure why the corporate world has not been paying attention in that huge shift in the demographics population and act accordingly. Like I said, hoping we are not too late by the time we react!

      Thanks again for dropping by, my friend! Appreciated the feedback, as usual!

  1. Yes to social tech plus storytelling … of all kinds! You might be interested in the exploration we have been doing for Nominet Trust into how we can use digital tech for wellbeing later in life. http://socialreporters.net/?cat=52 You’ll our latest idea is to create some fictional characters, tell their stories, and then map the innovations developed by many different interests onto the challenges – and opportunities – that they face. That seems a good way of helping people understand, in a human-centred way, what’s possible.
    We now want to convene some of the different agencies and companies interested and, if possible, figure out how best to collaborate in doing that. Any connections would be very welcome.

    1. Hi David! Many thanks for dropping by as well and for sharing along your thoughts as well on the topic. Very much appreciated. Just went through the link you shared above and watched the 5 minute long video clip and what a story!! Just brilliant! Thanks much for taking the time to share it across! The article itself is stunning on its own offering a whole new world of possibilities to a growing demographic for sure and I have taken the liberty of sharing the video link inside with a few groups and see what they would think about it… If something comes out of it, David, I will be in touch!

      Thanks again and please do keep it up! It’s inspirational activities / initiatives like the one you are involved with that clearly make a much needed impact in this world! Just fantastic!! Thanks again for taking the time to share it across!


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