Anthropology

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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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

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

Be still my beating NYC HeART

I lived in New York City for a few short-but-long-enough years in the “early 2000s”.  My renovated-but-still-affordable apartment was on (as we told my girlfriend’s conservative suburban mother) the “upper upper upper East Side.  Otherwise known as east Harlem.

I was in anthropologist heaven but quality-of-life hell.  While I appreciated joining a neighborhood (even if it was as a friendly and respectful interloper) with a vibrant and sometimes very dark culture, I also spent much of my time keenly aware that I had no business being there.  It was the kind of place where most people growing up there strive to get out and then see well-meaning but naive “upwardly mobile” young white folks moving in BY CHOICE and just can’t understand.

My brother lived (and still does) near Union Swuare and so I spent a lot of time commuting to the “bottom half” of the island.  When I lived there I rarely took the time to look up and out from my immediate mission of self preservation.  But now when I visit (often for work but this most recent time for “liesure”) I was focused on allowing the outside in and making a point to see all the writing on the wall (or wherever else the writing is).

What I found on this most recent expedition to the concrete Empire State jungle was a lot more love than I had seen before.   I think I had chosen not to experience the city as a place that required armor to keep the darkness out.  But lately (and maybe it’s been there all along) I have been finding the light.  Here are some of the “not so scary” pieces of art and life that I spied on my weekend trip in late June.  Somewhere near Hell’s Kitchen, Chelsea and some pavement in between:

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Humans of The Willamette Valley: A Celebration of Life

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to visit Portland, Oregon for the very first time and take an unexpected “side trip” about 90 minutes north to a town called Jefferson – which is located in the Willamette Valley.  To the hipster-come-borgeois bohemian “metro area” dwellers (not unlike myself), the Willamette Valley is the place where “those awesome Pinot Noir’s” come from.  A haven for wine lovers.

To my friend E and her family – it’s home.   That place she grew up playing in the blackberry bush brambles, living in a kid-paradise of both tamed and untamed nature and watching her Mother tend to the many plants and flowers in her greenhouse while her father worked in his.

E puts together a living as an Artist who does freelance design work.  She is an introvert by nature but you can tell she is retaining an intense light no doubt nurtured by the natural beauty she grew up in and parents who took great pride raising all kinds of living things – from plants and flowers to children – to bloom bright in whatever way nature intended.

E’s mother passed about 4 months ago; several months after E had moved back out there from the East Coast with her partner to care for her in her final battle with Cancer.

When I arrived in Portland for my conference (The World Domination Summit – which will absolutely be featured in another blog entry) – I got in touch to see if it was possible to get together while I was in town.   As it turned out – E’s entire family (all the brothers and sisters and aunts and cousins) would be arriving in just a few days for a planned Celebration of Life that Sunday to honor her Mother.   They hadn’t had a memorial service and – as it turns out, in the true spirit of her family – the preferred method of commemoration was that of a joyful gathering in the place and with the people her Mother loved most.

E and her partner extended an invitation for me to join them Saturday afternoon and evening for a family BBQ in advance of the big Sunday celebration – to let the Anthropologist in me see some more of Oregon and experience ” the native way of life”.  I think she actually used that term. 🙂  But I was just happy to see my friend and also secretly excited to see E’s Dad’s farm – where he has been growing organic medical marijuana among his other crops.  I had never seen anything like that except for on television and my curiosity was beyond peaked.  I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to the subject matter of  anything related to deviance (i even got a degree in it – of sorts and even if Marijuana is now technically Legal in Oregon and therefore no longer defined as “deviant” by law).

What I experienced that night was nothing off-the charts on an “indigenous ritual” scale.  Just a collection of loved ones grilling dinner and catching up – enjoying the comfort and discomfort of family interaction in anticipation of what would surely be an emotional day to follow.  But I did experience off-the-charts love oozing out of every person I encountered.  They welcomed me  – a stranger for all intents and purposes – in to their home with so much warmth during a very special and private time in their family’s journey together.

I am grateful for the reminder of my love for humankind and the reason why I chose this calling of observing, capturing and trying to make sense of the human experience.  Over the years I have learned that despite our many differences based on geography, demography, ethnicity, etc. that we have so much more in common than we know.

