The wisdom of our elders is no doubt America's most untapped resource. But that is changing. The folks at "The Today Show" and SeniorPlanet looked into just how amazing this change can be.
Minds like Barbara Beskind's are America's most underused human resource.
She's a top-notch designer at an internationally known design firm in Silicon Valley. And she's 91.
She holds court every Thursday at IDEO, a design and innovation consulting firm in San Francisco, as an ad-hoc consultant.
There, she gloriously helps designers invent better, more functional products for the elderly. She meets with a team of designers, some five or six decades her junior!
IDEO sends out an email to let everyone know when Barbara is in the office. The designers she works with love her.
People like Barbara have seen the invention of nuclear power, the rise of the automobile, the death of the streetcar, the invention of TV!
Their experience is, as of now, untapped. Unhired. Un-asked-interesting-questions.
Their wisdom, their brains, and their spirit are one of our nation's greatest untapped resources.
"I've retired five times, but it's like a vaccination that doesn't take."
— Barbara Beskin, my hero
How did she get there?
Barbara wanted to be an inventor and engineer her whole life. But when she asked her college counselor about pursuing it, she was told that it wasn't an option for her because engineering schools at the time didn't accept women. (!)
So she joined the Army, became an occupational therapist, wrote some books. ... Fast-forward to decades later, when she sent a nine-page letter to IDEO asking for a job. She got the job.
Here are some of the things she's already come up with:
#1. A unique brace that helps her BFF Hedy get up off the couch
Note to self: Become an inventor or befriend an inventor. They're so helpful!
#2. A magnifying glass for reading
She has macular degeneration. So she's just solving for it ... with inventions!
# 3. Modified walking poles
These are what I want for my grandma. She hates her walker; it makes her feel uncool. Already this little old lady inventor has changed the way I think about design.
#4. A revolutionary new walker
Much like her walking poles, Barbara is working on a walker that helps keep the person using it in a more vertical position.
#5. Prefab backyard living quarters for the elderly to live in an existing home with family
All those chill times you spent with grandma in your backyard? Well, Barbara's inventing new ways for grandma to live there! And ideas to make it better — like a chemical toilet and an electricity hookup that draws power from the main house. She gets it!
And that's just the beginning! She's 91 and she's JUST GETTING STARTED.
"You have to think outside of the box. You have to be more than yourself. The world is more important than you are."
— Barbara Beskind, aka the coolest
Is it just me, or should more companies get out of their stereotypes and into some untapped wisdom?
IDEO is famous for being cutting-edge, but that doesn't mean they should be the only company that benefits from elderly people's DECADES of experience in the world.
The brains, the experience, and the sheer exciting fact that these folks are ALIVE ... that is our natural resource. We should respect it.
I'm gonna go call my grandma now! I need to tell her about some walking poles.
While I do that, listen to more of Barbara's story from "The Today Show":