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On today’s show, Liz talks to Bradley Schurman. His book, The Super Age – Decoding Our Demographic Destiny, published last week and it is a must-read for anyone in or serving the 50 years+ demographic.
In his book, Bradley explores what it can mean for our collective future when there are more people older than 65 than those under the age of 18. And it’s not all doom and gloom. The advent of older-majority populations will drive innovation in government, business, housing, mobility, and media that can be positive for all age groups—assuming we act soon. He also tells Liz how the lives of his Depression-era grandparents led him to look more closely at the demographic and societal impacts of aging.
Last, he talks about his seminal work on aging while working at AARP and what he plans to do with his consulting agency, also called The Super Age, to help organizations harness the opportunities of an increasingly older and generationally diverse population.
2:13 Being the next President of the United States
4:11 His grandparents influence
9:20 The youngest guy at AARP
11:01 The SuperAge
15:29 More people working later in life
19:13 Over 65ers coming back into the workforce
20:16 Mercedes Benz Ey Alter program
24:44 Instituting Grandmother leave
26:33 Media and ageism
34:11 The success of older entrepreneurs
39:30 Advice on how to stay relevant
Bradley’s new book The Super Age – Decoding Our Demographic Destiny can be found here. You can learn more about Super Age on their website, Facebook, and Twitter. Connect with Bradley directly on LinkedIn or via email at [email protected].
If you enjoyed the podcast, please subscribe and share a review. Engage with more stories of those finding fulfillment in the +third act of their lives on Liz Tinkham’s Third Act podcast at thirdactpodcast.com.
Liz Tinkham (00:18):
Hi, this is Liz Tinkham. And welcome to Third Act, a podcast about people embracing the third act of their lives with a new sense of purpose and direction. The third act begins when your script ends, but your show’s not finished.
Liz Tinkham (00:34):
Hi, everyone, and welcome to Third Act. Today, I talk with author Bradley Schurman, the super-ager. Bradley’s book, The Super Age: Decoding Our Demographic Destiny, published last week and it is a must read for anyone in or serving the 50 years plus demographic. In his book, Bradley explores what it can mean for our collective future, when there are more people older than 65 than those under the age of 18. And believe me, it’s not all doom and gloom. The advent of a majority older population will drive innovation in government, business, housing, mobility, and media that can be positive for all age groups, assuming we act soon.
Liz Tinkham (01:13):
On today’s show, Bradley talks about how the lives of his Depression era grandparents led him to look more closely at the demographic and societal impacts of aging. In addition, he talks about his seminal work on aging while working at AARP and what he plans to do with his consulting agency, also called the Super Age, to help organizations harness the opportunities of an increasingly older and generationally diverse population. Bradley, it’s wonderful to have you, happy new year. We’re recording this right after the first of 2022, which is 18 years before the US goes into the super age, do I have that right?
Bradley Schurman (01:53):
Eight years before we enter the super age-
Liz Tinkham (01:55):
Oh, 2030. Okay, all right.
Bradley Schurman (01:57):
Liz Tinkham (01:58):
All right, so we’ll get to the super age in just a minute, but I want to get a quick update on your background and how you became a demographic futurist, which is a really interesting title. So you’re a graduate of American University, and so what did you think you were going to do when you came out of school?
Bradley Schurman (02:13):
Oh, I thought I was going to be the next president of the United States.
Liz Tinkham (02:16):
Oh my gosh, you’re kidding me. You’re the first I’ve ever met who thought they were going to be president, tell us why?
Bradley Schurman (02:22):
I mean, I think Washington and DC and especially the people that go to school in the district in the nation’s capital are all alpha personalities. We were all the presidents of our class and yearbook editors and captains of sports, and we all come to Washington with these grand ambitions to change the world. And I got to Washington and realized, I think pretty quickly, that I didn’t necessarily want to be on the front lines of changing the world, there was more to be done back of house in Washington. Because that’s where a lot of the big decisions are made, through the bureaucracy, through the people that work on the Hill, the people that work in the various agencies and even in the nonprofits and businesses in the city, that’s where change happens in Washington is in those places, not always on the front lines of the halls of power.
Liz Tinkham (03:16):
Okay. So again, so aside from being president, then what did you think you might do?
Bradley Schurman (03:23):
No, I think I thought I was going to go work in Congress, which is a typical path for most in Washington who were interested in public policy, and I did that. And I didn’t love it. I found that the public policy making in Washington was hard and it was unpleasant a lot of times and it moved dreadfully slow, and I wanted to make change right here, right now. I was impatient. I was a young person. I thought that the world should turn on a dime for me, and that’s not the way the world works in any regard. But as I was trying to figure out what my future was going to be, my grandparents moved into a long-term care community outside of Pittsburgh.
