AgeTech: for the payers or for the users?

AgeTech is the general designation of technologies, digital or not, that are developed to target the problems of old age, Up until very recently, these were often “big, beige and boring”, as they were designed assuming the old population as a homogeneous mass of people that are too old to have any interests and likings. In recent years, however, there is an active effort to build solutions, specially when thinking of remote monitoring and sensors, that are appealing, can pass as bijouterie or a piece of decoration. This reflects a big improvement on the way old people are seen in our society and hopefully means that progressively we will stop disregarding old people’s experiences, opinions and existence. Of course, the practical reason for this is the fact that currently the boomer generation is the generation with the highest buying power, making them a very sought after market. Boomers are also quite picky (and I say this humorously): as a generation, they are used to a certain (high) standard of life, they have some technological expertise, and they have (obviously) interests and likings.

Due to increasing life span, the boomer generation is not only buying AgeTech products for themselves, but also for their parents. Which brings us to the title of this post. Who is paying for AgeTech? The users or their care givers and governments? Often, AgeTech is chosen by payers looking for help taking care of their loved ones, which creates a disparity in expectations and usage. Caretakers often want to get access to the highest possible amount of data about their loved-ones, whereas the older population – that needs to use these products continuously for that aim to be achieved – often feels vulnerable in sharing the type of data that highlights their frailty.

To overcome this, and according to “The AgeTech Revolution”, it is important to identify the end user and “empathise with their fears and concerns an tailor our products accordingly”, for example, by allowing “customizations and have certain features that are “opt-in”, specially those regarding privacy.

Getting old, staying well

Getting old is inevitable but scary as it comes with loss of capabilities. Among them, loosing cognitive capability either due to normal aging or more severe conditions such as dementia rates quite high on concerns of old age. Nevertheless, loss of physical capabilities is perhaps more important as it determines a person’s sphere of action, which influences one’s social network, which in turn is one of the biggest determinants of happiness, life span, and quality of life. The reason behind it, being the purpose that comes with living a well integrated life.

A key aspect of keeping a well integrated life for long is the ability to perform the regular “activities of daily living” (ADL). According to the book “The AgeTech Revolution”, these are: to move one’s body independently, to feed, bathe, and groom oneself, to get dressed and to have bladder and bowel control, as well as to actually use the toilet independently. In essence, ADL are the essential and routine activities that younger adults can perform without assistance. According to the same source, on top of these essential activities, there are “instrumental activities of daily living” which include the ability to get to places, to shop for groceries, to manage personal finances, to prepare meals. to clean the house, to manage medication and to communicate with other people through phone or email.

Interestingly, it seems to me that both in the book and in the community at large, most solutions in AgeTech target the instrumental activities of daily living (iADL), by (semi-)automatizing the process of scheduling and buying services, as well as by outsourcing (i.e., providing human support for) transportation, meals’ preparation, cleaning and overall management of daily life.

Change vs Transformation

Last year, when I was looking for a job and had to think about my strengths and weaknesses, I started wondering whether I like/embrace change. After struggling for a few weeks, I decided that “I embrace change initiated by me, and I am averse to change initiated by others”. Averse is too strong of a work. Basically I do I adopt change willingly, but I do not jump into it as soon as it is announced.

Recently, I came across with a very interesting concept, that change and transformation are different things, which seem to explain my conclusion about my own posture on change.

Change can be planned or not, and not always requires active participation of the affected people. It has a low to moderate risk and most importantly, it has clear boundaries and is contained within one individual “process”/individual/initiative/topic. After change is accomplished, the new normal is very similar to the past. Hence, change is simple and conservative,

On the other hand, transformation is always planned and intentional, as it requires active adoption and participation by all people involved. It has a high degree of risk and is not defined in time or scope. Transformation works as a vision for the future that can be achieved by an iterative process of trial and error. After a transformation, the new normal does not resemble the past, making transformation profound and radical.

In the past, when asked to participate in transformation, I have assumed that 1) I am asked to participate in a (small) change, that has a clear plan that is not fully communicated, or 2) the people have no clue of what they are doing. It seems that the option number two not only is often the most common, it is also how it is supposed to be. In transformation, the magnitude of change is so high that often there is only a guideline of what is supposed to be achieved. Nevertheless, this is no excuse for not having proper communication throughout and help all the involved people understanding and dealing with what is asked from them.

