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About thenarcissisticanthropologist

consumer anthropologist, brand strategy professional, professional "human".

We’re Not Mourning The 80’s. We’re Returning To Them.

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I know what everyone has been thinking as we look gleefully forward to the end of 2016, with a desire to put the social and political turmoil behind us as well as say “good riddance” to the year that took several beloved artists from us.

We are thinking, “How did we lose so many of our treasured pop culture icons from the 80’s? Why them?”  “Why now?” From Bowie to Prince to George Michael and Carrie Fisher and even (yes) the guy who played ALF!

Those of us whose lives have been touched by these so-much-more-human-than-human artists  and the characters that were so near and dear to our hearts feel this deep sense of loss. However, at the same time as we have had to say goodbye to these incredible beacons of hope from the recent past, we have seen a resurgence of many other things from that same decade.

For example:
In pop culture: Zombies! (The 80’s did, after all, bring us a nearly un-countable number of  zombie movies as paid homage to in the video hit Thriller) and Vinyl (because records are a “thing” again).

In fashion: Mom Jeans and thick eyebrows (Brooke Shields?  Anyone?)

I know you’re thinking that I’m getting a little too trend-centric and pop-culture fluffy with it, but hang in there.  I have a point, I promise….

In politics:  Celebrity Presidents (in the 80’s, we had former actor Ronald Reagan.  Now we have Reality TV star and bombastic businessman, Donald Trump) , what will soon be the resurgence of a new kind of Trickle-down-economics (which is the Economic Policy closest in to what Trump’s platform is based on) and Russia! (in the 80’s we loved to hate  Mikhail Gorbachev and now we have Vladimir Putin to make fun of on our sketch comedy shows.

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Culturally speaking, the 80s were a time of emerging conspicuous consumption and status-based classism – lots of nouveau riche boughie types flocking to the cities and the single life…wearing fur coats, driving porsches and ferraris and splashing around in the idea of a glamorous  “Greed is Good” mentality toward American economic and cosmopolitain “progress.”

At the same time, Willy Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp organized the first concert that would turn in to a now 30 year-strong organization called Farm Aid to combat the suffering that middle America farm communities were going through due to rampant closing of family farms as corporations started taking over.

We saw a country ripped apart by fear caused by the AIDS epidemic – which initially targeted the Gay community, who was still living at the fringes and considered a somewhat alienated “unknown”.   It took the story of Ryan White – a young boy who contracted HIV from a blood transfusion – to humanize the epidemic and begin vital conversations in our country about sexual orientation and fear and inclusion. Not to mention the idea of coming together to begin finding searching for treatments and cures for a disease that nobody deserves to die from.

The 80’s also brought us Cable television – revolutionizing pop culture as we know it  – making it possible for us to see more and more of the America we thought we knew and beginning an era of overstimulation that would have us retreating back in to our shells of familiarity more than finding common ground because content was being pushed at us, but we didn’t have an internet to allow us to publicly react to what we are seeing.

These days we have replaced cable television with social media to maintain our echo-chambers.  But fortunately we also have ways to have conversations – should we choose to – with people who don’t look like us or live like us or even live near us.

The point I’m actually trying to make here is that, in losing the 80’s pop stars that have so obviously and publicly fallen this year, we are actually reminding ourselves of the good things that came out of a time and a mentality we seem to be regressing back in to for a moment.

You see, I spend a good amount of time studying culture and sociology and reading up on topics like  Spiral Dynamics and social science that focuses on Worldviews as well as topics like Generational Cycles Theory.   In my work, I apply my understanding of the world and it’s nuances and patterns of change to helping my clients understand how to evolve their business and the ways they communicate with the humans that buy their products.  And because I study this stuff and apply it to a consumer space all the time, I am also thinking about it constantly and looking at cues from pop culture to seek to understand our world.

This year – particularly toward the end – has had me wracking my brain trying to explain why all of this seemingly bizarre stuff is happening in our sociopolitical landscape;  the populist ideals, the xenophobia and the generalized seemingly backwards progress  (as many liberal, intellectual types like me and my peers might see it).   In the end, I am able to say, “well sure I saw this coming” – for a number of reasons stemming from the ways in which we have chosen to engage with one another in our mainstreaming digital world to other factors related to cultural, environmental and  economic factors.

But I end up left falling back on  platitudes like “it’s always darkest before the dawn” or “it’s gonna get harder before it gets easier” – yet still full of hope that we will get to the “easy” part soon.

That being said, the scientific disciplines mentioned above that focus on social change all tell us (as does history) that wen tend to evolve in a spiral-type way.

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But the thing about spirals is that you always have to go back a little bit in the direction you came from before you can move forward.

My point and hypothesis  is that THIS time is the time for our slight backwards movement and I believe we have chosen the 80’s as our touch-point for this devolution of sorts.  But ALSO per the loss of our 80’s icons like Prince and Bowie and Carrie Fisher, the actress behind the Iconic beacon-of-hope character Princess Leia)  I think we are being given sacrificial lambs as reminders of the wonderful progress that was made during these times.  In the article just linked to about Princess Leia, for example – the author reminds us that the real reason we love that character so much is because

 It’s about creative thinking, keeping it together when it counts, and outclassing every pretentious pencil pusher the Empire can throw her way.

 

Artists like Bowie and Prince  taught us to embrace our weird, to love ourselves for everything that we are and to let our true colors shine .  George Michael, through his music and very public human journey also taught us (in particular, the Gay community)  many life lessons about accepting who we are and not letting the world get us down.

