The Longevity Economy: A book review by Bob Morris

The Longevity Economy: Unlocking the World’s Fastest-Growing, Most Misunderstood Market
Joseph F. Coughlin
PublicAffairs (November 2017)

If you’re in search of a “blue ocean” of business opportunity, look no further

In their classic work, Blue Ocean Strategy, W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne explain “how to create uncontested market space and make the competition irrelevant.” According to Joseph Coughlin, that market space is in fact now emerging and will be actively contested (that’s the bad news) but here’s the good news: few of the competitors will know how to take full advantage of the opportunities offered by the emerging population of older adults. It isn’t just big, he suggests, “It’s so enormous, it’s as though a new continent were rising out of the sea, filled with more than a billion air-breathing consumers just begging for products that fulfill their demands.” Welcome to the Longevity Economy.

For Coughlin, “old” is what academics would call “socially constructed” and everyone else might call “a mass delusion or a story that no one realizes is fiction.” In fact, people are living longer, global birth rates are plummeting, and baby boomers worldwide will be a major factor as the number of people aged 65+ increases from 617 million in 2015 to 1.6 billion (BBBillion) by 2050.

As he explains, “The main purpose of this book is to help [leaders in] big businesses understand this brave, old world and succeed in it; to enable them to harness the heightened expectations of baby boomers craving a better old age and to avoid being left in the dust of creative destruction as others do the same.”

Coughlin sees the emerging population of older adults as a crisis that could either be a peril or an opportunity. (The Chinese character for “crisis” means both.) “Here’s the point for the business word. First, the emerging population of older adults isn’t just big. It’s so enormous, it’s as though a new continent were rising out of the sea, filled with more than a billion air-breathing consumers just begging for products that fill their demands.”

That said, many businesses today remain hostage to what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” If they fail to embrace new and better ideas about what “old” means, they cannot provide value to an aging world with at least – worst case — $8 trillion the overall prize.

Joseph Coughlin has written a book that could serve as a mirror as well as a window, as a map as well as a compass, as a blueprint as well as an operations manual. Of course, how valuable its information, insights, and counsel prove to be will be determined almost entirely by how effectively those who absorb and digest the material, then lead as well as manage initiatives during the perilous as well as promising Longevity Economy.

I agree: “The legacy you create may well be your own”…for better or worse.

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