“Rethinking flexibility at work” – comment on Adam Grant’s podcast

I was listening to this podcast while doing some hands on experiments at work and it resonated with me as it points to a few things I have been thinking lately.

First, lets start with clarifying that according to Adam Grant and the people he interviewed, there are three items of importance for well being at work. These are purpose, people and priorities.

Making sure that the team has purpose can be done in several ways. I would highlight making sure that the mission and values (i.e., company culture) are clear and the basis for interaction and decision making. Another way (mentioned in the podcast), which I would welcome dearly, is to give employees the possibility to allocate 10% of their working time to a personal project. For this to make sense to the employer, the “personal-project” cannot interfere with the regular work on company’s projects, and should have the potential of becoming of interest for the company. As crazy as this sounds, there are good examples of side projects that turned out of benefit for the company, such as “Gmail”. For these projects to be useful, people need to earn their manager’s trust before they can embark on a side quest. Also, they need to show commitment and to keep the information flow quite high with a dedicated sponsor and other team members that can establish connections needed to advance the project and help with decision making.

Priorities is also a great topic. On the podcast, it was mentioned that if there are multiple projects that need to be done and enough people with similar characteristics, asking people if they prefer a certain project over other is a great strategy. This flexibility could even be used as a reward to compensate for well delivered goals.
However, the example that really made me think, was that of creating three types of time: quiet time, collaborative time and off-time. Off-time is really the most basic: no work after “working hours”. As for quiet and collaborative time. This becomes complicated in big teams and with new remote-work and 4-day week policies.

Quite time is time dedicated to focused and creative work that should be done in isolation, whereas collaborative time includes meetings and creative time in group, with people who have different backgrounds and experiences.

Combining several things I have been reading and listening to, and without crediting the work, because I tend to remember ideas but not authors, a possible way to ensure a good separation between these two types of time would be by having dedicated days to be in person in the office, such as Tuesday to Thursday during which meetings are scheduled and creative-group work is also schedule. In person time helps with learning/mentoring, and specially with trust development, as mostly these are a product of interactions and we are still hard-wired for face to face interaction. Another good point of this podcast is that everyone needs some predictability and scheduled collaborative time does not kill the creativity that arises from spontaneous interactions. As a bonus, by allowing people to have quite time to advance their projects, it ensures that there is no need to abdicate from “off-time” and that people don’t feel the need to multitask in meetings.

If I think about my work habits. I am still trying to find what would be my preferred way of organising work. But all of this sounds incredible close to it.

What changed with two years of COVID-19?

Scientific American has dedicated this month’s magazine to the COvid-19 pandemic. It is indeed 2 years from the first lockdown measures in Europe and so much and so little seems to have changed.

Prompt by this, I have tried to identify the good and the bad things of these two years. On a personal level, I am very happy and still surprised that in the very beginning so many people were so willing to give up some personal freedoms and stayed home to “flatten the curve”. On the other hand, the delay on mask mandates even if for a good cause – to make sure that healthcare professionals had enough protective equipment -, was quite unbelievable. Moreover, I am still not sure what news were broadcasted in the west part of this country, that still to this day people don’t wear masks but thoroughly disinfect the shopping carts (contrary to the east side).

Coming back to the Scientific American list, here is a selected list of what they think has changed in two years of COVID-19 pandemics:

– Society felt that the common good is above individualism;
– Science and politics came together and it was made clear how each influence the other;

– Inequality got much worse: “The poor, no matter where they live, suffer the greatest lasting toll”
– Journalists grasped the concept that “absence of evidence is no evidence of absence”;

– Science started happening live and results no longer need to be completely polished before being made public;
– COVID set off a boom in diagnostics, based on PCR technology;
– American Public Health Revealed its fragility;

– The mRNA technology was the greatest success of the pandemics;
– Long haulers called attention to chronic illness;

– Nasal spray preventives went into development;
– Lockdowns showed the promise of cities with fewer cars;
– Work changed forever.