Even ALF – who I reference as a HUGE fan, btw – taught us a good amount about how we see the world.  This affably bizarre alien reminded us that we are not alone in seeing how ridiculous everyday life can be and that it’s okay to laugh it off sometimes.

Truth be told, I still have an ALF doll in my office.  Whenever I feel like an Alien from another planet come to study humans and their ways, “he”  reminds me about the humor in all of it and that I chose to keep my eyes open because I love my fellow humans and I believe we are on a very profound, fast-tracked evolutionary path.

So as many of you mourn what you see as a loss and start throwing Molotov Cocktails at 2016 so as to obliterate the memory of it as we move in to a new year, take a moment to honor the memories of those beacons of hope who have been brought back in to our public consciousness once more to let us know that even though it seems like we are fighting an uphill battle sometimes,  we have the power of our light (and most likely The Force  as well) to guide us forward.

Rest in Peace, 1980’s AND 2016.  We will remember to learn our lessons from the past and keep them with us, along with the beauty and the joys that have propelled us forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Categories: American Culture, american History, Art and culture, Culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The True Commercial Spirit of Christmas

 

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I would like to thank Jim Hardison – a man who I have never met but whose work I have read in the context of my own professional pursuits, for this post. He and his partner run a company (called Character) that helps brands and marketers tell stories.

And this story about the true spirit of Christmas and it’s origins as a commercial enterprise holiday warmed the cockles of my narcissistic anthropologist heart.  Tis the season to appreciate the true spirit of the human condition and he does it so well in the story below.

Please enjoy this simple gift from me to you, which I gleefully received wrapped up in an email this morning:

The middle-aged woman in the Santa hat sitting next to me on the plane sighed dramatically. “Seems like people have completely forgotten what Christmas is all about,” she announced to the air. She paused in an apparent attempt to leave me an opening to interject. I steadfastly did not.

Without further preamble, she launched into an impassioned tirade about the commercialization of Christmas, which, she suggested, was a relatively recent development that had begun sometime after her own golden childhood and which was now reaching an unbearable peak.

Actually, merchants fabricated most of the current American Christmas tradition around 1820 as part of a successful attempt to refocus the boisterousness of a population at loose ends and flush with unaccustomed abundance away from rioting and looting and toward buying things and quietly staying home to give them to each other.

You see, in ancient times, January was a more interesting month. The arrival of January meant that the harvest was complete, which meant less farm work to keep people busy. The cold weather kept butchered livestock from rotting, but there was a short window of time in which to enjoy it at its peak of palatability. So there was a lot of feasting. The first batches of beer were also ready to be drunk, which is what vast swaths of the population were at the onset of January—ready to be drunk. They had too much time on their hands, a short-lived overabundance of food that was going to be followed by a long period of want, way too much alcohol and the prospect of a long, bitter winter. Plus, they were coming out of thousands of years of a feudal tradition in which January was the “season of Misrule,” when masters and servants reversed roles and the poor could accost the well-to-do and demand gifts of food, alcohol and money as a kind of social-pressure-relief valve. Now bring us our figgy pudding and bring it right here! We won’t go until we get some!

However, the seasonal traditions of drunken overindulgence and ritual extortion of the wealthy that filled a functional social role in monarchies didn’t go over very well in democratic, capitalistic America. In Europe, drunken revelers accosted noble lords and ladies who’d inherited land and other holdings, but in America, they harassed hardworking business people who didn’t feel as if they owed any particular debt to the masses. The great experiment of American democracy, coupled with the beginnings of the industrial revolution, caused great social upheaval that was profoundly affecting everything, including Christmas. The holiday frequently turned into an excuse for licentious behavior, rioting in the streets and looting of shops, making the season such an unsafe time to go outdoors that the celebration of Christmas was actually officially outlawed in some major cities.

And so, spearheaded by business owners, a movement grew in the early 1820s to change Christmas from a drunken carnival of public excess into an idyllic domestic celebration built on a foundation of “selfless generosity” that would require the exchanging of gifts. They hand-selected or outright fabricated “traditions,” like filling stockings with presents and exchanging Christmas cards. Commercialism isn’t the bane of our current Christmas tradition but its foundation. Even our modern version of Santa Claus was formulated as the figurehead of this domestic/commercial movement, built from a combination of the gift-giving Saint Nicholas, the British Father Christmas and various pagan figures, including Odin, Cernunnos and the Green Man. Santa’s fur-lined suit and cap are both holdovers from the wild Green Man, as are his reindeer Donner (Thunder) and Blitzen (Lightning). His red hat is probably a corrupted blend of the bishop’s miter of St. Nicholas, Odin’s pointy wizard cap and the Green Man’s hooded cloak.
Which is what I was thinking as I watched the white fluff ball at the tip of my seatmate’s hat bob energetically while she emphatically shook her head. “It just seems so wrong that all these brands and stores and everybody are glomming onto our Christmas traditions, using them to sell stuff and then not even wanting to call the holiday by its proper name,” she concluded. She sighed mightily and then stared at me expectantly, perhaps waiting for me to commiserate.

I briefly toyed with telling her that Christmas, as she knew it, really was about commercialism, that there really was a Santa Claus but that he wasn’t the selflessly generous and sprightly old elf from her childhood, that he was instead an odd combination of ancient Norse Gods, pagan nature spirits and misappropriated saints invoked by merchants to sell presents and Coca-Cola, that what was bothering her was that she was getting older rather than that the world was changing, that her perception that the state of the universe was devolving into corruption and commercialism was a story as old as humanity and one we all tell ourselves in order to avoid facing the harsh reality that we are sliding into old age.

