Friday Faves is our weekly blog series highlighting a few select pieces from the REG team’s reading lists. You can catch up on past Friday Faves on the archive

“Old age” is made up—and this concept is hurting everyone

Illustration of senior with products targeted to seniors

Anne says: Great headlines work – and this one attracted my attention immediately. It also seemed to connect to my article on entrepreneurs over 65 and Jakkii’s article last week about Gen Z and the concept of generations. 

Did you know there are more people (on the planet) aged over 65 than under 5? This is the first time in human history… Yet… as the article highlights, we are completely unprepared for the consequences of the aging population.

This article is part of a series from MIT Age Lab and discusses many of the challenges that will require resolution to address the aging population. However, the key issues that stood out for me relate to human-centred design (or lack of it). As a core element of our practice at the Ripple Effect Group, not understanding what people actually think, feel, do and need is a fundamental flaw that will result in poorly design experiences. Here are some examples highlighted in the article:

  • only 20% of people who could benefit from hearing aids seek them out,
  • 2% of those over 65 seek out personal emergency response technologies.

And here’s the underpinning issue for products designed for “old people”: only 35% of people 75 or older consider themselves “old.”

The moral of this story, the root cause is… the concept and associated narratives of “old age”. I loved the description of products designed for older people: big, beige and boring! 

It appears our dominant narrative is relatively new, around the mid 19th century that related aging with vital energy. This developed into approaches that informed concepts like retirement, reduced physical duties – all based on the principle of conserving vital energy. Fast forward to products now designed to fulfil this narrative: walkers and pill-reminder apps. However, the connection between products designed to make this “easier” for older people, have now found their way into popular usage. The examples are great – the electronic garage door – designed to assist those (read old people) couldn’t lift heavy garage doors. Now it’s a device of convenience for everyone (if you have a garage!). Hearing devices – designed to help those with hearing impairments underpinned the design of current earbuds. Home delivered food services – originally for those who couldn’t get out – are now even adopted by disruptors such as Uber Eats.

That’s the upside, but there’s a downside – our mindsets are conditioned to treat older people as a problem to be solved. We all get it, immediately. This shows itself again and again, from finding jobs (if you’re over 55) to developing big, beige boring products.

And the solution – it’s so simple – why isn’t it being implemented? (Rhetorical question – blame the dominant narrative). They’ve even tried getting young designers at MIT Age Lab to walk a mile in an older person’s show with their physiological aging simulation suit! But it’s so much easier than that: Hire older workers, recognise their knowledge and experience – break the narrative of vital energy. 

The final comment definitely belongs to the article:

Global aging may be inevitable, but old age, as we know it, is not. It’s something we’ve made up. Now it’s up to us to remake it.


Create a deepfake of your own voice with this podcast tool


Joel says: The awareness of deepfake technology has started to go mainstream in recent times, primarily thanks to viral videos hitting social media of politicians doing or saying things they never actually did, or this entertaining video of Bill Hader morphing into Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan while doing impressions of them during an interview. While they can be a serious security concern, seeing what companies are doing with deepfake artificial intelligence technology is truly fascinating.

A podcasting app called Descript has rolled out a new feature that uses deepfake-like technology for podcast editing. The new feature, called Overdub, allows you to use artificial intelligence technology to create realistic speech for your podcast using text. It’s designed to help podcasters easily add or rerecord bits of dialogue into the podcast during the editing process without having to actually make an additional recording at all.

When reading this, although I thought it sounded really cool, my first thought went to security. If voices can now be replicated and artificially generated, we could be in a really tricky spot, where we may not be able to believe anything we see or hear in the media. Thankfully Descript has a solution for that. CEO Andrew Mason has said that Overdub is expressly not meant for creating deepfakes and that the software works by having the user upload recordings of randomly generated sentences. The program then analyses these uploaded recordings to develop the voice rather than from existing recordings that people could find online and use as the basis for a deepfake. 

He did, however, state that the research that fuelled the development of Overdub is widely available and other companies may implement it into applications that don’t require the same constraints. 

It’s a strange feeling when new technology both excites and scares you. But I’m keen to hear what others think on the subject. Are you excited by this new technology? Or would you prefer to live in a world where you can trust whether or not a person really said or did something you saw them do?


The human skills we need in an unpredictable world

Helen says: For me, developments in AI technology have been both amazing and unsettling and it’s the unsettling bit that drew me to Margaret Heffernan’s Ted Talk. This is a snapshot of the talk, but if you are half interested in this topic I recommend you listen to the full presentation.

Our economic, political and physical environments are more complex than ever, and these environments are changing at a rapid pace. With such uncertainty, forecasters are now only predicting a year or so out, even still, these predictions are dubious. Efficiency is best achieved in a predictable environment and by focusing on efficiency we are prevented from being able to deal with the unexpected. We must start thinking about “just in case, preparing for events that are generally certain but specifically remain ambiguous”.

Developing solutions for multiple scenarios, rather than focusing on the most likely, may be inefficient and costly, but having options makes us more robust and able to adapt and respond in a timely manner. Examples of how this is being achieved come from a broad range of sectors including health, government, business, conservation and sport. Margaret laments that our growing dependence on technology is stripping us of important skills needed to deal with the unexpected. We are outsourcing to technologies things we should be doing and thinking of for ourselves. These technologies “force-fit a standardized model of a predictable reality onto a world that is infinitely surprising. What gets left out? Anything that can’t be measured – which is just about everything that counts.” 

