020: Strategically Spending Your 100 Years with Lynda Gratton

By June 6, 2016Podcasts

 

Lynda Gratton headshot and quote “In a long life, intangible assets become really important” from interview in episode 20 of the How to be Awesome At Your Job Podcast with Pete Mockaitis

 

Living for a century will soon become the norm. Psychologist Lynda Gratton explains how this new found longevity will alter the stages of life, and what this means for your career.

You’ll learn:

1) The massive implications a 100-year life has on your career strategy
2) The importance of spending time with people at different ages
3) An easy tool that allows you to step back and ‘audit’ your own intangible assets, at any point in your career

About Lynda
Lynda Gratton is a Professor of Management Practice at London Business School where she directs the world’s leading program on human resources. Her eight books cover topics related to the impact of a changing world on employment and work. In 2012, her book The Shift received the business book of the year award in Japan and has been translated into more than 15 languages. Lynda has been named one of the top 50 management thinkers in the world.

Items mentioned in the show: 

Lynda Gratton Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Lynda, thank you so much for being on the “How to be awesome at your job” podcast.

Lynda Gratton
My pleasure.  Very nice to speak to you today.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.  Well, you have a very impressive bio, and I’d love to hear maybe something fun about you that does not show up in the credentials in the top thinker lists.

Lynda Gratton
Fun about me?  I like to do lots of things, I like to hang around swimming in the Mediterranean, I like to garden in my house in London, I like to travel.  We just came back from some very exotic places – we’ve been to North Korea, we just recently went to Iran.  So, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
North Korea?  Wow.

Lynda Gratton
I’m an adventurer.  Yeah, North Korea.

Pete Mockaitis
It does sound interesting.  And it sounds like in your book you’re saying that many of us will have more years for adventuring in the 100 year life.  Could you share with us a little bit what is the background context for how you found this to be an interesting and worthwhile topic to dig into, and its implications?

Lynda Gratton
Well, my last book was called The Shift.  And in it I really took a look at how is the world changing and how is technology, and a whole set of other forces, really re-shaping our work and re-shaping our careers.  And one of the forces that came out was increasing longevity – the fact that so many of us are going to live a great deal longer.  And I sort of rather left it at that, until a colleague of mine – Andrew Scott – who’s a professor here with me at London Business School, he and I started to talk more about what happens when everybody lives to 100 years.  And suddenly that became our igniting question, and for three years that’s all we thought about.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fascinating.  And so you lay out many implications for kind of governments and educational institutions and individuals.  But first I just kind ofwant to level set that The 100-Year Life story, isn’t just kind of a catchy title – these are actual life expectancy data and values that we’re seeing these days, right?

Lynda Gratton
Yes, absolutely.  Over the last 100 years or so, every ten years the generation born that year are predicted to live two years longer than the generation before.  So clearly, we are just living longer and longer and longer.  And there’s been a lot of controversy about how long people will live; some people say actually the age that we’re living to now will level off because we’re all eating too much and not exercising enough; others are saying, “No, no, there’s a whole new set of medicines and ways of thinking about the body that is going to push it right up to 140”. 

We’re not demographers… Andrew Scott, my co-author, and I, are not demographers.  He’s an economist, I’m a psychologist.  So we sort of read the demographic literature very carefully and we came to the conclusion that you would be wise to imagine suddenly if you’re young – and by young I mean in your twenties – that you will live until you’re a 100 years old.

And even though you might not, that’s a risky assumption in terms of building a life over that period of time.  Now, someone like me – I’m in my sixties – it’s unlikely that I will live to 100, although I might; it’s more likely that I’m going to live to ninety, ninety five. But even then, that’s still a lot longer than my parents, and of course a great deal longer than my grandparents.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.  And I saw you had a great ladder graphic image on your website which we’ll link in the show and know it’s there, in which it showed, “Hey, you’re born in this year this is kind of the expected median life expectancy.  And for those born in 1987-ish, which I’ve got many listeners around that area, you’re expecting to be around 97 years, so just about 100 years is the normal median, as opposed to an achievement worthy of getting in the newspapers.

Lynda Gratton
Absolutely.  It’s very interesting, isn’t it, that suddenly in the UK the Queen used to send – or perhaps still does actually – letters to everybody who’s become 100 years old.  In Japan they get a silver…But both of those have really come under dispute because there’re just so many.  Well, Japan has actually stopped it completely, and I think the UK does but there’s quite a lot of secretaries that now have to send these notes from the Queen.  So being 100 isn’t going to be at all exceptional, and even when we ask my MBA students, “How many people do you know who are over 100?”  They don’t know very many.  Well, they will know a great deal more as they themselves age.