So I would like to share a celebration of life via a photo journal of  E’s family’s big heart-space in a relatively small part of the world.  As a gesture of gratitude to Honor E’s mother and the love in all of us, here are some captured images and moments from my “native experience” in Jefferson, Oregon:

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Categories: American Culture, Anthropology | Tags: , , , | 1 Comment

Is Customer Social Responsibility The New “CSR”?

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Sometimes work and life go together.  For Narcissistic Anthropologists like me, this phenomenon happens more often than not.

For the last several months I have been building momentum as a partner at Culture Agency in Atlanta, GA.  In the new year we made an official commitment to, at all costs, only work with clients and on projects that we feel will move human culture forward.

I sit here today, typing out my point of view,  in awe and gratitude for the response we have gotten from our community of clients and fellow strategy practitioners.  It has been amazing to the see the shift in momentum in corporate and “consumer” culture and couldn’t be more pleased to be a part of it.

I wrote the blog below for our company page- but life and art are one so I felt compelled to share here.

Empowering a New Era of CSR: Customer Social Responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility has been a mainstreaming trend in business for the past decade or more. The intentionality of corporations to make it a point to use their resources as a source of social good is a direct reflection of evolving cultural values. To quote Ryan Honeyman from the B Corp Handbook,

“Business is, for better or worse, one of the most powerful forces on the planet. At its best, business encourages collaboration, innovation and mutual well-being and helps people to live more vibrant and fulfilling lives. At its worst, business and the tendency to focus on maximizing short-term profits – can lead to significant social and environmental damage, such as the BP Deepwater horizon Oil spill or the loss of more than $1 trillion in global wealth in the 2008 financial crisis.”

In reaction to a string of global phenomenon of the aforementioned “for worse” part and thanks to the powder keg of awareness and transparency that has been sparked by connectivity, we have seen the responsibility for creating positive social change become distributed with a new balance of power that is fueling significantly stronger momentum. Where the world once relied on the power of governments and their peacekeeping forces to reactively defend (or keep at bay – depending on the government) human rights and try, in the midst of the constant struggle, to carve out room for progress, we now see corporations and civil society realizing both their influence and their obligation.

Three sociological spheres that used to orbit one another, accessing the light of truth separately and unequally depending on their position, are now traveling on a shared path. Civil society has asserted its power to drive social change. The growth and impact of NGOs like the Human Rights Campaign and 350.org have made great strides in areas like marriage rights for Gay and Lesbian couples and battling Climate Change. Crowd-sourced movements like Occupy raise voices and awareness around income inequality.

When it comes to directing change in the corporate sphere, people are exercising their influence by exercising their wallets – being choiceful about purchases based on their values. People who are passionate about reclaiming the food supply and eating with sustainable health in mind might seek out only those food brands and products that are certified organic or certified non-GMO. Some who care about solving problems related to income inequality might choose one brand over another because they know a portion of the profits (or products) from that company are given to humans in need.

If one trend is clear, it is that more and more “customers” are putting on their “human” hat when they choose how to spend their money. Transparency and corporate social responsibility play an increasing role in our evolving social contract. But as corporations and civil society are finding synergies, new innovations in brand-to-human engagement are arising.

In particular, civil society is realizing that money is not the only powerful force driving social change. Sure, it helps and is a great start and an energetic catalyst. But momentum isn’t driven by bank accounts. It’s driven by action. Change can’t happen unless human hands take those resources and do something with them.

Many businesses leaders in industries across the board have been seeing this light as well. Here’s a little secret about how that’s coming to bear…. lean in closely…

…business leaders are also “customers” and “humans!”

I know. I just blew your mind (insert wink here).

But the other plain fact is that business leaders are the ones who have the power to change the world for the better. Not only do they know it, but they are feeling more and more empowered to embody it the more civil society raises its voice.

According to the co-founders of B Lab, quoted from the same book mentioned above:

“Business leaders are the rock stars of our time. But the rock stars of the next generation will be different from the rock stars of today. These rock stars will build companies that are both high growth and high impact. These rock stars will make money and make a difference – at the same time.”

