Age is Just a Number
Posted on April 28, 2015

Age is Just a Number

Barbara Beskind, who today is a young, sprightly, and animated 91- year-old woman, proves that age isn’t an obstacle to living out your dreams. As far as she is concerned, age is truly just a number. Age has no bearing on your ability to exploit your potential regardless of how old you may be. Her advice for her older peers is to exploit one’s potential to the max and use it for the betterment of others. She is currently employed at the global design firm IDEO . She is the most senior member of a dynamic team that researches innovative designs for food, packaging, electronics, and most recently-aging. Once a week, she travels by train from her retirement community in the Silicon Valley to the offices of IDEO. She has already retired some five times, but she considers retirement as a sort of vaccination that never quite seems to take hold-at least in her case! Over the course of her multi-layered career, she has also authored many books. She considers her job at IDEO as ‘frosting on the cake’. She believes it is important to think outside the box. Her attitude is very positive, as she maintains an expanded view of the world.

We’ve all seen the 80 –year- olds who still mow their lawn, but that seems like an easy challenge for most of us. Lawn mowers have been around for quite some time, and they’re fairly simple to use. Barbara has achieved something which most senior citizens would never be expected to come close to- she has become a tech designer! She may not be working on Windows 10, but she is currently helping out her aging peers in ways that could be life-saving. One of her inventions mentioned in Entrepreneur, were eyeglasses equipped with cameras and speakers, which are aimed at making it easier to remember people’s names. Another one of her creations are wearable airbags-to help protect one from a fall.  I’m sure that most of us know someone from the past who could have used such devices.

At a very early age, Barbara had told one of her teachers that she wanted to be an inventor when she grew up. Her first toy design was for a hobbyhorse.  She joked with National Public Radio that she learned a lot about gravity when making that one, since she fell off of it quite often!  She also mentioned that living in the Great Depression caused her creative side to come out.  “Well, in the Depression, if you can’t buy toys, you make em” -is what she told NPR, at a recent interview.

She got into her current position of being a tech designer when she heard the CEO of IDEO talking about how important it is to have a diverse staff so as to bring different perspectives into a project. She got two patents during her time in private practice for her inventions, but she had no idea that she would one day design for a living. Then one fine day in January of 2013, she saw an interview on 60 Minutes where the company founder of IDEO talked about a Design On Aging challenge. Beskind jumped at the opportunity and wrote her resume. She was too late to enter an invention of her own, but they asked her to be a judge. Ever since then, she has worked at IDEO as an ad hoc consultant.  She had heard back within days of writing the company, and was hired almost at once. Her coworkers have reported that her being on the team has saved a lot of time with testing, and considerably more time with customers who had issues. They’re still working on a power source for those camera glasses that were previously mentioned.  When the team had suggested the glasses could be powered by changeable batteries, Barbara retorted that old fingers aren’t nimble enough to do that! Her unique perspective influences everyone around her. The design team realized they had to look for alternate sources.

She also works on her own projects. She is working on separate living quarters that attach to existing homes. She hopes to put a panel behind the bed that provides oxygen and monitors blood pressure. She gets her ideas by sitting in the hall in the retirement community where she lives, and tries to imagine solutions for problems she sees. Her attitude inspires her coworkers to greater enthusiasm, and has saved the company much time saving to boot. Barbara shatters the stereotype that old age means debility of mind and body.

TODAY show contributing correspondent Jenna Bush Hager sits down with Silicon Valley tech designer Barbara Beskind:  Interview here:

Tags: Barbara Beskind, Age, tech designer, senior, IDEO, Silicon Valley,