“Pisa” seniors and life-long motivation

April 9, 2011 § Leave a comment

Finland has enjoyed the glory of its children who have repeatedly excelled, together with Singapore, Shanghai and Hong Kong in the Pisa test (Programme for International Student Assessment ) measuring their skills in maths, sciences, and reading. But this is not all, Newsweek has declared Finland as the best country to live in, the overall scores based on the analysis of its life related to health, quality of life, economic dynamism, and political environment.


Based on this, it should be clear to everyone in Finland and in other countries having similar intellectual and human advantages that in the very near future, they will all have an increasingly large number of activity-motivated, skillful, knowledgeable, learning and networked senior citizens. This number increases fast, and provides an extremely valuable human and social capital to any of these advanced countries. The time is also close when facebook will be conquered by the senior citizens who also will form the largest group of computer game players.

Retiring digital natives

The time of digital retired natives is close and we should find out ways to culture this potential in our societies. Strangely enough, when I have mentioned this perspective to people in Finland and in other European countries, their first interpretation, when listening to me, is that I’m just suggesting ways to enrich the life of the elderly, and “to provide a happier end” for them. I call this “Bingo attitude”, a reluctance to see the seniors as a valuable human capital asset. According to that, it is enough to provide “nice life” to the elderly.

Of course a secure life for the retired population is the number one issue, especially here in Scandinavia where we do not see social security as “government spending” but as “government investment”. But we could better take care of this investment here as well. Still there seems to be a social law in this: the younger the listener the higher the probability that he/she assumes that the elderly need only “nice life”, a retirement well deserved. But there are other views.

Being alive – really

”They want to keep us medically alive, so they better offer us something to live for”, was a comment from my friend Jerry White, living in Mountain View, not far from Palo Alto, California.  He is now 83 years old, professor of psychology, an active, witty and visionary colleague of mine. We were both engaged with the EPIC (Earth-wide, Peace, Innovation, Collaboration) project at Stanford and had started a series of discussions about this topic that Jerry had long been thinking about.

After the discussions with Jerry I asked myself the question: Could Finland be the best country in the world in providing an active, ambitious, worth living for, networked, and knowledge-rich life for its retired citizens?  A country of “Pisa seniors”. Progress in this could be a huge benefit for the whole society, not only economically but also in a very wide sense. I wrote about it also in


How should we define this kind of quality of life of the elderly and how should we think about it? Here I suggest some guidelines how to think about it and how to measure the human capital of the senior citizens. Newsweek could perhaps make a great story out of this, but first some background data from Finland.

Case Finland

The total amount of people receiving a pension here is about 1.5 million, which is about 30% of the population.  About 70000 people of age 50+ retire yearly. Roughly a third of them suffer from physical, mental or perhaps social problems so that nearly 50000 people retire in a relatively good health every year in Finland. It can be expected that this number will steadily increase. Furthermore, it is not known what could be done to alleviate the above problems by a meaningful life and activities since often the origin of them is in the working life itself.

But not only are the majority of the retiring people healthy – they also have an excellent, and every year a better educational background. The proportion of women having a university degree in Finland is close to 50% already now and for men it is about 30%. Furthermore, nearly 40% of men and 30% of women have a vocational education. In other words, in the very near future, roughly 50% of the retiring people will have a university degree and 40% will have a vocational education background.

Life-long motivation

I don’t have the data available, but it is no rocket science to claim, that people with such a high degree of education have a life-long motivation and ability to accomplish and learn.  I’m not a big fan of “life-long-learning” concept, in fact I believe it is a harmful concept since it typically looks at rational and productive learning issues and besides, I just don’t see how it could be otherwise? Where did the idea come from that life is not continuous learning? I prefer “life-long-motivation” that looks at the power and color of life and engagement in people. The idea of good life for the retiring people will change.

It is a major mistake to assume that retired people would have, somehow automatically, a low ambition level in what they do. Why should this be the case? This false assumption may not be explicitly mentioned, but the idea hides often between the polite “Bingo attitudinal” comments. In fact, because the retired citizens are not bound by the operational and time-line related constraints and pressures of working life, they can afford a very high ambition level in anything that they do – even higher knowledge ambition than their colleagues in working life. And they have their range of experiences, and networks – real networks of life, work and business, not virtual or facebook “friends”.

Everyone knows what the lean organization development has caused at work places: people don’t have enough time to learn new things, while there is a continuous need for new and improving knowledge. So the question is: how many of the retired people would be competent enough and motivated to be engaged with such organizational and business activities? We don’t know, but we should. I would take a rough guess that if in Finland we were able to offer inspiring ways for the retired people to be engaged with real and ambitious working life then approximately 50% of them per year would be ready to participate. In Finland that would mean approximately 25000 highly skilled people every year. This is about the same amount that our universities accept students per year but the recruitment of the seniors is not a cost but an income to the government.

They never come back?

The main question is, however, would retired people be interested in the presently available ways of working with different partners or partner companies. Probably not, since there is very little variety of such models and there are not many success models to follow. Companies and the young management are not prepared for this either. Besides, the public encouragement to this kind of dynamic work arrangements is practically lacking in Finland where we have an extremely one-eyed and focused discussion and argumentation about making the working career longer or increasing the formal retirement age. This is v-e-r-y stupid policy. Simple as that.

We need new and fresh models for engaging the motivated retiring people with real and ambitious work – for those who want to do it, within their own limits and within their personal comfort zone, but with high ambition level and for the benefit of their partner companies and organizations. Luckily we have people who have realized this and seen its huge potential value. One of them is a friend of mine, Marko Parkkinen one of the leading and visionary entrepreneurs in Finland. But we loose a pool of valuable human and social capita every year if we just let things proceed as usual. There is also a Bingo-risk that after 2-3 years of retirement it becomes difficult to start building the networks and engagement: people find their ways of spending their lives as best they can and that is their right.

Start measuring and improve the awareness of it

A good way to boost this type of offerings for the retiring population is to start measuring it, just like the Pisa study. Once we have measures, it becomes possible to start thinking about improving the situation for the benefit of the people and the society. But how to measure the “Pisa-quality” of the life of the retired people? Here is a first thought -list of indicators that could be used as a basis for such quality measures of senior engagement:

  1. Richness of the network with younger 50- generation people
  2. Richness of the network with other people
  3. Time spent in organizational activities of the third sector
  4. Time spent in business & org life activities
  5. Time spent in studying new topics
  6. Estimated material capital outcome of these activities
  7. Estimated immaterial material capital outcome of these above activities
  8. Experienced subjective quality of all these activities
  9. Attitude of younger generation people towards the retired people

I’m not a specialist in this issue so my numbers can well be biased but I  have used some statistical data to support my arguments and you can find relevant data from, for example in 2009 Suomen virallinen tilasto/Finlands officiella statistik/Official Statistics of Finland.

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