Upgrading the human operating system, in all ages?

Patrycja jared

Patrycja Slawuta - Founder Self Hackathon and
Jared Cooney Horvath - University of Melbourne

We live in a world of constant changes and “upgrades”. At the same time a huge part of the population is ageing. Does age influence our capacity to adopt or upgrade our skills?

For the most part the answer is no. Until a person reaches a period of material decline (which strikes at a different age for all), there is no physical reason why age would influence our ability to learn, grow, and update our system of ourselves.

The essence of why some people grow and evolve throughout their lives while others stagnate has less to do with ageing and more to do with routine and habits. In order to upgrade, a biological system needs a very specific set of cells and chemicals. Unfortunately, these cells and chemicals stop being produced if a person is even mildly stressed, surprised, shocked, or uncertain. Perhaps the best example of this is our body and exercising. The reason people get in shape when they work out is because they subject their bodies to mild and ideally somewhat unpredictable stress and allow the body to adapt to the new, tougher conditions.

Once a person 'has the world figured out' and adopts a daily predictable routine (physically and mentally), then they essentially cut themselves off from updating their organic software. For this reason, the secret is simply to continuously grow and challenge your routine and inject it with novelty and uncertainty.

This does not mean 'brain training' games, sodukus, and crosswords. When you pick a single activity and simply drill it continuously - this is the essence of routine! Even if the games get harder every day, this does not suffice to keep producing the cells and chemicals you need to evolve and grow.

You must try new things. You must change your strategies and routine. You must fail. You must surprise yourself. You must embrace a small amount of uncertainty, shock, and stress. These are the critical ingredients to upgrading yourself to your next version. As long as you inject new combinations of these, there is no reason you can not continue to learn and grow well past the age when most people fizzle out.

We hear a lot of stigma when it comes to elderly people. Do you see that in your work with companies, do they use stereotypes when it comes to senior customers and their needs and capabilities?

I think more and more companies are realizing that the elderly have a lot of purchasing power. And while they do shop they do it in different ways than other generations do, particularly Millennials. More research is needed when it comes to a meaningful market segmentation and understanding customers needs, motivations and desires. Whereas, with younger populations we can track their behaviors and habits via cookies and other tools that analyze (and try to predict) online behavior with the elderly a more immersive, anthropological and in-person work needs to take place.

Is it common knowledge that the most innovation and update come with no/less support from the industry? Do you think there is a need /market for “personal innovation coaches”, people who help individuals in keeping up with the pace?

I think the market, demand and opportunity for experts - the “personal innovation coaches” as you call it, will grow substantially over the next few decades. As you mentioned, the pace of technician change has been very non-linear and will likely not slow down for the foreseeable future. Moreover, technological change is then reflected and influence many “non-tech” things such as society, culture, how we work, government, relationships and family dynamics, to mention just a handful of important areas.

Even those at the very cutting edge of some of these changes are likely only experts for a short amount of time and in likely a very narrow field of specialization. This dynamic suggests that we – not just the elderly and ageing but more likely a much wider portion of society, will require experts to make sure their knowledge is updated and relevant to navigate our way in modern life.

One of the areas we have been doing much research on is that of “psych tech”, which is the intersection of psychology and technology. As we are discussing here, one potential very important element of psych tech is the applied psychology that is required to cope with the ever accelerating impact of technology and the ever mounting volume of emails, tweets, beeps, buzzes, Facebook updates and emojis.

You work a lot with startups and tech companies, are they aware of how hard, especially the elderly-users, work on staying up-to-date or do they just demand willingness for change from their clients?

I would say that most tech and startup companies sadly don’t include the elderly in their business forecasts and planning. Unless of course it’s a product whose end customer are the elderly. Now, this is slowly changing and I think the fact that the elderly appreciate the help of a younger person/expert to set up the technology creates a great opportunity to establish a personal connection, understand the needs and motivations of an elderly user and potentially gain a long term loyal customer. This creates a win-win situation for the tech companies as well as the elderly who oftentimes feel excluded from the tech hype.

A lot of us are getting tired in the steady need of “updating”? What are the hacks to enhance our personal upgrading capabilities?

Ah - welcome to humanity in the 21st century. It feels like 'change' is the norm now - and everyone is getting exhausted.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the best way to enhance your personal abilities is to maintain a consistent level of novelty and uncertainty in your life. The ability to upgrade quickly and easily only goes offline during period of routine and predictability and does not have to relate to age significantly at all. The more you face situations that require an update and upgrading of your mental model, the more relevant cells and chemicals you produce to make the process easier in the future.

I am reminded of the old adage “necessity is the mother for invention.” Hence if you put yourself in a position whereby you need to upgrade and update yourself in order to solve your level of challenges, you are sending a signal to yourself that you need the required cells and chemicals to become better. And you will.

A couple bonus hacks:

  1. Space it out. It might not feel like it, but a mere 30 minutes of training/practice/learning every other day for two weeks will lead to far faster and longer lasting upgrades than three hours today.

  2. So-called mistakes and errors are your best friends. Most people are so afraid of messing up: anything less than perfection right out of the gate is unacceptable. Unfortunately, this is not how upgrades work. Learning and growth only occurs in the presence of errors - in fact, accepting this simple fact was what led to the meteoric rise of modern machine learning and AI. The intersection of making minor errors and correcting for them to improve the next time is where the updating will occur.
  3. Finally, love it or hate it, all updates rely on your perception.If you don't want to learn something, you won't. If you anticipate something will be a slog, it will. If you dread moving forward, you won't. We used to think the brain was a passive receiver, but we now know it actively predicts and creates the world we experience - and these predictions are based largely on our expectations and perceptions. So plant the seeds of what you actually want to experience and chances are the amazing and almost miraculous architecture that is you will make it a reality.