Our anchors seem to have come loose. There is so much unedited and undigested information circulating that some days we cannot seem to grapple with all this abundance; this is what I call the paradox of plenty because it has turned choice into a problem. How do we manage the growing ambiguity and change so they don't overwhelm us?
As a marketer I seek to identify and analyze the themes and values behind the trends affecting the consumer. As a communicator, the physics of human behavior interest me profoundly. As a person and global citizen I aim at leaving a place and person in a better condition than I found them. There are two main reports I read: Saatchi & Saatchi Myra Stark's The Consumer Context and BrainReserve's Faith Popcorn's predictions.
If you take a look at what both say, it seems that the polarization of the forces for change or experimentation and the pull of stability or desire for security is becoming particularly intense. Our material opulence, writes Popcorn, has left us emotionally starving. We crave physical contact. Stark put these trends into a framework for the future in her 2005 context write up:
- The forces for change vs. the pull of the past.
- The pull of the materials things of this world vs. the claims of the inner world.
- The pull between logic and control vs. emotion and collaboration to light the way ahead.
- The pull of one's own individuality vs. the pull of a group identification.
This is not your parents English
To express what is going on today, we are coining new words. New lifestyle trends are influencing our language: speed-friending, setjetting and freecycling are gaining prominence this year, as well as flashpacking and volunturism. Finding time for yourself to pursue your dreams might require a bit of lifehacking among blegs, splogs, blooks and mashups. Truthiness means stating concepts or facts you wish or believe to be true, rather than ones that are know to be true. Offlish is office English, full of buzzwords and jargon.
As the language evolves, how do our attitudes and thinking keep pace? Is there a gap between what we say we want and what we actually do?
Our cultural underpinnings
A couple of years ago, we had a conversation with The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, a Philadelphia-based think tank that decodes how consumers determine value in products, concepts and ideas. They study how apparently unique decisions follow certain shared subconscious patterns (see their age development chart).
We talked about the seven 'shoulds', 7 cultural assumptions that drive American choice. According to Jaime O'Boyle, Senior Analyst, these are:
- Individuals should determine their own destiny
- Individuals should control their social and physical environment
- Authority or “bigness” should be viewed with suspicion
- Actions should be judged in a moral light (philanthropy, for example)
- We should have as many choices as possible
- Anything can and should be improved
- The future should be better than the present
The big question here is how are these assumptions being shaped by our current environment and circumstances. Do we still buy into the hero values? What are our new archetypes? How is our identity being shaped by derivative values (I'm cool because I'm wearing this jacket) vs. reflective values (this jacket is cool because I'm wearing it)? How much do relationships and context influence how we validate who we are to ourselves?
Where we're having this conversation
People naturally gravitate to campfires, where people who share values gather to tell stories about who they are, how they got there, and what is expected of them. Think of virtual communities and social networks like MySpace. Technology has connected us in ways we could not have imagined, yet it has contributed also to our sense of isolation. The world is indeed flat, yet we may not know our neighbors.
Necessity also drives us to waterholes, where hierarchy rules. Think the dreaded mandatory Monday morning office meetings. This is also the opportunity place, to put it with Peter Block, for "leaders to create the conditions that foster accountability and commitment, through their power to focus attention and to define the conversations for people when they gather. So the leader’s job is to design gatherings and conversations that get peers engaged with each other—with the leader as a powerful member instead of a parent. That’s redesigning the social space in which people gather. Just as design is about visual space, leadership is about social space."