My friend Jim was the vice president and general manager of a CBS affiliated television station for nearly 20 years. When he ascended to this lofty responsibility, he became the youngest general manager of a TV station in the nation. Today, after years of study, he is a licensed hypnotherapist and owns a clinic dedicated to helping people rid themselves of addictions, most notably cigarettes. Smoking is particularly debilitating to those who picked up the habit in the sixties or seventies and continue today. For them, quitting soon may be a matter of life or death.
My friend Dawn worked for eighteen years as a broadcast industry executive. In her last corporate job she served as CFO for a group of AM and FM radio stations. Now she is director of education for a public speaking organization. Instead of managing complex financial problems daily, she is helping others become proficient at public speaking. As more Boomers choose to reinvent themselves to become entrepreneurs and knowledge consultants, many seek public communications training as a core skill.
My friend David spent almost 30 years in the publishing industry. In addition to publishing several trade magazines during his career, he also served as vice president of a major consumer lifestyle magazine, where he was responsible for $54 million in annual revenue. Today he owns a healthcare agency providing in-home nonmedical services to elderly and disabled clients. He is taking advantage of a rapidly aging population by creating a business to serve future healthcare needs of Boomers, a generation expressing strong preferences for home care over assisted living and nursing homes.
My friends are anticipating major changes in a generation of which they are also members. Like them, many Boomers are at some stage of reinvention. My friends also personify a major “Action Type” as described in recent ethnographic research conducted by the Institute for the Future. This research has uncovered Boomers’ significant adaptation challenges and decision making approaches. From 40 in-depth interviews, the researchers discovered ten Action Types.
Each action type describes key conflicts motivating Boomers in the group — what challenges them now, their views of the current lifestage, and their expectations for the future. “Each of these action types is a narrative about how a group of Boomers currently approaches the key decisions of their lives — today and as they look into the future.”
My friends fit an Action Type referred to as “Reinventing the Self.” One fundamental challenge motivates this group: a sense of confidence about how to prepare for the unknown future but “nagging uncertainties of what the future will actually bring.”
So they act rather than react. They commit time and resources to continuous self-improvement. Jim learned the art and science of hypnotherapy. Dawn spent years participating in public speaking and training organizations, refining her skills and expertise as a public speaker. David bought a business with no prior experience and has become a leader of the burgeoning home healthcare industry.
Typical of this Action Type, they are motivated learners and well-acquainted with how to advance their education to achieve evolving goals. They don’t accept the status quo, nor do they become slaves of the past.
Two years ago I participated in an expert panel hosted by the Institute for the Future and had an opportunity to observe this talented group of futurists guide experts toward identification of seven “big stories” that form the basis of Boomer decision making.
The seven stories include:
(1) Extending capacity to live longer and work more vitally into later years (e.g. anti-aging and age mitigation);
(2) Resequencing traditional life stages (e.g. becoming a first-time father at 58);
(3) Enlarging self-help in health, housing and finance (e.g. consumer-driven healthcare);
(4) Bringing communal lifestyles into contemporary and future contexts (e.g. cohousing);
(5) Creating new kinds of institutions to address aging (e.g. Silverprint Colorado);
(6) Forming new strategies to generate wealth (e.g. a plethora of online sites marketing to Boomers); and,
(7) Using global networks to address future problems and opportunities (e.g. medical tourism).
Building on this conceptual framework, IFTF researchers then conducted in-depth interviews with an ethnically and economically diverse group of 40 Boomers, ages 43 to 61, representing rural and urban settings and geographically distributed throughout the U.S. Interviews explored each Boomer’s past major life events, their present circumstances, and how they anticipate handling future challenges. I also helped the IFTF with this phase of research by identifying and soliciting interview participants representing the Rocky Mountain Region.
In addition to “Reinventing the Self,” IFTF has identified nine other Action Types. Boomers occupying these action types are participating in their own narratives — stories about how their lives have unfolded and may evolve in the future. Action types are dynamic modes of decision making, and an individual can move out of one type and into another; thus, his or her strategies and resources for coping with change may also change.
Importantly for marketers, IFTF’s expert panel and ethnographic research — which combined is being called “Boomers: The Next 20 Years” — delivers meticulous glimpses into the diversity of decision-making styles in the Boomer generation; how these action types cope with changing opportunities and threats; and, in aggregate, what businesses can anticipate about the needs and wants of the Boomer generation during the next twenty years. This erudite research formalizes output from an expert panel and 40 intimate conversations into intriguing, challenging and motivating glimpses at the aging of a generation that will not stop challenging or changing aging.