Pete Mockaitis
And so I now want to dig into a bit of these implications here.  In your personas, you call it the person in her 20s, Jane.  And you broke it down that the 3 stages of education, career, retirement, isn’t really going to be so lockstep anymore.  Can you give a prospective?  So, what can someone working in their twenties or thirties kind of expect from the future decades of work evolving?

Lynda Gratton
Well, as you rightly say, most people, and certainly corporations, and indeed governments, the tacit assumption is that people will have a period of full-time education and they will then move from full-time education to work, and then they will leave full-time work and move into some retirement, and that will take place in lockstep.  Most people will leave full-time education in their early to mid twenties, and most people will leave full-time work in their early to mid sixties. 

This just is not going to be happening in the future.  And there’s two reasons.  Well, the major reason for that, is the analysis that we’ve done, show that the probability is that if you want to retire at 50% of your final income, which most of us do, and if you save maybe 10% of your income from the time that you start working,and you expect to live to 100, you’ll be working well into your eighties.

And people I know feel unhappy and annoyed about that., it’s sort of a reality really.  And so our book is about how do we make this reality something that’s a marvellous gift rather than something that’s a terrible curse.  So, if you’re Jane and you’re in your mid twenties, as my own children are, then you will look forward to many stages of life; it won’t simply be three stages, it can’t possibly be.  And we think that’s a marvelous gift, and we think those who really hold that gift, will lead productive and interesting and exciting lives.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m curious – what are some of the other stages?  I’m thinking about one of our… someone helping with the podcasts, Emily.  She’s almost on a mini-retirement for a few months in Argentina.  She had several years of working in advertising, and now it’s sort of time for a timeout, and then another career after that.  Is that what you envision by multi-stage or how would that work?

Lynda Gratton
Yes. Certainly you’re absolutely right.  There are new stages emerging.  And actually if you look around, just as you saw with Emily, you can already see people beginning to really want those stages… Remember that it took society many, many decades to come to terms with the idea of teenagers.  It took society many, many years to come, that case to come to the idea retirees, so what might those new stages be?  Well, here’s three that we think are already emerging, and we think will become much more part of many people’s lives.

The first, as you’ve said from watching your colleague is what we would call a period ofexperimentation and exploration.  Right now the exploration stage tends to happen when people come out of college.  Certainly here in Europe, the gap here is very much something that young peopledo, but we think it’s perfectly reasonable that people want to move into periods of exploration at different times of their lives.

Secondly, one of the curses in the sense of these new artificial intelligence and robotics and platforms is that they destroyed many middle-income jobs, and we talk about that in the book.  However, what they also do is to provide platforms and opportunities for people to build their own businesses, small businesses, and to connect to the products of the world, and indeed the customers of the world.  And we think more and more people are going to be doing that.  So we see anew stage that we call the “individual producer” emerging.

And finally, for people in their sixties and seventies, right now some of them are building what you might call a portfolio career, where they do a number of different jobs, some of which are paid and some of which aren’t, and we think that that’s a very sensible way of balancing the sort of assets that you need.  And so why wouldn’t people do that at different stages in their lives?

And so, when we ask our own MBA students, who are in their mid twenties, to write their life script and to think about all the stages that they’re going to go through, what’s really fascinating is how different those are.  Each person has really created their own script, and that’s a marvelous thing to watch really, to see how they could be much more responsive to their own needs and their own interests and aspirations.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I guess that makes me curious then, if we’re kind of wrestling with, grappling with this implication of multiple stages and unique script and there’s many more years perhaps than we had budgeted or thought about,kind of entering into careers, what would you say are some of the key takeaways, sort of action items assignments that people working in their twenties and thirties should really kind of elevate more toward the top for their lists, that maybe they hadn’t thought about before?

Lynda Gratton
Yeah, we think a good framing for this – and we spent lots of time on our own thinking and writing, developing this framing – is to think about the way that you spend your time as spending time to build assets.

Now, historically we thought about the major assets that we have, being money, pensions, salary, income, the money you put into your house.  And actually those tangible assets do turn out to be really, really important.  So one ofour first takeaways for twenty year old – and I say this to my own children – is, get into the habit of saving.  Ask yourself what would your eighty year old self want you to do right now.  And occasionally, your eighty year old self will say, “Stand back from that expensive cup of coffee and put the money into the bank.”