So I did.

And let me tell you, it is possible to make a four-and-a-half-hour, middle-seat flight significantly more uncomfortable than it has to be just by saying the wrong thing. Even if it is true.

Have a happy holiday season, everyone!

I’m looking forward to reviving the original posts in the new year – I forgot how much fun making objective social sciency fun of humans can be.

Cheers!
Jamie

 

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What Now?

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I’m not a liberal. I’m not a safe space, social crusader. I’m not a sore loser who can’t get over the fact that Hillary Clinton wasn’t elected president. The notion that I had to put what lukewarm support I had for a candidate behind her was a source of great frustration for me. I am, at my very core, someone with conservative foundations. I believe that men and women, whenever possible, should be free to live their lives without government intervention. My family and my Christian faith are the center of my life. I like my guns. Chances are, I’m better than you at using them. I’ve worked with and for the toughest most dangerous men on the planet-men you’ve read books about, men you’ve seen movies about. I’ll never claim to be one. But I’ve proven myself useful in their presence. I share this with you so you understand…

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A Plea for Post-Election Empathy From The Intellectuals

Here are links to two brilliant articles addressing the change we are seeing in our country – exemplified by our current presidential election.

Cracked: How half of America Lost its Effing Mind

HBR: What so many people don’t get about the U.S. Working Class

They are brilliant pieces.  One written before the election and one after.

I have to say that as someone who studies Culture for a living, I saw this coming. A lot of us did and have been talking about it. I just didn’t want to believe the ultimate result.  

But what Trump/Pence represents is a necessary recognition of our “shadows” (or demons) as a country. We cannot move forward as a unified population in the spirit of light and love if we don’t first acknowledge, accept and neutralize our darkness and fear.  

A lot of us have been living in an echo-chamber with our intellectual, socially forward ideals. Too few of us have actually been seeking to understand what’s at the root of the fear we fight against.  

But what IS at the root are human beings who have been carrying burdens that have existed for generations- in many cases in fairly isolated communities. They have seen all these messages from the world on media painting pictures they don’t recognize – because they don’t reflect their community. And most people are scared of what they don’t know – at least for a little while until they find a way to conquer that fear.  

And – like a lot of us on the other end – when you live in an echo chamber it’s hard to hear opposing points of view.   

What is happening in our country now is a desperate cry to be understood from every human. Let’s truly start to listen so we can move forward into the light.

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The Perils of Adulthood Part 1: Making New Friends

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The other day I was in my car listening to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts , This American Life.  The theme was related to the concept of human intimacy and all of the anxiety it causes. The second story was the one that really got to me. It was about how hard it is as an adult to make new friends; and not necessarily just the type you casually hang out with but close friends that you can have a bond with.

It’s a situation that has become fairly acute for me recently. I’ll be 40 in just over a year. My wife (although she appears as youthful as the summer days are long) is also in that “grown folks” age range. Life and time has us in a place now where we are being mindful about the energy we keep around us. We are scrutinizing old friendships, appreciating strong friendships and starting to “date” new friends we’ve met as a couple (as opposed to the ones we individually brought “with” us) . I’m preparing to say goodbye to my longtime “best” friend whom life is taking on a new adventures away from the city we call home and clear across the country. And it’s freaking me out a bit.

Yes I know there are all kinds of technology as well as things like airplanes that can help keep people connected and even be party to the development of long-term relationships. I’m all too well aware. My best friend is moving for a woman she is in love with, who she has been internationally dating for nearly two years and whom she met on Tumblr (that’s a whole other blog).   But the fact is, it’s not “the same”.

We crave intimate connections with other humans that come in many forms: paternal/maternal, fraternal, romantic, and platonic and any other nuance you can think of. It’s our basic social instinct. We are social creatures. And most of us like to have other creatures we relate to in close proximity to use. We want to feel like we belong. And we want to literally feel love.

These are basic hierarchy of needs foundations. It’s why the two previously mentioned long-distance lovers are both ripping themselves away from the comforts of home to be together instead of sustaining a Skype-based romance. And it’s why sustaining and making new friendships as an adult is so important to our productive human functioning.

But making friends as an adult is so much harder then when we were younger. As a matter of fact, making friends gets progressively more difficult as we age. This is both a sociological as well as psychological fact. See this helpful visual aid on Erikson’s Stages of Psychological Development from a creative Glogster Educational Blog poster.

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When we’re in our youngest years, we are selfish little “watery moles” it’s all about us and getting what we need to survive and knowing where our bread is buttered. Then we start figuring out that behavior has consequences and we have choices and we start seeking approval for our choices, including gaining a sense of self worth by starting to collect people who approve of us: friends.

But then we start becoming adolescents and young adults and as we learn more about who we are as individuals we start to get picky….until suddenly we aren’t in a daily pool of human’s representative of the relevant general population to choose from (e.g. school) and if our job is not an extension of our passions and personal identity (which I realize is a very common reality albeit very different from my own) then the people we see at work every day are not necessarily eligible for the type of intimate, growth-inspiring relationship we need as adult humans.

When middle age sets in and we are driven to re-assess our meaning and the meaning of the people in our lives and realize the pool of potentials has now become woefully thin. Of course, as you get much older you begin to once again get less picky and find social groups that will help you remain feeling human and productive despite the realities of your degenerating physical self. My parents are in that stage right now – just having moved from a very isolated environment to a thriving community of humans in a mature life-stage, where they are thriving as they make new friends every day and stay socially and physically active.