Liz Tinkham (04:08):
Mm-hmm. Yeah, tell us about your grandparents. They had a big influence on you.
Bradley Schurman (04:11):
They did. My grandfather was a child of the Great Depression. He was born in 1914, and by 1928 he was working in the mines. He was as poor as poor could be, quite literally the person who did not have a pot to piss in. And by 14 he was an earner for his family, his mother, his father, and his seven brothers and sisters. And that was pretty commonplace at the time. By the time the war rolled around, he was off to war. He served as a Seabee in the Navy, and came back home, married my grandmother, who was an elementary school teacher, special needs for the Pittsburgh School District. And they made a classic middle class life together, two kids.
Liz Tinkham (05:04):
Did he keep working in the mines or did he go do something else at that point?
Bradley Schurman (05:07):
Yeah, when he came out of the war he took a job with Westinghouse. So he installed elevators for Westinghouse Electric. Which was, I mean, a pretty cool job, I think at the time, as the United States was building itself during the mid-century. And his claim to fame was the elevators in the St. Louis Arch, those were the ones that he put in. And they’re these kind of little pods that kind of roll up the side-
Liz Tinkham (05:30):
Oh my goodness, the one that kind of goes-
Bradley Schurman (05:30):
Yeah. And he-
Liz Tinkham (05:30):
Oh, that is the scariest thing to go up on. Yeah.
Bradley Schurman (05:36):
I know, and he tells this story. But they lived a good life. They didn’t ever have a lot of money. I would say they were middle class, but they were kind of on the middle-middle to lower-middle class of middle class. But because they were products of, my grandfather in particular was a product of poverty, and they were both products of the Depression, they saved like crazy. Every penny was saved. Some of it was put into banks. Some of it was put into mattresses. I mean, there was money hidden everywhere. So that afforded them a pretty comfortable retirement at the end of the day. They had the great fortune of a strong public pension system. My great grandmother essentially worked for the state as a teacher, so she had a great state pension too, and great state healthcare. And they retired in pretty significant comfort. And even in that comfort were able to pass on wealth to their children, to my mom and to her brother, which is nothing short of remarkable.
Bradley Schurman (06:35):
But when they moved into this retirement community, I wanted to make sure I was getting up there more often to see them. So I traveled between Washington and Pittsburgh on a regular basis. And depending on the time of year, it’s either the most beautiful drive you’ve ever seen or the most gruesome, because-
Liz Tinkham (06:52):
Yeah, that’s true.
Bradley Schurman (06:54):
Rural Pennsylvania is not always the prettiest place. But there’s a place where you pull off there off the highway called Breezewood, and it’s known as the town of motels. And it was a stopping point on the highway, people going from the East to the West and vice versa. And it’s kind of become a depressed place over time because our attitudes toward travel have changed. But as I was pulled off there I’d see a population that was vastly older, vastly whiter. And I’d see people that looked a lot like my grandparents engaged in work, working as attendants at the gas station or flipping burgers or cleaning toilets at rest stops. And I thought to myself at the time, “This is so peculiar. My grandparents didn’t have a lot, what are these folks doing?”
Bradley Schurman (07:42):
And it was one of those strings that I just decided to pull on. And I became completely enamored with the aging experience and demographic change, and it became my life’s work almost completely by happenstance. Just because I was open and willing to see what was right in front of my eyes, which no one else has chosen to see. And that is how I’ve carved my niche out in the world. I started working for a trade association that represents nursing homes called LeadingAge. They represent non-profit nursing homes and long-term care communities, a great organization. But I didn’t like long-term care. It was hard, and it doesn’t change like it should. It’s overly regulated and very difficult to deliver care for people in a way that’s high quality and low cost.
Bradley Schurman (08:38):
I left there, was recruited to go AARP, which is of course the membership organization for people over the age of 50 in the US. And helped them build out their global aging program, which was focused on really bringing in the best policies, practices, even products and services from overseas to help support older people in the United States, living their best lives in later life. And that was exciting. That was thrilling. It was nice to work for a big organization, 38 million people, nearly a $2 billion dollar budget. It was comfortable.
Liz Tinkham (09:17):
And you were pretty young at this time, right? I mean-
Bradley Schurman (09:20):
I mean, yeah. Working for LeadingAge was my first job out of college, so I was 22, I think when I started there. And at AARP I was definitely one of the youngest people within the organization. And I mean, people just looked at me like I was a crazy person. What are you doing? This young guy working for old people. I mean, even my own family was just perplexed by it. And I said, “No, no, no, you have to trust me. This is seismic what’s happening right now.”