So we think that’s really important in terms of tangible assets.  But of course, in a long life, intangible assets become really important.  And there’s a number of actions that someone in their mid twenties can take right now to make sure that they’re building their intangible assets rather than depleting them.

So here’s three of the intangible assets, and some ideas about how you might develop them.  The first is productive assets, so the assets that help you remain productive right through your life.  What are those things?  Well, one of them obviously is valuable skills.  And that means that whilst you, at the age of twenty, may be investing right now in education, and that’s a marvelous thing to do, you have to really bear in mind that one shot education is not going to be enough for you.  And you have to start planning for coming back either to full-time education or maybe taking time off at various points in your life to refresh and to rescale.  So that’s one of our views about how you would really build that.

The second aspect of productive assets is reputation, and of course in the past people’s reputation came from the company they worked with.  If you worked with GE or Walmart or a company that everybody knows, that was your reputation.  But when you’re thinking about moving to different companies, you have to build your reputation on your own.  So how do you do that, and how do you show others that you’re somebody’s who’s skillful and trustworthy?

And then thirdly in terms of  productive assets, we know that people learn a lot from being mentored and coached, so find yourself a mentor, deliver now, develop now mentoring relationships.  So that’s why some of the ways that we think people can build productive assets, but there’s also two other types of assets – one is around your own vitality, which is how do you keep healthy and how do you invest now in keeping healthy and keeping a work-life balance.

And finally the new asset class, which we believe to be very important, especially for young people,is how do you learn to transform yourself.  And here’s the thing – people who are good at transforming themselves are able to have deep knowledge about who they are, self knowledge, and that comes from listening to others and getting feedback, and more importantly they have diverse networks.

And so what I would say to any twenty year old right now is make sure you’re spending time with people who are not the same as you, ‘cause you never know in that broad network of people who are different from you in terms of age and gender and function and nationality, there may be people who are rather similar to what you would like to become next.

Now, it’s also really important for people to audit where they are at any point in time and to help them to do that, if you go to our website www.100yearlife.com, you’ll see that we’ve built a short diagnostic that helps you to work out whether you’re currently investing in your assets, whether you’re simply maintaining them, or whether indeed you’re actually running them down.  And I think that’s a really useful thing for anybody to do.

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds very useful.  And so I’m curious then, in terms of the course of your research, you talk about self-knowledge and diverse networks in the “transforming self” category of assets.  Are there any kind of particular, I don’t know, quick wins or best practices, or kind of key activities that you really recommend folks do on a regular basis?  Sounds like one is the audit from time to time, make sure you’re on track and growing your assets.  What are some other key thingsfolks should do?

Lynda Gratton
In terms of their transformational assets?

Pete Mockaitis
Mm-hmm.

Lynda Gratton
Yeah, just look at how you spend your day everyday.  See, one thing that’s really interesting is that research particularly for middle-aged men – and I know that that’s not necessarily the group we’re talking about now – shows that the majority of people they spend their time with are very similar to them – they’re the same age, they’re the same gender and they have the same work interest.

That means that they never really spot anyone who could be what they want to be, ‘cause everyone’s the same as they are.  So I think really monitor yourself and ask yourself, “Am I being too repetitive?  Am I spending my time too much with the same people?  Am I doing the same activities over and over again?  Should I be more diverse in terms of who I spend time with, but also the activities that I engage in?”  That I think will be a quick win.

Pete Mockaitis
And that sounds like fun too.

Lynda Gratton
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
These adventures are not just for my amusement.  They’re critical to me having a quality 100-year life.

Lynda Gratton
Absolutely.  I’ve always been a great adventurer, and it’s been a marvelous part of me thinking about myself really and transforming myself, because as you move around the world and see different types of people and as you engage with different types of people, it’s very inspirational really to see somebody who’s so different.

I was at a dinner last night with a bunch of ladies; it was 9 people who meet occasionally.  And they asked me to join them for dinner and I said I’d love to do so.  Well, we were all women, so we weren’t diverse in that respect, but the youngest was 24 and the eldest was 72.  And that age diversity was absolutely crucial to the quality of the conversation.

And I do think – and it comes out very clearly in our own research – that we segment the ages far too much.  Make sure – and here’s another quick win – make sure that you’re spending time with people who are of different age to you.  And I don’t mean in a sort of parent-child relationship; I mean actually as an equal.  I heard a 24-year-old talking to a 72-year-old as equals.  Both of them had something important to say, both of them had interesting reflections about their lives.  And it was just a marvelous thing to watch actually.

