Retiring Minds Ought to Know
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The pace of change in the most vibrant postindustrial sectors is such that the technical expertise of one’s 40s has decayed into anachronistic obsolescence by one’s 50s. Knowledge may be power, but it is also perishable. Yesterday’s hot markup language is tomorrow’s Sanskrit; last decade’s breakthrough medical procedure is next year’s malpractice. The cliché distinction between “five years’ experience” and “a year’s worth of experience five times” has seldom been more apt or more bitter. Then again, cultivating and harvesting a socioprofessional network for five more years can yield disproportionate value.
Perhaps, as some have suggested, we’ll see an explosion of “silver entrepreneurship” or “e-lancing,” as experienced practitioners launch start-ups or consulting shops. The dynamics of internal competition, promotion, and mentoring will be revolutionized if the median age skews up and 60-year-old executives who had planned to vanish into the Bermuda triangle of retirement in five years now push hard to stay for ten. If market forces and healthier lifestyles make 65 the new 50, then people in their 40s or 50s had better revisit their most fundamental assumptions about what investing in their career should mean. When you know that being on the job five additional years is inevitable, you have to have the courage and character to ask: How can I make them the most pleasant and professionally productive of my life?
Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School of Management’s Center for Digital Business, is the author of Serious Play and of a provocative blog for Harvard Business Review. Excerpted from Schrage’s June 16, 2010, post.
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