Liz Tinkham (09:48):
That’s unbelievable, you caught it that early from Breezewood, Breezeway, just the town. Wow, okay.
Bradley Schurman (09:56):
I say in my book, it’s not that difficult to be a futurist if you know where to look for the trends, for where the future could be taking us. And demography is interesting because it takes about 18 to 22 years on average to build a human being into a functioning adult.
Liz Tinkham (10:13):
Okay, I have a 22 year old, he’s still in the process.
Bradley Schurman (10:15):
And he’s not even close to that.
Liz Tinkham (10:15):
He’s still baking, but keep going.
Bradley Schurman (10:22):
But what’s interesting about this is we know what the birth rate looks like this year, so we’ll have a pretty good sense of what the workforce will look like in 18 to 24 years. And if you take a close look at those birth rates, as well as some social and cultural norms, you can make some relatively reasonable projections about where we’re going. I just became transfixed by the fact that nobody was seeing what I could see.
Liz Tinkham (10:57):
So how did you come up with the term “super age”, and what does it mean?
Bradley Schurman (11:01):
I co-opted it. I will unabashedly say that I co-opted it. There are three terms that the United Nations uses for populations, aging, aged, and super-aged. And super-aged societies are where one out of five people is over the age of 65. This terminology, super-aged, so I took it and made it into the super age. In large part, because super-aged was really seen as a pejorative. It was seen as a negative. This was when we would have a great imbalance in our labor force participation rates. When we would no longer be able to afford our social welfare programs that we hold sacrosanct. This is where we start to come off the rails, quite frankly, as a society, because we could no longer afford the population that we had.
Bradley Schurman (11:55):
I don’t buy into that. I think that the super age can actually be super. It can be a spectacular period for humanity if we tap our sales in the right way. We can’t assume that systems and structures and institutions remain static forever, change is the only thing that’s constant. So we need to adapt our social security system in this country. We need to adapt Medicare to meet the modern era. We have to adjust our attitudes towards older populations away from ones that are historically negative, or at least historically negative in my lifetime, to ones that are more positive. We need to turn older people away from being net consumers, to being net contributors to society. And if we’re able to do that, if we’re really serious about making this change, which I believe we should be, we could enter into a new era of prosperity for our society that will rival that of like the 1950s, where people are living in good economic conditions and there’s a greater sense of equality.
Liz Tinkham (13:08):
Let’s talk about the super age and its implications. You’re about to publish a book called, The Super Age, Decoding Our Demographic Destiny, and some of the statistics you have in the book are just fascinating and astounding. One of them that really struck me was that the fastest growing age group in the US is people over 85. And in 1900, there were a hundred thousand people over 85, now there’s six million and that is growing. Is this mostly due to advances in healthcare?
Bradley Schurman (13:36):
It’s mostly due to solving for infant and child mortality. There’s a number of laws that play here. So if we’re talking about my grandfather, 1914, on average, he had a one out of three chance of making it to the age of three, and about a 50% chance of making it to adulthood. We almost completely erased infant and youth mortality over the course of the past hundred years. That’s nothing short of remarkable, but law of averages comes into play. Okay, so if you’re able to survive into adulthood, you have a pretty good chance of making it to old age.
Bradley Schurman (14:12):
So take the boomers for example, I think 76 million boomers were born, 70 million are still alive today. The survival rates are nothing short of extraordinary. And when you take into account that almost all of our efforts went to improving the lives of infants and children, from water sanitation, to food safety, to vaccines, to getting people out of the factories and off the fields and into the classroom, all of those things contributed to kids making it into adulthood. We’ve done that. We’ve basically solved for that at this point. So there’s this whole new group of investors and scientists that are saying, “Well, now we’re going to solve for getting old.”
Liz Tinkham (14:59):
Well, that’s a good thing.
Bradley Schurman (15:01):
It is a good thing. And it’s one of those things that’s, to me, very revolutionary from a conversation point. Because these men and women aren’t necessarily looking to extend our lives in perpetuity, their initial goal is to compress morbidity, and that means they want to shorten the number of years that we’re sick. So while we could extend life, we’re actually going to stop the number of years increasing of living in sickness or in poor health.
Liz Tinkham (15:29):
I think one of the other things I read in your book is that, I’m probably directionally accurate here on the stats, is that in the 1950s, in the United States, over half of men over 65 worked, and we’ll just use men because they were the primary working class, but today less than 20% do, although that number is growing. So clearly the combination of a longer life and a shorter work life means people running out of money, potentially. So talk a little bit about some of the implications, economically, that you talk about in your book.