Pete Mockaitis
That is lovely.  Thank you.  Well, I’m about to shift gears in our final minutes here to the fast faves segment, where I kind of ask you quick questions about your favorite book or quote or other pieces.  But before we do so, is there anything else you really want to make sure we get out there to this audience?

Lynda Gratton
No, I think focus on the assets… One thing we haven’t talked about at all is your relationship with your family.  And we devoted a whole chapter in the book to that.  And really what we’re saying is traditionally, in shorter lives, it really worked with one partner taking responsibility for tangible assets,i.e. making the money, and the other taking responsibility for intangible assets – bringing up the children, building a community.

We think that that’s a very risky strategy, and we think that more and more couples and indeed anyone who’s living with somebody else will have to think much more creatively about how both of them contribute to the development of both tangible and intangible assets.  And that requires partnership that’s going to be much more based on trust and commitment than perhaps was required in the past.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood, thank you.  Well then, shifting gears here.  Could you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you again and again?

Lynda Gratton
I don’t have any favorite quotes.  Perhaps I should.  Sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
No problem.  How about a favorite study or a piece of research you find yourself referencing repeatedly?

Lynda Gratton
I’ve just got loads of those.  Right back to Paul Evans’ work 30 years ago called Must Success Cost So Much?, where he interviewed men about their experiences of trying to fathers, which I find just incredibly sort of thought-provoking.  Right through to Charles Hanby’s work on how people manage portfolios.  I think Friedman’s work on how you balance work and life.  These are all sort of marvelous things.  And of course as a psychologist you get pulled back to Jung in particular in terms of his thinking about how people manage their conscious and unconscious lives.  And I read quite of lot actually of psychotherapy and psychotherapists around how people manage their lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting.  And so that’s what my next question is, do you have a particular life management habit or personal practice you found has really been instrumental for your effectiveness?

Lynda Gratton
Well, I try to work out what my best moments are, really.  And so, overtime obviously I’ve worked out what those are.  So for example what happened today – I know that I’m at my most creative first thing in the morning, so I tend to block out the mornings for writing.  And I did that this morning and it was a very good thing to do.

I know I’m quite introverted, so although I love teaching – I was teaching all last week – I really need time on my own and I really need down time or else I get really, really tired.

I know that traveling and adventures are very important to me and I always give time every year to go to a place or a couple of places I’ve never been to before.  Ethiopia, incredible place, Rwanda…I’m just  booking a holiday to Argentina. For me just seeing the world is a huge source of excitement and I know that that makes me feel better.  Because I mean to be working into my eighties, so I’m going to have a lot of fun even whilst I do so.

Pete Mockaitis
Good thought, good thought.  And can you share with us, what’s a favorite sort of nugget of yours or a piece of content that when you share it really gets folks kind of nodding their heads, re-tweeting or highlighting in the Kindle version of your books?

Lynda Gratton
Well, I think one of the sort of exciting aspects of moving from more traditional lives to moving to the sort of lives we describe in The 100-Year Life, is that you’ve just got more opportunities to be yourself, and I really think that if you can explore who you are and describe who you are, that’s just a wonderfully invigorating, energizing thing.  And if you can really focus on how you’re at your very best and try to develop the habits to increase that, then again I think that’s a marvelous thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.  And do you have a favorite sort of parting thought or challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Lynda Gratton
Well, organizations are incredible context creators for people.  Sometimes you’re in a company where you just feel so energized and sometimes you’re in a company that you feel so downhearted about.  And I think I would recommend to people that they’re very thoughtful about finding places that energize them, and not to rush into the selection process; really try and understand what is this place going to be like, and actually use as much time as possible to do that.  And then secondly, of course give a place time, but if after a year you still hate it, then just leave.  I think caustic, unhappy workplaces are a terrible thing and people should definitely walk away from them if they can.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect.  Well, thank you – a good reminder there.  Lynda, this has been so fun, and we’ll provide links to the 100yearlife.com and other resources.  Is there any kind of particular way you’d like for folks to find you or reach out to you?

Lynda Gratton
Yes, please do just come to our website and you’ll see that we have a whole narrative going on there – you can take the diagnostic and you can come to get your story, and people are really doing that at the moment.  And please do also tweet, we have a big sort of social media interest at the moment, we have a lot of press happening right now, so if you want to hear more about the reviews of the book or interviews with us, just come onto the website or follow us on our Twitter, and you’ll hear more about us and the day to day activities as we try and create the 100-year life as a debate that’s happening all over the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful, thank you.  Looking forward to that, and I wish you the best in your forty-ish years to come!

Lynda Gratton
Thank you!

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