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Monday, 26 May 2014 20:39

Stop creating problems

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Recently I turned fifty. A friend of mine tried to comfort me by saying, "Paul, you're older than you've ever been, but younger than you'll ever be!" His attempt to comfort me, gave a new meaning to a project in which I am involved, called 'Active Ageing'. The purpose of the project is to enable people to maintain control over their lives as long as possible. In order to do so, you could create an environment for them which offers technical, social, financial and other products and services which contribute to as well as extend their independence. The type of companies that can contribute to this concept, can be found in many different sectors such as food, telecoms, banking and insurance, tourism, transport, and the housing sector. When these companies collaborate across their internal borders, that provides wonderful new opportunities to come up with innovative solutions that benefit the elderly. There is a lot of money to be made for companies willing to see what role they can play in increasing the independence and enhancing the quality of life of this growing population.

When we look at the aging population through a lens of problems, then we focus on the lack of proper pensions, health issues or labor shortages related to caring for the elderly. Instead we should be coming up with ways to collaborate in order to create more solutions and opportunities for the future, certainly when we take into account that the population structure will be much different in twenty years. In this case we have the advantage that developments are extremely predictable. The most important element in this story is the ability to leverage creative and positive thinking. That said, in the Netherlands we pay particular attention to problems. In that sense, we are a worrisome folk. For instance, when things go well, they don’t require attention, as evidenced by the statement: "No news is good news", which can be translated into: "a good message is not a message at all (i.e. we’re not interested in a message about good news)."

I learned a while ago that our government wants to make funds available to support gifted children. You may think of the term what you will, but when talent is recognized, developed and supported it makes me happy. We are all better for it, whether we are supporting thinkers, athletes, artists, business people, musicians, etc. Imagine however that the argument to support investing in gifted children was: "We need to make additional provisions for this group, otherwise they’ll get bored and cause problems in the classroom." In short, the arguments were not based on leveraging opportunities and harnessing talent, but rather on a foundation based on problems. It is worrisome that only problem-based arguments get people and governments in motion. This is unfortunate and unjustified.

If we look at countries and people who have it really hard, then you see the mother of invention often bubbles up. This works only when you look at the options you have and find ways to utilize them. Then it does not help if you feel like you’re pathetic or want others to sympathize with your terrible circumstances. You won’t be able to change your circumstances if you’ve “problematized” the situation, because that is not necessary anymore. You passed that station a long time ago and it is not where the solution lies.

In the case of the project 'Active Ageing' I advise everyone not to deny problems, but rather to see them as opportunities and then from a positive perspective to look at the actions. (or to see the changes as chances and then to take action from a positive perspective). It certainly helps to do this in cooperation with other parties. Between all the different perspectives there will certainly be a few in which the positive and constructive clearly shine through AND finding them is certainly more inspiring than taking all the burdens of the world on your shoulders. I see this as a nice example of combinatoric innovation and entrepreneurship!


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