Blended Futures of Aging & Business Innovation
Joseph F. Coughlin is director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab (http://agelab.mit.edu). His research explores how demographic change, technology and consumer behavior drive innovations in business and society. Coughlin teaches in MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the Sloan School's Advanced Management Program. He is author of the new book The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World's Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market (Public Affairs, 2017).
Communications and convenience giant (Nasdaq: RIMM) RIM, the maker of the ubiquitous Blackberry, sees a number of defining trends ahead. These reflect the themes of my own research and are cornerstones of the MIT AgeLab
Motley Fool's Dan Dzombak January 26 article, "4 Key Trends RIM's Futurist Foresees," reports on a talk given by RIM's Manager of Innovation & Technology Futurist, Joseph Dvorak, PhD. Dr Dvorak identifies four trends affecting the future of the smart phone:
(1) Aging world: the median age on the planet in 2000 was 26, by mid-century it will be 36 and the number of people over 60 will triple -- to nearly two billion people;
(2) Connectivity: smart phones, other devices and wireless providers will blur activity, place, and push trends we already see in social media and interaction;
(3) Empowered consumers: Consumers will continue to adopt tools that help them monitor and manage their relationship with companies, e.g., social media that advises on everything from restaurant choices, to financial services, to 'hey, where's my package?'
(4)'Values' purchasing (e.g., green consumers). Values purchasing is not just for kids. Where there is a rise in 'color causes' (my phrase) -- buying green, supporting pink, and helping red -- aging baby boomers are increasingly interested in their social impact and legacy. That is, 'what am I contributing and what will I leave behind?'
Insight & Innovations
Alone these trends are interesting and business as well as government must be aware of their possible impact on the future. However, the future of aging and innovation is a blending of these trends - not the extension of any one.
What happens when older consumers are ubiquitously connected, empowered and make purchase decisions on values beyond cost and quality? For example, what might wireless-enabled health or caregiving services in the pocket of an aging boomer look like? Will ubiquitous computing power, social media, and value purchasing create virtual collaborative networks of service providers for sandwiched boomers today and frail boomers tomorrow? Can you imagine the emergence of a 24/7 on-demand, always 'visible' on your smart phone, green, transportation service for a social network of 'friends?'
The business opportunity is not to be simply aware of these trends, but to blend them, envision competing realities and to see these alternative futures as drivers of product and service innovation.
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