Aging is a touchy subject for the aged, the aging, and the young alike. Undoubtedly, older adults don't want to look old, feel old, or be reminded of their old age in any way. Being old is often associated with being slow and sluggish. Its associations extend to canes, lots of pills to take, chronic health conditions, ugly wrinkles, impaired hearing and sight, burdens for loved ones, and so on. No one wants to be associated with these things! At the same time, many younger people don't perceive aging as something relatable and fun. In fact, many of us cannot go beyond the challenges posed by the process of aging to realize the many underlying opportunities that these challenges bring with them. For example, why not see retirement as a beginning rather than an end. Why not turn a sad and lonely nursing home into a fun and active community for older adults to engage with each other or with younger generations in a much more meaningful way!
The older demographic is getting bigger and bigger every year, yet still underserved and often neglected even by big established companies. There are still so many great ideas and solutions we need to discover! Younger generations (like me) have the creativity, energy, and agility it takes to help turn challenges of population aging into business opportunities and solutions for our society. All we have left to do is deepen our understanding and broaden our perspective.
These are some of the reasons why I decided to dedicate the entire session of Design Thinking EP.2 at C asean to the topic of Thailand's rapidly aging population. I wanted to see my audience's level of interest, as well as their perspectives and unique approaches to this more-relevant-than-ever phenomenon. I introduced my very own 4Es that, to me, are key to understanding and working with/for older adults. These 4Es are empathizing, enabling, empowering, and entertaining. In other words, understand their emotional needs (verbal and nonverbal), unlock their constraints (e.g. physical challenges and immobility), unleash their potential (e.g. professional and life experiences, time, money, connections, and resources), and uplift their overall wellbeing by making them happy and their lives fulfilled.
I was happy that my audience took my 4Es model on such creative, innovative, and nontraditional directions. For example, one team came up with a Stephen Hawking-inspired chair that can detect older users' nonverbal cues and translate them into action. This cool idea is based on their need analysis that many older adults may not always be able to communicate exactly what they want or do what they want, partly due to physical challenges or generational differences. Another idea is a community for older adults with a catchy name, Jig-Goh Club (English: Hooligan Club). The goal of this community is to empower older adults, bring out their unique potential and invaluable experiences, and create opportunities for them beyond the point of their retirement. Members of Jig-Goh Club may be invited to give TED-Talk-style talks or given internship or job opportunities in fields that they want to venture into. What I truly love about these business ideas is how they see older adults as humans. Humans with emotions. Humans with so much potential and so much impact. Humans who still want to enjoy life and live it in a meaningful way. I was happy that my audience were inspired by my 4Es and looked at the bright side, the positives, and the FUN of aging instead of feeling constrained by it. One of the participants was right when he said that aging is no longer about age. We can't really define this big target group by age ranges anymore. It's all about needs at this point. As I mentioned during the session, some needs are unique to each niche, others are simply profound human needs (e.g. love, family, and wellness). This is where Design Thinking comes into play. Design Thinking helps us identify, understand, and solve needs of our older demographic in unique, creative, and human-centered ways.
In the near future, I look forward to further researching and exploring more possibilities and opportunities related to population aging. This phenomenon is real, inevitable, and here to stay. It's no longer survival of the fittest.
It's survival of the most agile. Those who can see opportunities first... and act on them fast!