Bradley Schurman (15:55):
Well, the first is… Just to adjust that stat a little bit, it’s just shy of 50% in 1950. What we had with the baby boom was this glut of labor. This incredible amount of supply entered into the marketplace, which was further fed by Gen X and the millennials in terms of share sheer numbers. It was also fed by globalization. So the value of a worker actually decreased over the past 50 years. So we pushed older workers out because they were expensive, in many regards. We used social welfare programs like social security and Medicare as kind of these shields to protect us and say, “We’re going to be ageist, we’re going to get rid of these people because they have this safety net to go to.” We pushed them into retirement, frankly, prematurely.
Bradley Schurman (16:46):
So when I entered the workforce in the early aughts, the late ’90s and the early aughts, I was confronted by a reality that there were very few older people there to mentor me. I missed out on that opportunity to have a senior member of staff take me under their wing. The oldest person that I was working with was in their 50s. And I thought, “This is not getting me what I need to get right now. I need somebody 65, 70 plus telling me what to do, giving me that mentorship.” Something that my parents got when they entered the workforce in the 1960s and 1970s. So what’s changing is, COVID has changed a lot of things. It’s really adjusted the supply of labor in the marketplace quite dramatically. So our labor force conditions, not to be too highly technical, look a lot more like the 1950s post-war than just five years ago when there was almost too much labor to deal with.
Liz Tinkham (17:46):
And now there’s not enough.
Bradley Schurman (17:47):
There’s plenty of labor. So the labor shortage, I don’t like when people use the term labor shortage, it’s more of a labor realignment or a labor contraction, because older people left the workforce. They were made redundant. They left because they were told that they were going to get sick by COVID and die. Don’t forget, if you’re over 65, you were going to get sick and die of COVID. That’s what everyone told you at the beginning pandemic, and that stuck. And that continues to stick today. But also, if you’re high net worth, or even if you’re not, and you were well invested in the marketplace, you left the workforce because the market was doing really well. And you can call it the Obama economy, you can call it the Trump economy, you can call it the COVID economy, it doesn’t matter. The stock market has been doing a bang up job at earning people wealth.
Bradley Schurman (18:32):
And unlike the previous generation, those folks that were here 12, 14 years ago during the last recession, people learned from that. They said, “We’re playing by Vegas rules. We’re getting out. We’re getting out while we can, we’re riding high on this, let’s get out.” And they’ve realigned their savings to be one that’s for retirement, truly retirement, not for working. So yes, there is a bit of an artificial supply problem in the workforce right now, but it is opening up some great opportunity for workforce innovation. And it certainly is improving the condition of certainly the American worker, but I think the global workplace as well too.
Liz Tinkham (19:13):
Post-COVID, which we hope will be this year, do you see that group of people, age 65, needing to come back into the workforce? So let’s just talk about it here in the United States.
Bradley Schurman (19:25):
Two needs that need to be fulfilled here. There’s the need for cash, money, earnings, and then there’s the need for social engagement. There are two sides to the coin here. And yes, I do see workers coming back in a pretty large form relatively soon. Also, the workplaces are just going to demand they come back too. Now, will these individuals come back to the same salaries they were making before? That’s unlikely, trends suggest that they will not do that. Trends also suggest that they’ll have a bit of a hard time getting back into the workforce, it roughly takes twice as long as a younger worker today. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t get back in, they will get back in at some point if they’re relatively dogged about it. And I do think people do give up at some point of getting back in.
Liz Tinkham (20:16):
You have a great chapter in your book called, Make Age Work, which I love the title of, which talks about people working longer and how employers can keep people longer. And you give some really good examples that I wanted to talk through. So tell us about Mercedes-Benz and the EY ALTER or the Hey Buddy program that they’ve got going.
Bradley Schurman (20:32):
Yeah. I mean, the chairman automakers have done a really phenomenal job of embracing demographic change, but this is typically because there was a market need. What folks need to remember early on is that businesses aren’t there to be your friend, they’re there to make money. And demographic change is now a clear and present threat to some industries and some countries that are aging at a pretty rapid rate, and Germany is one of those countries.
Bradley Schurman (21:00):
So EY ALTER is a program in which Mercedes set up essentially learnings between young and older members of their workforce to breed empathy into the products they were designing, not only the design, but the way they communicated the designs to their clients at the end of the day. BMW altered their factory, they’re one of the first companies to do so to extend working lives, not just for older workers, but also for younger workers too. And Porsche, the very fancy luxury car maker, has built their entire plant in Leipzig around ergonomics that extend the working lives for all. So it’s interesting when companies start to benchmark, BMW was the first, Mercedes followed and then Porsche, but when they start to benchmark some really cool things can happen.
