It is your job, say, to name trends across the cultural, political and commercial sectors. Your clients have a boundless appetite for insights about the future, a future they very much want to reach before their competitors or their regulators or their voters. The task – distributed across reports, presentations, emails – is to bring the paying punter onto that inside track.
Does it make any difference if you, inadvertently or otherwise, identify yourself as a forecaster with the age of 25? Or 45? Or 65? Do ageing and cumulated experience make you any better at the job?
Well, let’s think. If you are well past the first blush, does anyone ever ask you how many recessions you have correctly predicted over your career? Mangling Leonard Cohen, does such a person ever go on to say anything like : “You should have seen it coming / After all, you knew the chart!”. The cruel fact is that, if you have been in the trends biz long enough, it is perfectly legitimate for a client, actual or potential, to say : “OK. Summarise your greatest hits, tell of those moments when you totally hit the nail on the nob, do speak of your successes, the mature as much as the pubescent!”.
It is certain that some forecasters of any given age are really good at identifying the features and the forces which matter most in any volatile environment. They can instinctually hear the marketing slogan which is going to struggle. They can tell why a boycott campaign is unlikely to affect sales. They can isolate the concerns which are really troubling the marginal voter. But it is inherent in the trade that the more multiple and the more specific the forecast – the more often these forecasters plump – the greater the chances of getting things wrong.
Amidst this, the younger operative enjoys something of a free pass. Nobody asks of the twentysomething : “Why did it take you so long to become aware of the impact of global warming and the rise of green consumerism?”. But the over-50 operative may well be asked just that.
Meanwhile, fans of not-all-that-successful clubs from the lower divisions know that whenever the management announces that it has purchased an “experienced” midfielder, then he is instantly known – by that word alone – to be rubbish. How many professionals alive today will realistically claim that they have a good record at anticipating recessions (not frequent but can be devastating)? How many footballers who have passed through six different clubs are truly still on their way to the top-flight?
Some of you may, with serious conviction and perhaps even justifiability, believe there is a great erotic novel inside you, just burning to see the light. Perhaps you even reach the point of delivering a synopsis to a publisher. Should you be surprised or upset when she, perhaps with only her eyes, asks of you : “I notice that you are 67 years of age – so, assuming your book is a marketplace success, how many other titles will you be able to produce for me before you get sick, get institutionalized or get dead?”. No. And welcome to life.
Alive and throbbing across the Western world today is an intellectual assault on the traditional concept of retirement. Quite right too. One should keep going, keep finding good purposes for as long as. But nobody has the right to a profession for life. Let us all stop bleating that after 30 years working as an accountant, banker, schoolteacher, security guard, musician, whatever… “systems” will not give us interviews any more for the same old roles! For if we are not careful we will inadvertently conspire with those who wish to abolish or dilute pension rights and payments – making as if ageing does not really exist at all.
It is good news that in the UK the population of those over 65 who are in employment has recently (we write in 2023) risen to ca 1.5 million – a record. This has been driven by the increase in part-time payroll people and in those who are part-time self-employed. Good news indeed – and, in spite of the clamour from some quarters, there should be no tax cuts for the greys. If revenue from a pension plus from a wee job puts you over the threshold – then so be it! Anyone with an eye on social care provision absolutely does not want the state to be re-financed downwards.
All this said, what could be more patronising than declaring the ageing alone makes you smart or happy or collaborative – or any permutation thereof? And it is easy to make an inventory of the illnesses which preponderantly attack the older citizen. That citizen certainly needs encouragement and support and realism to stay in the workforce as long as they can – eschewing volunteering where a tax-bearing job opportunity exists. We simply cannot do every job just as, no matter how fabulously talented I am, my days as a professional footballer will quite possibly never start. Like Leonard also sings : I was always working steady. But I never called it art.