I suppose the dilemma I am speaking of comes from my very acute sense of entering middle adulthood and wondering how I am going to find the time and energy to forge new intimate friendships while working so hard to leave my mark on the world.   There isn’t really an online “friendly, casual dating” site to turn to. You have to make a point to get out in the world and start new conversations.

I think that’s why places like upscale, intimate music venues, brewpubs, whiskey and wine bars and “casual” fine dining concepts with eat-at-the-bar and communal tables have become so popular. They are places where people who have an interest outside of finding a “hookup” for the night can stumble upon people with similar interests and strike up a non-committal exploratory conversation.   They are places where gender and mating aren’t the top priority, in favor of connecting via an appreciation of an aesthetic.

But those kinds of places are only great friend-finding solutions in places where there are lots of people with disposable income like urban and suburban areas. What about folks who live in spread out rural areas or small towns or in places that lack the economic infrastructure to create economic mobility, urban development and general means to escape to a greener pasture?   How do you figure out how to find meaningful relationships with a limited pool of prospects to choose from?

As I write this I am reminded of the thing I tell myself and whomever will listen to me on a regular basis: It’s all about giving yourself permission to belong to everyone and have everyone belong to you.  It’s about the love.  I need to remember to follow my own advice sometimes.

Maybe the lesson we forget as we age is that we are all in this thing called life and the human experience together. We are of one unbroken mind and spirit. If we make a point to open ourselves up and be vulnerable to our fellow humans we have an opportunity to see inside to our deepest selves and realize that we are all the exact same thing.

We are all love. We all have that in common – we just tell ourselves that this thing we call our “self” has all kinds of rules about what we can be an who we can let in.   And the older we get the more rules we accumulate until our wall of rules is stacked to the sky and utterly impenetrable.   But I think many of the brave ones among us learn that we find friends from unlikely places when we let them through that wall.

I suppose what I am saying about this first peril of adulthood – making new friends – is that it’s about more than finding people in a similar life stage and / or with similar interests who have a schedule that matches yours so you can find the time to hang out and do constructive things together. Perhaps it’s also about making a choice to open yourself up and practice random acts of connection.

What if we decided to start selection with the basics (Are they kind? Are they fun?) as opposed to the limiting specifics (Do run marathons like I do? Are they vegan?). Sure – the love everyone method isn’t fool proof. You will likely get disappointed sometimes. But maybe in those situations where you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you also give yourself the opportunity to be uncomfortable and grow as a result and have the same effect on someone else.

For example, start up a conversation with a random stranger that maybe doesn’t look like you or come from your “world”.   Not only might you enhance your human experience by stepping outside your comfort zone a bit an expanding both the degree you are willing to accept the influence of others and have an influence on others based on your differences, but you will most likely find the most basic of commonalities which, if you choose to be a little fearless every now and then, can be the foundation for creation of a truly intimate human bond.

Just imagine how much better adulthood would be if we all, rather than choosing to narrow our circle of friends, choose to widen it. What if we gave more people the opportunity to “play” as opposed to setting such rigid criteria for even getting on the team? As in anything in life, practice makes perfect. So lets not get so rigid in our middle age that we feel like we don’t need to practice making friends and getting along anymore like we did when we were kids.

After all, you weren’t so picky as a child, bonding with whomever was thrust upon you by virtue of proximity at home or school.   It’s the basis of family bonding, really – you love whom you are born in to.   And I bet there are lots of you out there who still have a lifetime friend from when you were young or remain incredibly close with your siblings…despite growing in different directions.

It’s because you made a conscious decision to maintain your connection to your family (given or chosen) because you know it is the right thing to do as a human

So let’s remember we were all born in to this world together and practice making even bigger families as we mature. Let’s combat the perils of Adulthood by remaining ever vigilant that we make ourselves stronger when we give ourselves permission to make it easier to make friends.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Anthropology, sociology, Uncategorized, Well-being | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Adulting: Because Being a Grownup Should Only Be a Temporary Affliction

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I remember being a kid trying to figure out what set adults apart from the rest of the masses of “watery moles” (Thanks, Florence King,  for that reference I will be using often).  In my best estimation, they were bigger than kids, had breath that smelled like coffee, cigarettes, alcohol or artificial mint, drove cars, watched news and complained about work.

They were there to make us eat vegetables, follow rules, go to bed early, live in fear of saying swear words and make sure our clothes matched.

Another common characteristics of the adults of the human species, in my estimation as well as the estimation of many of my peers – real and fictional (Peter Pan counts), is that they didn’t know how to be silly or have fun or otherwise prioritize imagination, spontaneity and the joys of getting dirty.

Generally speaking, it seemed that being a grown-up meant earning the right to make kids do stuff “because I said so” and avoiding answering questions like “why” – or just generally making the answers up.

Having been a human of adult age for quite some time now, I think it’s safe to say that my burgeoning anthropological-analysis skills were spot on.   Adults are generally just more serious “watery moles” who have entered a life stage seemingly devoid of fun.

Lets consider this concept of the adult / grown-up life-stage for a minute.
It’s one that I have been grappling with a good amount lately, both as a professional who studies culture and consults for companies and brands and as a human resisting the confines of conformity. 😉

I remember when i first started seriously examining the topic.  It was several years ago when, on what felt  like my “bazillionth” project helping clients understand “Millennials” (the seemingly perplexing generation of humans born sometime between the early 80s and the year 2000).  In particular, I had been forced to finally develop a framework (which still works today) that showed the divergent sets of life-stages being occupied by the “adult”-aged sub-sets of Millennials

You see – the world has changed a lot since their parents were kids. Hell – it had changed a lot (and continues to) since their parents had become parents.  There are and were a number of mitigating social, cultural, etc. circumstances that prevented adult-aged Millennials (let’s just go with 21+) from fitting neatly in to the “grown-up” mold.