Liz Tinkham (21:53):
And have they been able to extend the average age of their worker, or keep people in the workforce longer?
Bradley Schurman (21:59):
They have consistently across the board. And the interventions are of varying cost, let’s be clear about that. BMW started with very low-cost renovations. Things that were so simple. You’re like, “Why didn’t you think about this before?” Like magnifying glasses at each station. A stretching station for people, because it’s hard work to do that repetitive motion all day. They just wanted a stretching station. But what was revolutionary about what BMW did, Porsche to some degree, Mercedes as well, is they asked their workers what would make their working lives better?
Liz Tinkham (22:36):
That’s pretty simple.
Bradley Schurman (22:37):
Is that not the most simple, the most revolutionary thing you can imagine? “Hey, what do you guys want?” “Oh, well we’d really like some better eyewear, and we’d really like some better shoes. And wouldn’t it be nice to have a chair to sit in?”
Liz Tinkham (22:51):
Okay, that’s pretty cheap, yeah.
Bradley Schurman (22:53):
It’s cheap, and it improved overall worker satisfaction with their jobs, it improved their physical health. And at the end of the day, it had a direct impact on quality of the product. With a company like Porsche, we can actually see the influence of having older workers in the factory now because inclusion is showing up in their design. Their designs are safer, they’re more cognizant of changes to vision and the ability to move your dexterity within a vehicle. I always tell people, one of the greatest innovations for older people in cars is the one that we all take for granted today, and that’s the push button start.
Liz Tinkham (23:37):
Really, just to make it easier than to have to put the key in?
Bradley Schurman (23:41):
Yeah, it just was easier. Because, it’s hard to remember what getting the key into the ignition was like.
Liz Tinkham (23:49):
That’s true. Yeah, especially at night or it’s cold or something like that, right.
Bradley Schurman (23:54):
Exactly. So you’re trying to get this tiny little thing into this tiny little hole in a tiny little space that’s dark, it was hard for a person with full abilities. Now, imagine if you had some decline in your vision or some decline in your dexterity, it was damn near impossible. And consistently what we know about the aging process is one of the first things to go is our mobility. So the fact that these companies have really taken that head on to say, we need to extend the lives of not only our workers, but extend the lives of the users of our vehicles, is pretty cool. It makes market sense. It’s market driven at the end of the day.
Liz Tinkham (24:36):
Yeah, that’s really interesting. So we have a big female audience, so I know that they’d appreciate what’s happening at Westpac in Australia. So talk a little bit about that.
Bradley Schurman (24:44):
Yeah. I mean, Westpac did the same thing. They had a challenge with women tellers in their banks, women who were in their 50s and 60s, of leaving. And like most businesses, I think that the HR folks and the executive teams all think that they’re the smartest people in the room, and they tried to figure out what the problem was without actually asking the question. And finally somebody said, “We should put a survey out to them. We should put a survey out to these women and see what’s going on.”
Liz Tinkham (25:14):
Bradley Schurman (25:16):
Oh my God, how revolutionary, ask the worker what they need. And what came back consistently across the board was, we’re first time grandmothers and we’d love to spend time with our grandkids. And you offer parental leave, but you offer no leave for us to help take care of our sons and our daughters’ children, we’d love for that to happen. And Westpac said, “That’s it, that’s all you need?” And they put in place the first in-class, first in the world, grandparents leave.
Liz Tinkham (25:47):
Oh, that’s such a cool idea.
Bradley Schurman (25:48):
It’s just so thoughtful. I mean, why is it so difficult to be thoughtful? Why is it so difficult to ask your workers what will help them do their jobs better? This new era is going to require that employers do that. They’re not going to have a choice anymore. Thank God we have companies like Westpac and BMW and Mercedes-Benz and Porsche that can offer some guidance in this new period of our civilization, because otherwise we’d be fumbling around in the dark trying to figure out how to make the working lives of older people, all people, quite frankly, in the workplace better. If you design for older workers or think about older workers, you’re really designing for everybody at the end of the day.
Liz Tinkham (26:38):
So let’s switch topics, I want to talk a little bit about ageism. And you write quite a bit about the history of ageism bias and how much the media and our obsession with youth culture and advertising have played a role. You mentioned Lyn Slater, an influencer, an older woman who’s an influencer, and I’d like you to tell us a little bit about her. And then what role do you think media can play in combating ageism? And do you think that they’ll do it?
