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Book review: The New Long Life

Smart new technologies. Longer, healthier lives. Human progress has risen to great heights, but at the same time it has prompted anxiety about where we’re heading. Are our jobs under threat? If we live to a hundred, will we ever really stop working? And how will this change the way we love, manage and learn from others?

In their new book, The New Long Life, global economist, professor and government advisor Andrew J. Scott and London Business School Management Practice professor Lynda Gratton draw on economics and psychology to create a framework to help us, as organisations  and individuals, to navigate the challenges ahead.

Human history is an impressive tale of collective achievement. Over thousands of years we have substantially increased our numbers, our lifespan and the resources available to us. We are today far richer and far healthier as a consequence. Human ingenuity is at the heart of this progress, bringing improvements in knowledge that, embedded in new technologies and education, create new possibilities and new opportunities. Fire, agriculture, writing, mathematics, the printing press, the steam engine, electricity, penicillin and computers are just some of the innovations that have propelled our standard of living upward. While human ingenuity has driven these improvements, progress has not always been smooth or swift. Sometimes it is painful, protracted and tumultuous – both for individuals and for society.

Take for example the switch around 10,000 years ago from foraging to farming. In the long run people became richer and healthier, but the transition to the new technologies of farming created a drop in living standards that persisted for centuries. During the UK’s Industrial Revolution a similar lag occurred, when living standards failed to improve for many in the first few decades of technological disruption. The human burden wasn’t just economic, it was also psychological. As a consequence of industrialisation, people relocated away from their families and traditional communities into fast-growing cities, often lacking support and security. They also had to learn new skills, adopt novel roles and identities, including oft-alienating ways of working.

For many experiencing this transition, a sense of progress would have felt very distant.

Both these transitions share a common pattern:  human ingenuity created technological advances which undermined existing economic and social structures which, in response, required a different form of human ingenuity – social ingenuity.

If technological ingenuity creates new possibilities based on new knowledge, then social ingenuity devises ways of living that enable these inventions to improve collectively, and individually, the human lot. But, importantly, social ingenuity does not automatically flow from technological ingenuity. And without social ingenuity, technological ingenuity does not bring unalloyed benefits.

That is why the historical pattern of progress and improvement is more evident viewed in retrospect than through the perspective of those experiencing the shift. It is also why periods – when a gap appears between these two types of ingenuity – are characterised by anxiety, transition and social experimentation.

The challenge is that for these benefits to be really felt, social ingenuity must be as widespread and as profound and innovative as technological ingenuity. That means each of us must be ingenious: be prepared to question norms, create new ways of living, build deeper insights, experiment and explore. And that also means that our institutions – be they governments, education or corporations – must also rise to the challenge of social ingenuity.

Read more from this edition of Ahead of the Curve

Table of contents

Feature one:

Practical Futurist Andrew Gril looks at the new normal and how technology can be used to effect lasting change as we return to work.

Feature two:

The challenge for restaurants has rarely been greater; with the rise of app based delivery services and now coronavirus, how can the leisure and hospitality sector adapt to survive?

Feature three:

How is the new normal going to impact on how and where we work. Our real estate team looks at how the new role of the new office is having to change at a rapid pace.

Feature four:

Our regular feature looks at the workforce of the future. How has the coronavirus lockdown impacted on how we all work? And what will this look like going forward?

Feature five:

Graphcore are a company to keep an eye on. We spoke to Nigel Toon, CEO of Graphcore – a Bristol  business which brings Brunel spirit to a modern problem.

Feature six:

The housing market has been severely hit by the lockdown with sever restrictions on house viewings. But now things have started to free up, how can the industry future-proof itself?

Feature seven:

The health and social care sector has been at the epicentre of the coronavurus pandemic. Will this solution keep residents safe, whilst managing their need for social interaction?

Feature eight:

Video conferencing has been one of the heroes of lockdown. From social quizzes to board meetings – but people who have experienced a brain injury may find VC challenging…

Feature ten:

Coronavirus has moved the concept of climate away from the front and centre of many peoples minds, but should we be taking this opportunity build back a greener future?

Feature eleven:

In our regular feature Leading Edge, a selected charity is offered exclusive access to the back page of our magazine, this month it is CESA, the cauda equina syndrome charity.

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