The term “extended adolescence” had been thrown around for a while.  Lots of talk about “entitlement” (still present) and other forms of behavior associated with being young and naive.  The fact is, however – that there are / were adult Millennials still in a semi-dependent life-stage: relying on their parents for financial, emotional and otherwise logistical support navigating the transition to on-thief-own.  Then there is / was the group who – not even thinking about marriage yet – is / was enjoying the freedom of being on their own, having the money to “play” while exploring career options and working hard to make a name for themselves.  Then there is the group that most closely resembles the standard definition of an “adult” – those who are starting families and getting more serious about their professional lives whilst doing things like buying houses and new cars and starting to explore retirement savings plans.

But here’s the thing that, regardless of life stage,  seems to have come to pass as part of “Millennial” Adulthood and has also rubbed off on “the rest of us”.  The idea that “adulthood” (noun) doesn’t have to be a definitive end.  Rather – you can maintain the trappings of youth that help keep us all curious, creative, energized, fun and otherwise still interested in exploring this human experience from a naive and ultimately rewarding point of view.

You just have to realize that there are certain behaviors that constitute the “responsible” part of being an adult. Otherwise, the rest is crap and you should just scrap all preconceived notions of what an “adult” (noun) looks like.  Rather, just selectively practice the skills / art of “adulting” (verb).

As defined by urbandicitonary.com

Adulting (v): to do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as, a 9-5 job, a mortgage/rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown ups.

Used in a sentence: Jane is adulting quite well today as she is on time for work promptly at 8am and appears well groomed.

You see, there are certain kid behaviors and characteristics that are super-valuable if you want to thrive as a human being.  For example:

Play:  this is behavior we do as kids to prepare ourselves for adult responsibilities.  But what separates play from adult responsibilities is that it is done for enjoyment, rather than for a serious or practical purpose.  We do the activities of play because they are fun.  We learn things, we experience consequences and then we brush them off.  Because it’s not so serious.  When we choose to be adults in the traditional sense we tend to take everything too seriously and always have an agenda – win or lose.

Fearlessness:  daring to express ourselves and test our limits without fear of reprisal or injury.  The sheer will to not care what people think and just boldly do what the voice at the core of our being tells us to do.  Because even if you do get scraped up or break a bone or get your heart-broken – all of those things heal and we are better off for ware having had the experience.

Curiosity:  the audacity to ask “why” at every turn – to see the world with fresh eyes as often as prolifically as possible.  The need to have things explained to you “like a three-year old”  because “because I said so” is just not a good enough answer and if you ask “why” often enough you eventually find out that nobody really knows anything – that we are all making it up as we go along and that there is always room for interpretation and there is always more to learn.

Creativity:  perhaps the last bastion of childhood that some lucky and enlightened humans have been lucky enough to carry on in to their grown-up lives.  This is the art of envisioning the reality that you want and making it happen by any means necessary – even if it means coloring outside the lines or putting something out there that might be utterly imperceptible to others or simply allowing yourself to temporarily exist in a fantasy of your own imagining.  It’s the art of making yourself think beyond the tangible by allowing yourself to dream.  It is the behavior that allows newness in to the world. It is probably the single thing at the root of the other three behaviors / characteristics listed above.

But let’s not devalue the importance of “adulting” as a  behavior.  In balance with the childlike behaviors above, these acts are necessary for survival so we may free ourselves up to thrive. Example adulting behavior includes:

Holding down a job: showing up on time, completing tasks and otherwise establishing a track record of being able to support one’s self financial through delivery of a service to others and playing nice with other humans in pursuit of the same.

Paying taxes:  because somebody has to pay for all the things we take for granted, like roads and schools and feeding / caring for those who can’t support themselves.

Voting:  the act of being accountable for creation and direction of government so we don’t become a race of lemmings or victims. Nobody wants to fall off a cliff to their death simply because they didn’t take the time to learn what’s going on and punch a few holes in a piece of paper.  If you choose not to vote for your leaders you give up your right to complain.

Eating right:  deciding that the cake made out of fruity pebbles (it’s a real thing – i narrowly avoided that non-adulting behavior this morning) does not count as breakfast and realizing that in order to actually keep your adult body functioning so you can do all the cool stuff you want to do well in to your old age that you need to be careful about what you put in it.

Listening to others:  being mindful of hearing other people’s points of view and not just putting your fingers in your ears and screaming when someone is saying something you don’t want to hear.  The fact is, we don’t all agree and need to respect one another’s right to divergent opinions so we can get along in harmony.  The side benefit is that sometimes you learn something and often learn to empathize with your fellow humans simply by being open to new words or experiences that might bear similar motivations to your own.

Cleaning up: yourself, your home, your car, your desk,etc.  Because dirt = germs and chaos and cleanliness  = space to think, grow and thrive.  Also – a clean “anything” is more welcoming than a dirty one – which means you will invite more humans in to your world that you can play with. If you can’t seem to create a clean tidy enviroment for yourself, you could always hire from a company like, Denver Concierge’s house cleaning service. Then you just focus on your work and play!

That being said – it is all a delicate balance.  All work and no play makes any human a dull sack of flesh. But all play without accountability for one’s actions can lead to serious consequences.

But i think the new generations of adults (I refuse to use the “M” word anymore) have  taught us a few things about a life well lived.  There’s nothing wrong with choosing the lower paying job because you get to spend more time with your kids or taking the road less traveled because it looks like more fun.   And you don’t have to separate your creative self from your work life or not play at the office.

