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Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Retirement Redesigned

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Leaning Into Wisdom & Crystallized Intelligence

The good news is that we can develop our intelligence throughout life.

A Note From Johann

Specialists in cognitive psychology have been arguing for ages, trying to define what intelligence is and how it works.

The consensus amongst scholars now is that there are two kinds of intelligence. Fluid intelligence is the ability to reason and to think flexibly. It peaks somewhere between adolesence and midlife. With age, we develop crystallized intelligence, which is the accumulation of knowledge through experience. We can develop crystallised intelligence and can deepen it through continued learning and pursuing knowledge.

The good news for people in retirement is that they have the ability to tap into their resources of crystallized intelligence. It provides understanding with the wisdom needed to address problems requiring skill and experience. This is acquired in a lifetime of working and learning. Retirees are encouraged to make the best of this intellectual capacity by teaching, consulting and mentoring. There is no substitute for the wisdom that comes from experience and these fields allow for us to share that wisdom to the benefit of others as well as ourselves.

There seems to be a natural instinct for older people to want to transfer some of their skills and knowledge to a younger generation. That is why mentoring is valuable when an older person takes on the challenge of transferring their skills. It is fortunate that the youth crazed years of the last century are now, increasingly giving way to greater respect for the abilities and experience of older people. Countries like Japan venerate age in a way which is very different from the western world. Some of the Mediterranean countries like Greece, Italy and Portugal are more inclined to bring older people into an extended family model instead of removing them into old age homes. Where older people with their crystalized thinking are respected for their wisdom and experience, they live longer and make a great contribution to society.

Speaking as a retiree, it is my experience that when confronted with problems I am perhaps not as fast as someone who is much younger, but I believe that thinking more carefully and relying on a lifetime of knowledge I can approach a problem in a more thoughtful manner. I encourage other retirees to make use of their thinking abilities and look for intellectual challenges that will stretch themselves.


This week, we’re looking at intelligence and wisdom as we age. There aren’t straightforward answers to the exact effect that age has on intelligence, but we know that it changes as we get older. It shifts toward crystallized intelligence, which is essentially the accumulation of our knowledge and experience. This is something we can continue to develop and deepen through ongoing pursuit and learning. We play to our strengths in later life by letting other benefit from our knowledge by teaching, consulting and mentoring as there is no substitute for the wisdom that comes from experience.

Our top 3 article picks this week:

How To Age Happily: Surfing From Fluid To Crystallized Intelligence

Gender and generational balance – in countries, companies & couples.

Mature adult reading to grow her knowledge

Our take:

The author Arthur C. Brooks has an impressive list of credentials and in his book, From Strength to Strength, he discussed his theory on happiness. He posits that happiness is achievable when we do the right things, like being realistic about aging. And with that, he suggests that we play to our strengths in terms of moving from fluid to crystallized intelligence. This article is a good introduction which might lead to reading the book too.

Article Excerpt:

Arthur Brooks has boundless energy and a contagious enthusiasm. A musician-turned-professor-turned-think tank CEO-turned-Atlantic magazine journalist-turned-Harvard faculty superstar, Brooks is a social scientist with a calling. He’s learned that happiness is entirely achievable, so long as you do the right things. His book, from Strength to Strength, outlines what they are. The recipe, “grounded in social science data,” is how he designed his own second-half-of-life.

Don’t ‘rage against the dying of the light.’

The famous quote from the poet Dylan Thomas is, Brooks asserts, a guaranteed road direct to depression. High achievers are those who are both most certain to fall from grace and to most hate the resulting invisibility. His advice? Don’t hang on too long, or you’ll regret it. Brooks quit his job as the CEO of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) because he knew what was ahead: less.

Surf your ‘second curve.’

Move from roles and sectors that value and require fluid intelligence to those (he points to his teaching at Harvard) that share knowledge and mentor future generations. Certain sectors and jobs favour different ages and types of intelligence. Poets peak young, historians late. Know where you stand and be ready to move if the young folk are nibbling at your heels.

From ‘blank canvas’ to ‘block of jade.’