I tend to think that the trend in better business is heading to a new era of CSR – evolving from Corporate Social Responsibility to a shared ownership rooted in Customer Social Responsibility.

I’ve mentioned a couple of examples of this sort of kindness-in-action before, with Airbnb’s One Less Stranger campaign and Unilever’s Project Sunlight.

I bring them up here again as an example of corporations truly engaging their customers to do something above and beyond using their wallets to affect change. Rather, these two programs encourage customers to get out there and DO something that makes the world better, whether it be a small action like sharing some hot chocolate and a conversation with a “stranger” or downloading a toolkit to help provide guidance on how to start or participate in food sharing programs for the hungry.

This is good news for both businesses and their customers – because it means that we have an opportunity to make life better by reminding us of our power to make this world the caring place we all want it to be by not just putting our money where our mouth is, but also our energy and our time.

Here at Culture, we are proud to work with a number of such business leader “rock stars” who inspire us every day by their willingness to find ways to engage both their organizations and their customers to connect with our shared core human values and make the world a more “human” place for everyone. After all, the first step toward “Customer Social Responsibility” as a part of any business is understanding what drives those customers at their very core and choosing to connect with the highest order values and beliefs that give us permission to share the love.

To see this content in its original form or to read more “Culture” perspectives, click the following link: http://www.culture-agency.com/blog/

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, CSR, sociology | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Love, Haters and Hipsters: The Irony of Being A Millennial

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I have officially decided that I’ve  spent too much time commenting on a recent Facebook thread started in the last day  by fellow bloggers Eve Kerrigan, Rachel Gall and Anna Akbari, about a recent article on Millennials called  “Generation Wuss” by Vanity Fair’s Bret Easton Ellis.

I am, however, compelled to share and express my very “special” point of view in a blog post.  No, I’m not an “entitled millennial”,  just a Narcissistic Anthropologist who needs a fix.   Also as someone who has been studying, marketing and helping  to develop brands and products for Millennials since before they were even getting their first driver’s licenses  – I have a point of view on the topic.

I honestly say that I feel a great deal of empathy for this cohort who has been the object of intense scrutiny and marketing-targeting since they started getting an allowance.  They had the distinct privilege of growing up during the evolution of the information age and I think it’s safe to say that everyone feels we are officially at a point of “TMI”. The aforementioned article dishes out some tough love for what he essentially chalks up to a  hypersensitive and seemingly ill-prepared-for-life cohort.

Lets take a step back and reflect upon this generation that entered the consumer world with so much love and fanfare.

 Lets start with the love.   Their parents – mostly boomers – decided that they were going to love them with all their hearts  – and the fierce dedication of a tiger protecting it’s prey. They gave them everything they didn’t get from their parents in the form  of constant cradling with self-esteem focused education.

They also gave their time: micromanaging every aspect of their school and extra-curricular lives to make sure they grew up to get into the “right” college and become successful, well-rounded adults.  They encouraged their passions and told them they could be anything they wanted to be when they grew up.  And after 9-11, when the sub-prime crash happened and we seemed to “lose everything” – they became the epitome of close-knit families.  Which is good – because as the young adults were graduating college with no job-prospects to speak of there was a home for them to come back to until (some are still waiting) they could get out of the nest and get on their feet.

keep-calm-interview

But lets remember that their parents aren’t the only ones who have loved them.

Millennials have been the object of the marketing community’s affection ever since they started being able to count money.  Not only did they begin their lives during a period of economic prosperity, which gave them above-average spending power from a young age, but since their parents also wanted to be their best friend’s and openly engage them in household dialogs they have always had a huge influence on family purchases as well – everything from groceries to home electronics to Mom’s next car.

35rhxh1

Then they started to grow up – and the haters came out of the woodwork – especially when they entered the workforce.  Employers couldn’t handle their neediness – for work-life balance that kept them from wanting to live for work, for rapid career advancement, for constant feedback on their day-to-day performance and for their boomer colleagues to be their best friends and family.