Bradley Schurman (27:02):
That’s the trick question, isn’t it? Will they do it?
Liz Tinkham (27:05):
It sure is.
Bradley Schurman (27:06):
Lyn Slater is one of a number of different influencers that’s come of age on Instagram, come of age in later life. And what’s so special about this group of men and women is that they’re really just being themselves. They’re recording themselves as they like to live. And it’s fashionable. It’s cool. It’s effortless. They’re beautiful in every regard, and they’re putting it out there for the world to see and they garnered a massive audience doing it.
Liz Tinkham (27:39):
I started following her after reading your book.
Bradley Schurman (27:41):
Well, I mean, Lyn is just one of many. I mean, there’s this couple in Japan called Bon and Pon, and they’re… I mean, I hate to, because it sounds kind of like internalization, but they’re just adorable in every regard. They were the same outfits, this couple. Their entire life, they’ve worn the same outfits. But then you have the grand influencers of sorts, people like Iris Apfel, who at a hundred years old is doing collabs with major corporations. They are successful in large part because young women have embraced them.
Bradley Schurman (28:16):
For most of human history, and I think this is important for your audience in particular to hear, is that for most of human history, people like me, men have had… We’ve had role models. We’ve had heads of state, heads of industry. We know what it can look like to be an older man. And if you have wealth to some degree, you have influence. If you’ve maintained your relevance in society, kept up with trends, you can be seen as cool and loved and embraced and put up on a pedestal. But for women, most of women’s role in history has been relegated to fertility. Are you able to have kids? And once you aren’t, you’re disposed of. So what these women are doing is they’re showing a path for younger women that these younger women were never able to see. These women who are influencers now, they’re paving the path for younger women.
Bradley Schurman (29:13):
In fact, just two or three weeks ago, Vogue, one of the most ageist magazines on the planet, ran a story about these social media influencers, they called it menocore. I’m sure you’ve heard the term normcore before, it’s menocore. And I thought, “Well, that’s a bit pejorative. That’s a bit ridiculous to say.” But the images are beautiful. And there’s this consistent thread that both the influencers and the folks that photograph them, people like Ari Seth Cohen, who runs a style blog strictly about older women in particular, they talk about the fact that younger people can see themselves in their future in older folks that have maintained style, maintained dignity and grace, and are showing themselves to be cool and human beings. We want to achieve that at the end of the day. We want to be part of the pack, if not lead it. None of us want to fall behind.
Liz Tinkham (30:10):
Do you think it will continue to expand? Because right now you’ve talked about a few people, right?
Bradley Schurman (30:18):
Yeah, there’s a number of people that I mentioned there. I do think it’s going to continue. I do think that it will eventually bleed into… And this is a great thing about social media is that social media has broken the back of traditional media in many regards. I mean, we wouldn’t have been doing this 10 years ago. Not in a way that would’ve had any real effect on sales of my book or moving the needle. I would’ve had to go through a very traditional channel of broadcast. Social media has really disrupted that. And it’s a good thing because now we can actually see what we want to see, we can find those we want to follow. And businesses are getting behind these folks. They’re doing collaboration deals and they’re significant. And they’re far ranging. They’re not products that we always cast as old people, walkers, or diapers, or canes. They’re products like vodkas and ice creams and high fashion. That’s revolutionary.
Bradley Schurman (31:18):
So what’s happening is businesses are adapting very quickly to this and saying, “Okay, there’s value in these influencers. We should leverage that for us, for our brand. We can increase market share by doing it.” Older people can actually be used to sell to younger people, or to all generations. Well, that’s an asset. One of the big challenges that still hasn’t been fixed yet and just drives me absolutely insane is Madison avenue. Madison avenue, man, that is the most ageist, sexist place on the planet.
Liz Tinkham (31:53):
I mean, you really feel-
Bradley Schurman (31:52):
I mean, it really is. Well, it won’t change. And I wonder at which point it will break? Because it is being disrupted in real time, but for some reason, time and time again, even when the big companies like BMW do a great job at recruiting and retaining older workers, they do an amazing job at bringing empathy from learning from older people into their products and design beautiful vehicles, they still manage to hire a firm on Madison Avenue that somehow decides that they’re going to market as a product to young people. They’re going to market it as a product that is aggressively anti-older people. BMW, I think in 2020 ran a series of ads, in early 2021, that were basically a riff off OK boomer. And this is something that was designed here in the states, this wasn’t something that BMW did globally. But this is an ad campaign, most likely designed by a Madison Avenue firm. So we are still stuck in the past in some of these places. There’s still opportunity for a lot of change. It is happening though.