Western art is built on the idea of adding paint onto a blank canvas. Eastern art on the concept that a sculpture sits, awaiting the artist, within its block of jade. We are the same, he suggests. We need to chip away a lot of rock to reveal the truth of who we are. The takeaway? Don’t keep adding stuff to your life, work at finding your essential self.

Cultivate your aspen grove.

His final metaphor is that, as the Harvard study of happiness has proven, the secret to happiness is love and relationships. So don’t over-invest in things that take away attention from those you love most. Just as aspens aren’t individual trees, but vast tracts of connected root systems, understand that your life depends on your connectedness to others, and nurture them.

Click here to read the full article on Forbes

How to Become an Inspiring Mentor When You Retire

Mature adult woman sharing her wisdom and knowledge with a younger man as a mentor

Our take:

Mentoring is a rewarding way in which to share your experience with others in need of guidance. This piece is a practical guide for how to go about the process of mentoring.

Article Excerpt:

If you want a rewarding activity that makes you happy in retirement, consider becoming a mentor. Mentorship is a form of volunteering that is gratifying in many ways for people of all ages. Mentorship keeps you socially engaged, provides an avenue to use your expertise, and allows you to give back to your community. Plus, the knowledge, life lessons, and empowerment your mentee receives can be life changing for them.

How to Become an Inspiring Mentor and Enrich Yourself in the Process

Once you define your area of interest and become a mentor, use the guidelines below to refine how you go about it. Inspiration is key. Watching your mentee thrive because of your input and support makes you feel happy, proud, and grateful that you generated a positive difference in their life.

1.Define the relationship, expectations, and boundaries.
When each of you respect the other’s relationship values, this builds critical trust that helps your mentee thrive under your guidance.

2.Understand that mentoring is a form of teaching, but much more personal.
If you’re mentoring in a humanitarian capacity, this can be critical for your mentee, who may have no other person in their life but you who cares or takes time to be with them.

3.Give praise often and celebrate successes.
Acknowledge setbacks, but don’t focus on them. Instead, celebrate their successes and help them understand how it feels to take pride in their work, hobbies, and in the way they go about life.

Click here to read the full article on Pantheon Wealth Planning

What Is Crystallized Intelligence and How to Improve It?

Want to know all about crystallized intelligence? Learn how this type of intelligence can be increased and improved with age.

Lightbulb representing ideas on how to improve crystallized intelligence

Our take:

Crystallized intelligence increases with age and experience but it is also something we can actively work on improving. Mind valley helps us understand what it is, how we use it, and how we can improve it.

Article excerpt:

According to psychologist Raymond Cattell and his student John Horn, who developed the Cattell-Horn theory of fluid and crystallized intelligence, crystallized intelligence is what we acquire through knowledge, past experiences, and culture, and it reflects in tests, quizzes, general knowledge of trivia, usage of languages, vocabulary, grammar and so on.

How does fluid and crystallized intelligence change with age?

Previous research suggested that we don’t have much control over our intelligence and that it’s mainly predetermined.

However, as we now know, both our crystallized and fluid intelligence can increase or decrease with time. The best part about it is that we have control (at least to some extent) over-development of both those types of intelligence.

Since we now know that we acquire crystallized intelligence from reading, studying, and having new experiences, it’s fair to say that we can do a lot towards improving it.

The more knowledge we acquire, either through formal or informal studies, as well as through everyday activities, the more our crystallized intelligence develops.

It’s not the case for fluid intelligence though, as fluid intelligence is known to decrease with age. In recent years, however, psychologists discovered that fluid intelligence isn’t set in stone, as it was previously thought.

There are plenty of things we can do to improve our fluid intelligence. Through training and trying out new and challenging activities we challenge our brain, which helps us improve our fluid reasoning skills.

Here are a few things you can implement in your everyday life that will help you train and improve your fluid intelligence:

Seek out new challenges
Approach new and difficult situations using new problem-solving strategies
Try to learn from others

Click here to read the full article on Mind Valley

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Johann is the founding partner of Reset Retirement where we focus on assisting people with planning for the non-financial aspects of their lives after full-time work. He had a long career in executive search and leadership as the founding partner and chairman of Heidrick & Struggles in South Africa where he was the head of the company’s board practice.