People have changed. Consumers have changed. Society has changed. Behaviours and habits have changed. Purchase and decision-making dynamics have changed. Expectations and beliefs have changed. Advertising has changed. Brands have changed. The workings of the world have fundamentally changed. Everything is turned upside down.
“XXXX is dead.” Insert object of derision of your choice.
It’s easy to find these views. They’re expounded upon in books, at conferences and seminars, in meetings rooms – and regurgitated and recycled over and again in hundreds of blogs, forums, posts, and tweets.
The hunger for the new is a powerful and important human urge. We are built to be alert to the new. Because it might represent opportunity.
And there’s little sex appeal in the things that don’t change. People aren’t interested in conferences and books dedicated to the stuff that hasn’t changed and hasn’t been made redundant. Certainly it’s hard to carve out a professional reputation as cool and avant garde by talking about what hasn’t changed.
We are of course surrounded by change. Both ephemeral and significant. But we would do well to just occasionally cool our jets. Just a little.
The belief that any one thing (like the internet) or phenomenon will Change Everything Forever encourages us to focus on the superficial surface of things, which do of course change all the time.
Yet as the psychologist Nicholas Humphrey reminds us:
“Cultural and technical innovations can certainly alter the trajectory of individual human lives. But, while human beings continue to reproduce by having sex and each new generation goes back to square one, then every baby begins life with a set of inherited dispositions and instincts that evolved in the technological dark ages… Let’s dream, if we like, of revolution. But be prepared for more of the same.”
The surface trappings of life and culture may have changed, yet the choices, predicaments and motivations of the characters of Homer, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Austen, Dickens are as vividly meaningful and recognizable as they were when audiences first encountered them.
The stuff of story, myth, and human biography – love, sex, war, politics, jealousy, altruism, heroism… is enduring and universal.
But given the amount of airtime and attention devoted to what has changed, we would do well to remind ourselves of what has not changed.
Here’s a list to be going on with:
- The newer, reasoning centers of the human brain are still enmeshed with the older, primal, instinctive and emotional part of our brain
- Emotion is the still the dominant influence in human decision-making
- Our fundamental human drives still shape our behaviour
- Human choice and decision-making is still irrational
- We still overestimate the objectivity of our thinking and decisions
- We still engage less with future events than we do with current events
- Human imagination still has a tendency to project the present into the future
- Human imagination still fails to recognize that things will look different once they actually happen
- We still perceive something to have greater value when it is scarce – unavailability is still more appealing than availability
- We still tend to choose relative to what’s actually available, rather than any absolute standard
- The reasons for many of our choices and behaviours are still often invisible even to ourselves
- We still post-rationalise irrational choices
- The human brain is still hardwired to reduce complexity
- The human brain is still predisposed to find predictable patterns, even when none exist
- The human senses still edit out more stimulus than they processes
- People still do not have time to do a wholesale cost-benefit analysis of all their purchase options
- We still do not want to apply too much effort to making decisions
- People still use brands to simplify, streamline, and accelerate decision-making
- People still use brands to reduce the amount of decision-making they have to do
- We still need to experience and tell stories as a way of ordering, structuring, and making sense of our world
- Intangible meanings and associations still exert a powerful influence over the purchase decisions we make
- We are still herd animals, enormously influenced by the behaviour and opinion of others
- We still need and want to share in collective experiences
The list needless to say, goes on. But you get my point.
We must live and think with one foot in the future if we are to shape it. If we are to be a part of it. We cannot go into the future walking backwards, forever gazing at was has been. We must embrace change. And occasionally wrestle it to the floor in a merciless headlock.
There is, however, an inescapable But.
Understanding 1.0 in a 2.0 world
It is not sexy, but if we do not remain grounded in what has not changed – better yet, if do not seek to become experts in it – we will fail to shape the very thing we exist to change. Human behaviour.
We will fail to exploit the ability of brands and their intangible meanings to create economic value for our clients. And we will underestimate the ability of creativity, ideas, experiences and stories in all their forms to contribute to this.
Whatever iteration of technology we’re now on, let’s remember that homo sapiens hasn’t gone beyond version 1.0 yet.
We must operate at the intersection of ever-shifting technology and human nature. Not to work at the intersection – to focus on exclusively on one, rather than on both – condemns us to naivety or redundancy.
If we don’t understand the 1.0, we will fail to make the most of all the 2.0 that surrounds us.
And if we don’t understand our 2.0 world, we will fail to take advantage of the new forums, connections, channels and spaces through and in which our 1.0 selves are living, working, expressing, connecting, sharing, empowering, entertaining and asserting themselves.
Nicholas Humphrey , Edge World Question Center, http://www.edge.org/q2009/q09_3.html