Liz Tinkham (33:05):
Yeah, and you write about in your book the buying power of that group, and I’ve talked about it on a prior podcast, particularly for women who make most of the purchase decisions, is enormous. It’s enormous, because so much of the wealth is concentrated in the hands of these people.
Bradley Schurman (33:17):
It’s an important point, there’s a lot of wealth in the boomer group in particular. I think we have to remember, just like there’s diversity in our stages in later life, there’s also diversity in our wealth. So for every Warren Buffett or Bill Gates, there’s a lot of people that live in poverty too. So any type of blanket statement is difficult. But that being said, there’s a sizeable number of people that do have an incredible amount of wealth and they should start speaking with that. I think you’re seeing that show up in certainly the way television, the streaming services in particular, are portraying people of diverse ages. There’s more relevant programming that’s coming online. I think the products are starting to adapt too. But this is not something that we’re going to snap our fingers and it’s going to change overnight. It’s going to be a process, and boomers are at the tip of the spear.
Liz Tinkham (34:11):
One of the other fun things you talked about, and I love this, was statistics around entrepreneurs in the 55 to 64 group, how much more successful they are than younger people. And I don’t think that that’s something that most people know, and I think it’s very encouraging particularly to our audience. And so maybe talk a little bit about what you found there.
Bradley Schurman (34:32):
Well, I think, first of all, we have to reset what our idea of entrepreneurism is. We have this idea, I think that’s ingrained that we all need to be the next Jeff Bezos or Mark Zuckerberg to be an entrepreneur, and that’s just not true. Success in being an entrepreneur could be a mom and pop. It could be a cottage industry. Success is that you’re earning and you’re not taking a loss. And whereas this older group may not have the same valuations to their companies at the end of the day, they are building profitable ones and successful ones. And there’s so much to take from that that’s positive and exciting, because what fuels this economy at the end of the day are small and medium-size enterprises. It’s not the Amazons of the world. They’re not keeping America afloat, it’s small and medium-sized enterprises. And in many regards, older people are leading the way. Where there are some holes, there continue to be some holes is when you look at growth companies in older populations, it’s harder for older people t
o get money to fund their enterprises. It’s a bit more difficult.
Liz Tinkham (35:47):
Is that ageism or is it just?
Bradley Schurman (35:50):
Liz Tinkham (35:50):
Bradley Schurman (35:51):
For the most part.
Liz Tinkham (35:52):
Bradley Schurman (35:52):
I mean, you can’t call it anything else if the numbers are suggesting that there’s higher success rates and the money’s not flowing to these folks in the same way. You just can’t do it. There’s a significant bias, especially given the tech community that favors youth above all else. Even when youth are building products and services to serve older populations, they’re more likely to get the money than an older entrepreneur even though their risk is greater.
Liz Tinkham (36:21):
Some venture capitalists are now focused on, say, supporting women or supporting BIPOC communities. Do you see any trends there where there are different places supporting older entrepreneurs?
Bradley Schurman (36:34):
Well, not for older entrepreneurs, for products and services that support older people, but not for older entrepreneurs. I haven’t seen anything substantial at this point, anything that really jumps out is exciting to me, but there is opportunity there. It’s a good investment. The data proves it, older people, older entrepreneurs are a good investment for us. I think that, if there’s one bit of caution for older entrepreneurs in particular, it is making sure that you’re managing risk as much as you can. There are government programs that can help set up business. Be careful about how much you take from retirement savings, in particular, your 401k, if you have one. You really have to manage your risk in a different way than a younger person does, and it shows up in the risk assessment and the success rate at the end of the day. But this is just a gentle reminder of that because you don’t necessarily have the number of years to make up a loss.
Liz Tinkham (37:39):
I want to finish the podcast here with a quote from the book. Let me just read it and then you can comment on it, “Throughout all of this work I’ve emphasized one simple truth, everyone wants to be part of something. All people want to belong and be seen as normal, if not extraordinary. They want to have purpose and they want to contribute to something, anything that is bigger than they are. This goes for all people, regardless of age, all around the world, and in all economic groups. In fact, it may be more important to people the longer they are alive.” So I love that quote, because it really resonated with the essence of my podcast, which is, what do you do after you leave your second act, your big job? So what innovative ideas do you see happening globally in helping people to find purpose if they’re going to live a much longer life after they’ve stopped with sort of their big job?
