One of the founding principles of The Future Shapers is that Next Generation Organisations deserve Next Generation guidance. In helping businesses and other organisations to shape and create innovative futures it is important not to forget the environment these next generation entities will exist in. One lens that is oftentimes overlooked is that of the demographics of age.

Regular readers of The Future Shapers may remember a piece I did on Innovation and entrepreneurship in the age of the 100 year life.  In this piece, I will build on the concept touched on previously, looking at the market and challenges of the New Old to call out that innovation no longer a young person’s game.  Gone are the days when Saga Holidays was the sole cool brand for the ageing customer. This community of users will become the new normal and the heart of many organisations futures. The lightbulb moment of the importance of this challenge was brought home to me at the New Old exhibition at the Design Museum.

Britain is ageing. The over 60s already outnumber the under 16s. By 2040, one in seven people in the UK will be over 75. Over the next 25 years, 70 percent of the population growth will be in the over-60 age group. In Europe, half the population will be over 50 by 2020.  These statistics reflect a massive social change. Age as an issue has be transformed in the last three decades.

The 21st century promises to be the age of the 100 year life as more and more of us live to be 100 or older. Eight million people currently living in the UK will reach that milestone, our longer lives made possible by economic development, improvements in public health and advances in science and medicine. But what are the implications for business, design and policymaking? And what is old anyway?

One of the unforeseen challenges of our time

Ageing is one of the grand challenges of the 21st Century.  Combined with the growth of cities, it will change how we build homes, how we work and the products we use, opening opportunities for new services and enterprises.  Innovations will no longer be the sole interest of the young and the questions and lines of old and age will blur.

The ageing of our population reflects a profound change in the human condition. A result of gradual increases in life expectancy at a time of falling fertility and mortality rates. The average age in the UK is now an unprecedented 40 – up from 33 in 1974. Half of the children born in the UK today are predicted to live to be 103.

In Britain, our life expectancy at birth has increased by five years in the past 20.  Another more startling way of looking at this is an increase of around five hours a day, or nearly three months each a year. More years are a given for most of us. The question is how will we live those years. Will we enjoy independence and a good quality of life? Or will we become isolated and marginalised?

Age and old age is perceived differently, in the UK, old age is perceived to begin at 59 – the second youngest of countries surveyed – by work carried out by the UK’s department for work and pensions in 2011 – and youth is perceived to end at 35 again earlier than most countries.

A steep rise in the number of older people in society has not yet changed deep – routed negative stereotypes around ageing: the stigma of growing old persists. But the meaning of old in the next 30 years will be quiet unlike previous definitions – the new old will benefit from better healthcare, education and diet and from changing social attitudes. For this group, new narratives around active ageing will increasingly challenge a medical view of ageing as characterised by disease, decline and dependency.

A market and an answer – what more can you ask for?

As the population ages, our working lives will extend beyond current retirement models. The value of retaining the knowledge and expertise of older workers grows as employers’ face gaps in the labour market and governments struggle to fund care for a dependent elderly population.

Longer lives will not only plug skill gaps and reduce welfare bills, but can also bring health and cognitive benefits to the older members of the workforce. To achieve this, the work environment will need to be designed more appropriately. Age discrimination in the workplace must be countered effectively. Innovation challenges cannot be the sole preserve of the young fresh faced graduates. The ability to tap into this expertise is a common problem for organisations.

The UK’s employment rates for older people are around the average for OECD countries, but if they had been as high as those in Sweden between 2003 and 2013, national GDP would have been $100bn billion higher.

Ageing is often seen as a prompt for innovation. But most of that innovation is still directed along conventional lines: innovation in new drugs or medical treatments; innovations in the design of pensions or finance and provision of long-term care.  All these matter, and are likely to matter even more. Till now we’ve not seen anything like the volume of new products and services for the masses or the volumes of relatively wealthy and mature customers.

Design can and will play a pivotal role in the changing representations of old people in the media, branding, advertising and public discourse.  A great example of this type of innovation is the Aura Powered Suit from Yves Behar/Fuseproject and Superflex which explores the potential of ‘powered clothing’ to enhance our physical ability, and to help us continue to live actively and independently as we age.

Making it real

Another important principle of The Future Shapers was to move beyond solely acknowledging that innovation is a game-changer and the alarmist headlines and buzzwords used to describe the innovation world. We want to offer our followers and members real insights, analysis, and tools to help them tackle the ever-evolving innovation challenge.

Over the next year part of my entrepreneurial activity will pick up on the trend of the New Old and specifically the mature athlete. Building on insights and findings from the likes of Matthew Syed ,Malcolm Gladwell and Anders Ericsson and using wearables from different parts of the world, data analytics and mobile device interfaces, the field of competitive sport, will no longer be the preserve of the young.  During the coming year, future posts will dive down into the commercial and innovation challenges of bringing to life a new entity whilst also being the Guinea Pig in developing, proving and testing the products and services.  The New Old is very much an opportunity and philosophy of our time which will spur new innovative, products and services. Please sign up and subscribe and I’ll keep you posted on how the innovation comes to life. I’ll be delighted to hear from readers their thoughts on the mature athlete and who is setting the bar.