Aging Youth Guy Inspired to ‘Hack Longevity’
Peter Zollo
April 22, 2018

For someone who has spent the last three decades studying and advocating for youth, I’ve been a real fish out of water lately, immersed in learning about the aging population, often referred to as the “Longevity Economy.” And, as someone who for several years now has spent a special part of each day visiting his parents and other residents at a memory-care home, I’ve been personally invested (like so many Boomers) in the quality of my parents’ end of life. So, with that as personal grounding, I’ve embraced my newfound role as a student of this lifestage. And, I can’t help but imagine how it can and should change for my generation and those that follow.

One of the most exciting parts about working at Collaborata is whom I get to meet -- experts in areas way outside of my “youth comfort zone.” Lori Bitter is at the top of the list. I’ve been privileged over the past few months by the truly mind-expanding experience of working closely with Lori, who -- as the president of The Business of Aging -- is one of the most renown experts in this space. At Collaborata, we’re always on the lookout for transformative thinkers who are rooted in a deep understanding of a new audience. So, I was thrilled to be introduced to Lori, with whom it turns out I shared a WPP connection, when she was President of JWT Boom and I was CEO of TRU (JWT’s next-door neighbor in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart). 

So, my team and I approached Lori with the following question: “Imagine your dream project -- that is, what could be a truly game-changing research project that you’d jump out of your skin to lead?” Lori came back to us with an early description of what’s now “Hacking Longevity,” which is the first primary study to take a deep look at how aging differs for three American generations over age 50: the Silents, Boomers, and Xers. And, I’m proud to say it will be released later this week.

So, I’ve play a small role in helping Lori make this dream project a reality, including finding sponsors who shared the same passion, curiosity, and real need to deeply understand the future of aging.

Not surprisingly, my first call was to AARP. Appropriately enough, my contact was AARP’s SVP of Research Dr. Alison Bryant, coincidentally another youth expert who has moved to the longevity space. Alison was immediately supportive of and enthused about the concept and, with her team at AARP, helped shape it in meaningful ways.

Wells Fargo Advisors, GreatCall, and Procter & Gamble also signed on as sponsors (and we expect more to join over the few weeks). The study’s outcome: research that offers strategic implications for brands and organizations looking to serve and be relevant to Boomers and Xers over the next 30 years.

Now that I’m really getting into this older market (in more ways than one!), I’m finding that it’s a much more nuanced and developed space than I had ever imagined, and one with great promise as well as urgency. I also quickly realized how much I don’t know. So, to continue my immersion, I recently attended “The 2018 What’s Next Boomer Summit” in San Francisco. I admit to being overwhelmed not only by the number of attendees who are innovating for this segment but also by the diversity they represented in terms of expertise. As expected, one of the highlights of the conference was Lori’s workshop-style “reveal” of initial insights from “Hacking Longevity.” I admit I was pleasantly relieved to see corporate executives from Fortune 500s surprised and inspired by what Lori shared from the study. That we can still be surprised is a good reminder, of course, as to why we do research and why it’s best to start with eyes wide open (which was easy for this “old youth guy”).

And, just 10 days ago I attended AARP’s “Disrupt Aging” event at the Newseum in Washington D.C., impressively and creatively “powered” by Forbes. So, I not only was able to continue my “longevity” education in the company of so many experts, but I got to be “in the room” when “Hacking Longevity” was previewed to so many stakeholders. Click here to see an infographic AARP designed based on the “HL” data, which illustrates that I’m in the midst of the “best years of life.” (Don’t be shocked, Millennials: the best is yet to come.)

As much as I enjoyed the lively and poignant “celebrity” presentations by the likes of Suzie Orman, Cheryl Strayed, and Ann Cury, I especially appreciated how Jonathan Stevens, AARP’s SVP of Thought Leadership, presented data showing how the aging market is growing and will evolve in the coming years. Deb Whitman, AARP’s Chief Policy Officer, brought a real human-ness and advocacy to her closing remarks that resonated with me long after I returned home to Chicago.

So, based on what I’ve learned, let me now challenge you: Think of yourself at age 80, 90, or even 100. Imagine how you’d like your lifestyle to be at that age so that looking ahead is exciting and new rather than scary or sad.

Remember, you’re not going to change all that much (you are who you are!). So, think about how your future octogenarian lifestyle can be “generation-appropriate”  (so, don’t imagine living out your golden years in a “facility” to the music of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra). Instead, think about aging in place, enabled by new technology, so that you can do, learn, and be what you want. Okay, maybe there’ll be some U2, Metallica, and even Kanye blasting in the background.

Think about this: How will your life continue to be enriching, valuable, yet still be your style? Imagine recreation at age 90 so you’re participating in what you genuinely enjoy. And, to borrow from AARP’s Deb Whitman, what else do you want to be when you grow up? How are you going to hack longevity? You just might be ready to reinvent yourself again by your eighth or ninth decade -- finding a new career, a new passion, and new ways to contribute and help others. Imagine that.