Bradley Schurman (38:28):
It’s a hard question because so much about finding who you are is on you, and carving out your niche in the world. And it requires a lot of work to remain relevant and cool and centered in zeitgeist, or a driver of influence. It’s not an easy thing to do. But remember this, it wasn’t easy when you were young, it’s not going to get any easier when you get older. Being part of society requires us to be constantly on. And whether we look at ourselves as tribal or pack animals, at the end of the day, we either want to be ahead or somewhere in the pack. We either want to be ahead of the pride or somewhere in the middle of it. When we fall behind, when we slip away, when we don’t keep up on technologies, when we don’t keep up on popular culture, we start to become others. And that’s a dangerous place for us to be.
Bradley Schurman (39:30):
So when I talk about individual actions, which I think is where we really need to center on more than anything else, keeping up on technology is one of the best things you can do. The second thing you really have to do on a consistent basis is network around work. Whether you stay in or leave the workforce, keep up with your colleagues inside and outside of the office, because you might want to return at some point. Perhaps take on some part time work or some consulting projects, if you’re in an office job or a knowledge job. Don’t walk away completely, please, please, please don’t walk away completely. Because when you close that door it becomes a lot harder to open up.
Bradley Schurman (40:08):
And I think the last thing is that, above all else, build a friend group that is multi-generational. Build a network group that is multi-generational. Because one of the sad stories that I hear a lot from older friends is the loss of their friend group, the erosion of their friend group. And we know that it is harder to make close friends the longer we’re on this planet. So rather than worry about your friend group eroding, because they’re of similar age or similar stage, build a friend group that’s extensive in age. I proudly say that my immediate friend group ranges from early 20s to early 80s. That’s intentional, I’m doing that for my health. I’m doing that because I gain energy from the experience of my elders and energy from the scrappiness and the spontaneity of younger people. But I’m also doing it as a way to buffer change. And building these networks of people, of friends, of professional colleagues that are different ages builds up a more resilient future for me. More people should be doing this.
Liz Tinkham (41:25):
We didn’t talk a lot about you, because your book is just so fascinating, but I want to finish with-
Bradley Schurman (41:29):
Liz Tinkham (41:29):
So I almost titled this podcast, I’m not done yet. So what aren’t you done with yet, Bradley?
Bradley Schurman (41:35):
I think I’ve really just begun. This is a brand new era for humankind. Make no mistake, we’ve never had a period like this before where our populations have changed this much in such a short period of time. We’re remaking the world right now. And I think very quickly moving from the back halls of change to the front lines has happened overnight. So building our business, The Super Age, launching a subsidiary that’s focusing exclusively on inclusive design, because I believe the future is inclusive. This is where we’re going. I really feel like I’ve just begun.
Bradley Schurman (42:12):
And I think also, being somebody who’s a late Gen-Xer, my generation and subsequent generations, we’re all kind of on board with the fact that we’re going to be working for most of our lives now. We’re reverting to the way the world was prior to the advent of pensions, prior to the post-war economy. We will work until we can’t. And we will become old based on a historic definition, when we can no longer contribute. But believing that old starts at 65 is silly. Folks need to get that out of their head right now, because that’s not what the world looks like in the near future.
Liz Tinkham (42:48):
Thank you so much for coming on this show today. And the book is fascinating. I encourage everyone to go by it. We’ll put it in the show notes. So where and when can we find the book? When does it get published? Where will we be able to find it?
Bradley Schurman (43:00):
Thanks for that. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, virtually any national or international retailer, and also in local bookstores across the country. Amazon’s of course the easiest place to get it, but Amazon is Amazon, so.
Liz Tinkham (43:15):
And it’s published which day?
Bradley Schurman (43:17):
Liz Tinkham (43:18):
Where else can we find you online?
Bradley Schurman (43:20):
You can find me at thesuperage.com. I maintain my most active social presence @BradleySchurman, that’s S-C-H-U-R-M-A-N. You can find most of my insights, I keep regular updates on LinkedIn. But we keep all social channels active, it’s just LinkedIn is a nice platform.
Liz Tinkham (43:38):
We will publish all that in the show notes. And thank you so much again, happy new year.
Bradley Schurman (43:42):
Thanks, Liz. Happy new year to you.
Liz Tinkham (43:47):
Thanks for joining me today to listen to The Third Act podcast. You can find show notes, guest bios, and more at thirdactpodcast.com. If you enjoyed our show today, please subscribe and write a review on your favorite podcast platform. I’m your host, Liz Tinkham. I’ll be back next week with another guest who’s found new meaning and fulfillment in the third act of their life.
Want to share the story of your own Third Act on our podcast? We welcome stories from executives who pivoted their careers to find their passion and purpose later in their lives. Tell us more about yourself to be considered as a guest.