Life is a curious wonderful time where we spiritual beings get to have this awkward and amazing human experience.  Lets remember to enjoy the ride and – by all means – practice “adulting” responsibly, but NEVER EVER become a full-fledged grown-up!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Uncategorized | Tags: , | Leave a comment

What’s Fueling “The Bern?” The Secret Every Marketer Should Know

Yet another view into the world of a “professional” narcissistic anthropologist at work.  Posted this morning on the company site / linkedin.

On a side note, I was recently inspired by a new blog i found called The Anxious Anthropologist to start writing more of “the fun stuff”…so expect something new soon.

 

catchingfirebernie

As Cultural Strategists, we invest our time and attention understanding the context that drives human behavior: the macroforces, societal trends and ultimately the resulting cultural values shifts that have a tremendous impact on how we exist in the world. This context influences the choices we make: from big life decisions and lifestyle preferences to our behavior in the marketplace.

The political marketplace has increasingly become a cultural focal point and provides a great example of how emerging cultural values have fueled momentum powering a different kind of politician and the movement his brand of politics is creating: Bernie Sanders.

Whatever the outcome of the election season, one objective fact can’t be denied: an unlikely candidate who, for all intents and purposes had been essentially written off by the mainstream political community, has been gaining more ground than anyone anticipated.

But what some might not consciously realize is that “The Bern” represents a critical mass of cultural values shifts that the team at Culture has spent their careers tracking. So, it’s safe to say we saw this coming. 😉

These values shifts result from the interplay of a number of big picture phenomena and trends, such as the rise of a global economy, increasing economic polarization, natural resource depletion, rampant technological and communication advancement, and the speed, efficiency and creativity with which humans have been able to connect, learn from and identify with one another.

Looking at developed world culture – with the U.S. as a prime example – we can highlight a few specific values shifts that underpin the principles and behaviors, which have created an ideal cultural climate for a candidate like Bernie Sanders to shine:

  • From an “us versus them” mentality rooted in “othering” to fostering a global culture and finding common ground as a human civilization
  • From a “humans first” mentality to acknowledgement of the commitment to a shared ecosystem
  • From the belief that power can only be held and change can only be made possible by institutions to the belief in the power and empowerment of individuals and society

 

The Bernie Sanders brand of democratic socialism, which focuses on human rights, climate change action and other socio-political issues, hits squarely on these values. The implications have been far reaching – including forcing the ‘competition’ to begin softening its message to get in line – because this is the direction of change as dictated by the values of our culture.

Even just looking at a few items, quoted from the list of Bernie’s key platform issues, you can see the connection:

  • Income and wealth inequality
  • It’s time to make college tuition free and debt free
  • Getting big money out of politics and restoring democracy
  • Creating decent paying jobs
  • A living wage
  • Combating climate change to save the planet
  • A fair and humane immigration policy
  • Racial justice
  • Fighting for women’s rights

 

But what are the implications for business and brands?

The fact is, values are beliefs that motivate behavior in life and in the marketplace. Values guide how humans react to change and how they will ultimately react to your brand in an increasingly cluttered and noisy landscape.

Which categories are most impacted by cultural values shifts like these? What does the landscape of trends related to those categories look like in relation to these values shifts? What other shifts are affecting your customers’ behavior and what should your brand / company do about them in order to succeed in the marketplace?

These are important questions to ask, and answering them effectively will require some deep exploration of your customers’ worlds.

At Culture, we are expert consultants who have spent our careers tracking global macroforces, trends, and values, working with leading global brands to direct strategy and keeping boots on the ground studying human cultural and behavioral context. Whether you are a client-side executive who needs a high-level but actionable overview of the implications for your business, or an agency looking to supercharge your planning or stand apart in your pitch with quick-turnaround insights that go far beyond trend reports and data-driven proof points, Culture can provide that strategic intelligence by connecting your business realities to the cultural context that is shaping our world.

Are you ready to uncover the “secret” motivations that will fuel your brand’s rise to the next level?

 Let us find the superpowers hidden in your customers’ and your brand’s values that will help it burn even brighter.

Categories: Marketing, Politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

What’s the Real Point of Brand Purpose? A Perspective on Purpose Alignment and Activation

manifest-your-life-purpose-and-love-your-job

This post was originally published for my business, Culture and can be found here

Having spent the last 16 years working with a cornucopia of legacy brand and marketing organizations, helping them connect with their customers and develop truly relevant innovations and communications, I’ve seen the business mindset evolve in so many positive ways.

At some point in recent business history, there was a demonstrative shift in consumer brand (and b2b) corporate culture. Affirmed by studies and books like Grow, by Jim Stengle – the humans that drive the performance of brand and marketing organizations have been realizing the imperative of integrating not just business performance, but purpose, in to their success metrics.

But why is “purpose” so important (and what exactly does it mean) when it comes to the business of marketing and consumer products?

Humans perform at their best when they are motivated from a purpose-driven mindset.

Purpose is what allows people to love what they do.

Love is the force that compels us to belong to one another and relentlessly work towards collective success, fueling:

  • Business performance and sustainable growth
  • Social impact and positive influence on humanity
  • Personal wellbeing of employees and a thriving workplace family

A mindset is a set of values and principles that shape our ay-to-day behavior and routines.

A company or brand’s true purpose is that articulation of love as it is brought to life by the mindset of its most engaged employees

That means it is the embodiment of the shared values and principles that determine how they engage with the world and why they devote mind, body and soul to your company every single day.

