Michael Adams likes to encourage would-be writers by reminding them how old he was when his first book was published.
“I was 50 before I learned that I could write, and 51 before I learned I could talk,” laughs the award-winning author, adding that the first time he gave a speech at 51, afterward a friend ripped it up and made him promise “to never read” a speech again.
President and co-founder of the Environics group of marketing research and communications companies, Michael hadn’t even considered writing books until publisher John Macfarlane, then-editor of Toronto Life, encouraged him over a lunch date one day in 1995.
Since then Michael has written five bestselling books published by Penguin Group, including Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values, which won the prestigious 2004 Donner Prize for the best book on public policy in Canada, and Sex in the Snow: The Surprising Revolution in Canadian Social Values.
He found his latest book Stayin’ Alive: How Canadian Baby Boomers Will Work, Play and Find Meaning in the Second Half of Their Adult Lives the most fun to write. “It was more about my generation, and so I could put more of me in there without feeling too narcissistic. I also think because it’s less data-intense, it has a better narrative, a better flow, and it’s more fun for people to read,” he says.
As a self-proclaimed “Autonomous Rebel” – one of the four “tribes” of Boomers described in Stayin’ Alive – his hitchhiking past comes as no surprise. However, a few of his findings did debunk the stereotypes surrounding Boomers.
“Autonomous Rebels are very political. They were the first to question religion and authority. As they get older, they’re still fighting political fights. Sometimes they get angry too quickly. They could maybe learn a thing or two from the group I call the ‘Connected Enthusiasts’.
"They also were interested in social change, but not political change. The stereotype is they’re just party animals. Says Michael, “What I found is that they’ve got much more going for them – they’re really into networking and as they hit their 50’s this group has the highest proportion of people who think about starting a business.”
Will Boomers become like their parents? Michael found they’re becoming “more themselves,” and as they get older they’re trying to realize their own values. He also learned that Boomers are twice as likely as their parents to say they’re going to stay engaged in the economy after they retire.
Boomers can expect to live to their early 80’s, and the healthy ones will live into their early 90’s. According to his research, though, they won’t want to rest for 20 years after retirement. “They’re thinking of a more integrated, mixed kind of retirement. They’ll want to stay active and to watch their diet. They’re much more likely to think of themselves as the authors of their destiny, instead of being fatalistic.”
By the sound of it, Michael won’t be taking a typical retirement any time soon, either. He just founded the Environics Institute, with the aim of performing the kind of survey research that’s not yet being done. “We’ve surveyed urban aboriginal people, so I may write something about the future of Canada’s aboriginal people,” says Michael.”
He’s also planning a trip overseas for an Environics project surveying the social values of Israelis and Palestinians. He maintains a partnership in the Robert Craig Winery in Napa Valley, California, and hopes to take his children along on as many of his travels as possible.
What’s the best lesson Michael thinks that Boomers have taught younger generations? “Autonomy. You’ve got to be in charge,” he says. “I’ve found people who feel they have control in their lives are the happiest. Control isn’t just about having money, it’s an attitude – it’s living your life how you want to live it.”