Vicky Bennison read zoology in college and graduated with an MBA from the University of Bath. She then worked in international development across Siberia, South Africa and Turkmenistan. Today, she is best known as the person behind Pasta Grannies, a YouTube channel that finds and films real Italian grannies — nonnas — making handmade pasta.
These grannies make lip-smacking pasta and tell delightful stories. What amazes me even more is how grandmas have embraced social media, learned digital marketing and emerged as media entrepreneurs across the world.
Closer home, we have the example of Mastanamma, the world’s oldest celebrity chef who got her big break at 105 when her grandson filmed her cooking eggplant curry and put it online. She had cataract, wore dentures, and cooked on an open fire. As The New York Times said, it was all part of the charm. Mastanamma was a natural on camera and got one million subscribers in two years.
These grandmas offer precious insights about the future of work, especially the importance of reinventing oneself. Unfortunately, most journals and media reports overemphasize the importance of certain skills without explaining how challenging it gets to acquire them with each passing year. Reinventing our mental models will probably be the most crucial aspect of finding work in the coming years. Let’s understand why.
The authors of 100 Year Life, Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott, offer three defining features of work in the 21st century. First, people are likely to live longer. Second, the lifespan of organizations will reduce. Third, the concept of retirement will fade away, partly due to financial reasons and partly out of choice. Combining all these factors, it is easy to visualize how one might have to learn to work in different industries, sectors and functions every few years.
One of the first things we will see is the disruption of the traditional study, work and retire model by loops of work followed by study. People will probably go to college multiple times in their lives or enrol in a specialized degree at 75. It is also possible that college degrees get split into chunks or the notion of going to college is replaced by alternate learning and apprenticeship models. Several venture capital backed companies in Silicon Valley are already tinkering with this. It is clear that lifelong learning will be central to all our lives.
Lifelong learning doesn’t mean chasing buzzwords, hashtags and the latest obsessions. If we do that, we will be on a perennial wild goose chase because there are way too many new things. To become effective lifelong learners, we must figure out ways to connect the dots between what we already know and what we aspire to know. What we aspire to know must follow our curiosity and factor our strengths, interests and time availability.
The Italian grandmas and centenarians like Mastanamma succeeded because they leveraged their strengths and worked on things they cared about. They used technology to augment their potential and thoroughly enjoyed the experience of reinventing themselves as cutting-edge digital content producers. In addition to income, starting up at 100 gave them something to look forward to and added meaning to their lives. If you want to see how this manifests, check out Gina Petitti’s YouTube video thanking her fans on reaching 100,000 subscribers.
Videos are great but if you prefer a real-life demo, you can meet my grandmother at the India International Centre Library, writing chapters of her new book on her tablet. Perhaps Vicky Bennison will consider doing a video series on Indian grannies as well.
Millennial Matters is a column that recalibrates the skills needed to survive and find meaning in the workplace of tomorrow.
Utkarsh Amitabh is founder of Network Capital, a global peer mentoring community and a WEF Global Shaper.