The path to purpose alignment and activation starts by asking a few very big questions:

  • Does your company or brand have an articulated purpose or set of values written in to its charter / mission / vision?
  • Was the process of arriving at that purpose inclusive? Did it engage employees and stakeholder
  • Is that purpose being activated to its fullest potential?
    • Does it drive employee/ stakeholder morale, culture and engagement?
    • Is purpose integrated in to performance metrics?
    • How is that purpose translated in to business operations and supply chain strategy?
    • Does your brand’s purpose drive customer / consumer facing communication and engagement?
    • Do the values brought to life in your purpose align with the shared values of your best customers?
    • Are innovation and strategic growth initiatives fueled by a commitment to your brand’s purpose?
    • Can you connect purpose metrics and KPIs to a measurable impact on business performance?
  • Where is there from for improvement and how might that affect your business?

If you are one of the amazing companies or brands (like Patagonia, for example) who is already authentically checking off most or all the purpose criteria above, then I take my hat off to you.

If you’re not – the good news is it only gets better from here. And the team here at Culture can help. We know a thing or two about how to understand the values that motivate people and put them into action that drives business growth and builds brand love.

One thing we know about purpose in particular is that people support businesses that share their values.

Corporations and brands are collections of people whom, when working from a purpose-driven mindset, create businesses people love.

So to all my family of marketers and brand warriors who are putting their heart and soul in to their work every day, what are the ways you see the love in your company or brand’s engagement with the world and what are the possibilities if that purpose was truly leveraged to its fullest potential?

Your brand does have the power to change the world – and thrive in the process.

What is your highest order vision for the future?

Let’s make it happen.

 

Categories: Corporate Culture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Lessons From Corporate America on Humanizing Poverty

I originally wrote the post below for my company (Culture) blog and also set it here on linkedin

Hope you enjoy the inspiration.

Last year we completed what ended up being an intensely inspiring project…

Our client identified a customer group that they realized they hadn’t been serving to their fullest potential because it is a “target” that they knew very little about. Not only were they profoundly aware of this knowledge gap, but also that their ethnocentric point of view as a corporate culture was definitely going to be a road block on the innovation journey.

This set of humans our client sought so deeply to understand are American families and older adults living at or near the poverty line.

These are people who struggle to provide for themselves and their families and rely on “the system” to help them subsist. These are their customers and potential customers who spend their money from the bottom rungs of the hierarchy of needs and who typically get screened out of market research studies because their income falls below “acceptable” levels.

They are still on their journey and developing empathy every day that is fueling a rampant momentum in the socially forward activation of a newly invigorated corporate mission. And one big lesson they learned about this customer group is that money is not at the root of a person’s inability to break free from the grips of poverty, but it’s the degree to which our cultural views of poverty and social services systems are preventing meaningful relationship-building and provision of resources to allow people to do the work of living to their potential.

The reason they began to understand this (how most people begin to understand one another) is because they made a point to be present in the worlds of these customers, asking questions that go beyond the transactional nature typically used in market research to unearth the principles and behaviors that bring the highest common denominator values that these humans share to light. They unearthed a number of insights from this work which inspired a broad swath of innovation opportunities that, as it turns out, are acutely aligned with their corporate purpose.

This approach of developing empathy through values alignment is what has fueled Culture’s success in giving our corporate clients permission to grow their businesses by being more human.

While this may be an unusual target for consumer brands company to focus on, it is an approach to understanding that many big (and small) businesses are beginning to prioritize; aligning company and ultimately brand values with customer values to create “love connections” that inspire and motivate meaningful actions.

 But this approach is not one often seen applied (beyond the academic space) in the social services realm.

Why? This kind of work is not necessarily feasible for a public sector agency – for a number of systemic reasons that go beyond money. But perhaps the most obvious of which is that recipients of social services are not seen as “customers” but as burdens to the system and therefore not entitled to being understood on a human level in order to design more efficient and effective social services systems.

And delivering any kind of relevant product or service comes from making meaningful human connections. But that’s an easy thing to say. In order to innovate what is widely agreed-upon as a broken system, we must seek first to understand the human needs, rooted in the deepest-held values that unify this distinct cultural group within our American culture. We do this by understanding the context of the lives of the customers we serve.

It is important in Cultural Strategy work like this to address the anthropological challenge of cultural relativism (as we do here at Culture).

This theoretical guideline allows the story of that culture’s context and values system to be told from the perspective of the humans being served – in this case, customers of social services like SNAP (food stamps). Because nobody living outside their context can tell them anything about who they are, what they need and what their “problem” is unless they have lived on their block, in their lives, with their paycheck.

It is one thing to exist on the policy-side and use data to guide decisions. It is yet another to be on customer-service-facing end of social services and only see the tired, frustrated, impatient, sometimes unorganized and often seemingly “unmotivated” people rushing to get their benefits and get out the door. But if we take a moment to step in to the shoes of this set of struggling Americans, like teachers, bakers or nurses, that’s why we recommend nursing shoes at ShoeFinale.
From them we learn a few things about why empowerment to lift one’s self out of poverty is lacking.

For example: when you spend all your time and energy working long hours for little pay (often in service oriented professions that most middle and upper class Americans couldn’t do without), managing tedious transactions with government agencies and also dong your best to care and provide for a family – there is little time to connect with yourself and your highest order needs, let alone make meaningful connections with others that inspire and motivate progress.

So how do we get “the system” to start realizing what at least our clients and many other businesses out there are already embracing – that people should be the bottom line and that meaningful progress comes from building relationships? What are the ways we can learn from the lives of people living in poverty – the values that motivate their behavior and ultimately what their unmet human needs are above and beyond physiological ones?