Our reliance on technology risks us becoming less skilled and therefore more vulnerable in this world – we need to be less efficient and more imaginative and experimental to better deal with what’s to come.


Workplace Burnout

Image: Freepik

Jakkii says: We’ve written about burnout in Friday Faves before: I’ve written about how our brains can only take so much focus; Helen has written about why doctors hate their computers; and most recently I shared a piece on how Millennials became the ‘burnout generation’

This year, the WHO officially recognised burnout as an occupational phenomenon (though not as a medical condition in and of itself). Though this happened back in May, this week a few articles on the subject have popped up, which naturally piqued my interest. 

Firstly, in The Sydney Morning Herald, we have “It’s official: workplace burnout exists and employers need to step up.” In this piece, the author laments the many pitches for articles regarding burnout she’s received over the years, before finally acquiescing to the fact that burnout is indeed a real phenomenon since the WHO now says so. A few statistics are thrown around regarding a rise in sick leave combined with low rates of taking annual leave, before reiterating once again that personal responsibility for self-care is an imperative and, while acknowledging employees and employers need to work together to prevent burnout, the article spends no time discussing how employers can help employees in managing issues such as overwhelm and overload – other than being better about making them take annual leave.

Over on Yahoo!, we find “Workplace burnout: Here’s how managers can spot it and take action.” It turns out this article is a rehash of an article from CNN last week with a similar title, “Burnout is a big deal. Here’s how managers can spot it.” The CNN piece (and, subsequently, the Yahoo! piece) agrees that it’s up to both employees and employers:

“Employees have to take steps to have effective coping skills to manage stress,” said Ballard. “Employers can work to create an environment that is conducive to healthy employees: identifying stressors and reducing and eliminating them when they can and making sure they have health and management resources.”

However, the article goes on to be a little more helpful than the SMH piece, providing a few red flags managers can keep an eye out for when it comes to potential burnout in their employees:

  • First in, last out
  • Everything is a priority
  • There’s silence
  • A sour apple all the time
  • Cognitive issues

There’s a brief description of what each might look like and, crucially, a tip for each as to how a manager might go about handling this with their employee. 

Finally, in Forbes, we have “Burnout is not what you think it is: how leaders can confront the three faces of burnout.” This piece takes a different angle, describing different types of burnout that may be affecting you or your employees. The three ‘faces’ of burnout, according to the author, are:

  1. Overload
  2. Insufficient challenge
  3. Neglect

I found this article the most interesting and useful of the three, as I think the second and third ‘faces’ of burnout are not how we traditionally think of burnout at all. I would suggest we tend to think of these as employee engagement problems, and ultimately may be approaching them in less helpful ways than if we think of them as types of burnout and how we can manage that (rather than focusing on “engaging” employees, though the end desired result may be similar). I also appreciated that the author called out what I think is the core issue in most cases of burnout: workplace culture.

A healthy workplace culture is the ultimate antidote to burnout in all of its forms. Christina Maslach, who has been studying burnout since the 1970s, points to six key components of workplace culture:

– workload
– control
– reward
– community
– fairness
– values

Ignoring these six areas is a recipe for burnout, high turnover, and low employee satisfaction.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s not a new idea, either – in 2017 Harvard Business Review published “Employee burnout is a problem with the company, not the person” and I’m sure if I hit Google I’d probably find similar arguments going back many years. Either way, whether it’s the entire organisation or the issue is found primarily at a team or business function level, dysfunctional workplace culture is a significant factor in contributing to employee burnout.

If you’re having issues with burnout amongst your employees, while there are employee-specific steps you can and should take, it might also be well past time to assess the current state of your organisation’s culture and whether it needs a tweak – or a complete overhaul.


This Week in Social Media

Politics, democracy and regulation

Privacy and data

Cybersecurity and safety

Society and culture

Extremism and hate speech

Moderation and misinformation

Marketing, media, advertising and PR


Facebook’s Libra and Calibra

Sydney Business Insights – The Future This Week Podcast

This week: real innovation between steam trains and convenience, and the automation paradox. Sandra Peter (Sydney Business Insights) and Kai Riemer (Digital Disruption Research Group) meet once a week to put their own spin on news that is impacting the future of business in The Future, This Week.

The stories this week

01:45 – Real innovation: from steam train to big ideas today

15:43 – AI is coming for your menial tasks

Other stories we bring up

Our previous discussion of how convenience trumps preferences

The tyranny of convenience

Big idea famine

Jonathan Haidt on good intentions and bad ideas

Automation, the same old story

The story of time standardisation


DISRUPT.SYDNEY™ 2019: Rethinking Success

DISRUPT.SYDNEY, in its seventh year, is Australia’s first and oldest disruption conference.

This year we’re looking at what it means to be successful in a world increasingly concerned with disruption, sustainability, inequality and changing notions of work.

With two Q&A panels, parallel workshops after lunch, and an interactive futures session on deep fakes in the afternoon DISRUPT.SYDNEY 2019 will have plenty of discussion and ideas with which to engage and challenge. Join the discussion on 20 September at the University of Sydney Castlereagh St campus.

For more information and to register, visit  – Ask us about our discount code!

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