What if the system were easier to navigate? What if customers could spend less time filling out / following up on piles of paperwork and more time focusing on work and family? What if – once they got a better job and made just a little bit more money they were allowed to keep their benefits for a while to build a savings instead of having their benefits cut and ultimately falling behind (newsflash –a $5/hour salary increase doesn’t make up for having $700 a month in family food benefits cut). What if the experience of going to a social services office to apply for benefits was simply a more loving and less demoralizing experience?

It’s a hierarchy of needs issue. Subsistence is a basic human need. But when we don’t have what we need to survive and feel like the system doesn’t care, we don’t feel the sense of love and belonging that ultimately allows us to develop self-esteem and empower our move upward.

Perhaps government agencies can take some time to examine the value Cultural Strategy can bring to innovate social services.

If social science can be applied to innovate consumer products for the middle class, certainly it can be used to lift people out of poverty – helping our economy and our society to grow and thrive by creating a culture of belonging.

 

Image credit: http://connessioniprecarie.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Democrazia-in-movimento.jpg

 

Categories: Anthropology, Business and Culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Do Brands Have The Power To Change The World?

 

apple-nike

Here is the one true thing I know about humans having studied them in action and been one myself for many years: we are essentially “good”. Whether we all know it or not, we share a light of truth that binds us to one another in a spirit of belonging whereby we all have the opportunity to thrive.

This is fact. However, if you disagree with this fact, feel free to stop reading and I’ll catch you later once you have experienced proof of concept. Which wont be long now.

So, yes its true that people are naturally inclined to be good. We know that. But for too many of us these days, that light is hidden in shadows or buried altogether. Or at least we think it is.   We have a tendency – especially in the more economically developed parts of the world – to dive too deep into the distractions of daily life – letting the shiny things substitute for soul shine and forgetting that the good stuff is on the inside. I suppose we have started to forget we belong to one another –that we are love and we are loved.

But here’s the good news – light and love is contagious. It is downright virally infectious. When one human allows their light to shine through in its purest form – that energy draws out the light in others. It is a reflection of our highest common denominator truth and the more pervasive its exposure the more effective its result.

That’s why I like working in marketing strategy. While some people might think marketing is the art of fabricating persuasive fiction, I see it for it’s potential to give and spread the gift of truth. It is the medium through which those who direct mass-communication can remind a world full of customers to reflect, empower and spread that truth.

You see, brands have an opportunity to be so much more than shiny things that might be granted the favor of our attention for a fleeting moment in our lives.

Companies who market consumer brands have not just an opportunity but also an obligation to be more than an idea attached to the stuff we use. They can and should be the fuel – the nuggets of energy we engage with every day – that help us get stuff done – driving momentum for the positive social change that will allow all humans to thrive.

It really is a pretty simple concept:

A Brand is an idea or collection of ideas that has cultural meaning, represented in products, packaging and marketing communication as well as in the ways that the companies who market them conduct their business. When we see a brand sharing an idea that represents a deeply held human truth, we can feel that sense of belonging to one another being validated.

So, If brands can truly embrace and reflect the highest common denominator truths that exist in their most engaged customers – for example – they can reach thousands, hundreds of thousands or even millions of people with that same light-filled message – since many other humans who might not necessarily be engaged with that brand will also share belief in and commitment to those truths.

 

This projection of highest common denominator values not only provides an opportunity for that brand to reach more humans, but for more humans to connect to one another based on those shared values.

Its also important to realize that getting at those truth’s is not as difficult as one might think. As it turns out, humans like to share their truth – whether they tell you or show you through their behavior or how they curate their lives. I should know – I have spent the last 15 years listening to eager consumer research participants share their stories. And when a brand shows interest in really understanding the human truths their customers hold dear it creates a bond that builds love – the same way it happens when you are cultivating human relationships. Because we are inclined to bond with people who care about who we are deep down and allow us to shine.

So it stands to reason that when brands and companies seek to understand their customer’s humanity, they are not only building a bond that ensures a loyal following but one that also puts a little more love out in to the world.

Now imagine if even half of the world’s gazillion brands were spreading that kind of light every day…to multiples of millions of people at a time. Imagine the world we could create if people were empowered to radiate that kind of love and light and truth and belonging every day in their interactions with all of the brands and other humans they encounter.

Based on the math alone we can see the big picture and it illustrates a very very bright future for humanity.

My mission is to help find and spread this light and remind humans how much we belong to one another so we can get on the same path toward a better tomorrow. Sure there are several light-spreading callings out there from music to religious practice to art and film.   I choose work that communicates through the lens of consumer culture – because I truly believe in the power of marketing love to the world.

Our mission at Culture – the cultural strategy firm where I am a partner –  is to cultivate human connection in the interest of shared thriving. We do this by strategically helping companies understand the potential of their brand from the perspective of their best customer’s highest common denominator values. In the process of finding the upside of humanity in the people who support their companies, the humans who run those companies also get the opportunity to bring their own humanity in to their work. It makes for better business and it makes for a better world for all of us.

So yes – brands do have the power to change the world – by elevating the consumer cultural conversation. Because shiny things with fictional stories are simply disposable objects. But brands that share human truths in their communications and their business practices are love machines that have can bring humans into the light and help us achieve the potential we all have to create the world we want to live in – one where we don’t live in fear of our ability to survive but rather embrace our power to thrive.

 

All it takes is a little love and the willingness to seek out our truth.

 

 

 

Categories: Branding, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

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