Given what some would call their coddled upbringing, it stands to reason that they entered the “real world” in a state of fantasy – believing in their infinite value and that the world has been waiting on pins and needles for them to com share their specialness.  And the disappointment has been palpable as HR organizations scramble to retain and grow their next generation of worker-bees while Millennials began experiencing a “Quarter-Life Crisis” – dropping out of the corporate world to go back to school and re-learn or to create careers out of their passions, less they end up like their parents who gave their lives to their jobs and lost everything as the market crumbled to pieces.

But unlike other generations – Millennials don’t have to go back to square one and stew when things got tough.  They have  globally-wired communication to share their woes – and to seek affirmation from their peers.  Social media means they can find friends by the hundreds and thousands to affirm their contributions great and small.  The blogosphere has provided a medium for their musings and media has provided a soap-box for their angst.  So, not only do they get to put it all out there, but they also get to suffer the consequences  – among them being barraged by generationally-driven editorial backlash by those who find the Millennial point of view to be insufferable.

It’s no wonder that hipster culture emerged as the Millennial embodiment of Irony.

If nothing else, this is a generation who knows how to poke fun at their situation and themselves and use social schizophrenia as a way to play with the concept of adulthood. What else  can a generation do that grew up being adored and are now dodging bullets from every direction – whether it be economic or simply socially un-empathetic.  They were blown up into big beautiful, colorful balloons and then popped the minute they left their padded homerooms. But they are finally growing up and finding their “option C”  by creating new concepts.

baltimore-crosswalk

They are adults and young adults who place tremendous value on play.  They put serious energy into social commentary in the form of cartoons and couture.  The mating game has become quite literal with apps like Tinder.  They raise funds for entrepreneurship as a team via platforms like Kickstarter and GoFundMe.  They Instagram their exploration of the world – like a  virtual refrigerator filled with art class projects  and they will never EVER stop wearing Chuck Taylors to work.

I for one am excited by the energy I see entering the workforce – and the fortune 500 warriors who are doing their best to help this generation make their way.  I am also impressed by how Millennials are waking up to their collective purpose – to create a new world that works for them – and asserting that power using their consumer clout.   I know at least the world-class brands and marketers I work with have been eagerly engaging very deeply to understand this generations unique context and develop brands and business models that are far more empathetic – no tot mention building business organizations to nurture and groom their future leaders.

I also think that the collective cultural kick-in-the-pants that Millennials have been getting is preparing them well for the road a head.  It’s good for them to have to fight a battle and know that they can win – and they will win.  But here’s the deal – when this generation steps up to take the gold medal that they actually earned, I know in my heart of hearts that they will take the haters with them.

Because this generation of sensitive superheroes is actually all about the love – and they have been taught to share.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments

Experiencing “Old School”: The Middle-Aged Mosh Pit

So, I was enjoying an extended happy hour at my favorite local pub – out on the patio watching folks walk by, when a punk rock couple – complete with mohawk and combat boots – ambled on by.

Here I was thinking “nice to see the neighborhood getting more bohemian and diverse” when I was informed that there was indeed a concert happening around the corner at one of Atlanta’s iconic concert venues – Masquerade.

The show: Bad Religion, Offspring and Pennywise.

I was instantly transported back to high school and remember going to see these bands’ shows. I think one was my senior year….twenty years ago!!!

My friend and I were immediately compelled to go re-live our youth. We walked to the venue down the street, got our tickets, our “you’re over 21 and can drink” bracelets (which – when we were in high school going to all ages shows were typically the “you’re under 21 so don’t let me see you drinking” bracelets)  and headed to the bar, excited to get our drinks and join all the “kids” outside at the big show.

And when I say “kids”, this is not what I was expecting:

Punk Rock Kid

Yes…that would be a child on his dad’s shoulders.

I don’t know why I thought that a concert for a band I saw 20 years ago would have an audience full of 20 year olds. Perhaps I was a little delusional.
The reality was the entire venue was filled with people around my age: late 30’s and early 40’s.

Then I decided that this was actually a really cool thing! My generation still knows how to party. We’re all at a “punk” show -doing shots and bouncing in the rain to super-loud guitars!! It was AWESOME! I decided it was time for the mosh pit and mustered up all my frenetic energy to go throw some elbows….

For future reference I have learned that a mosh pit full of 30-and-40-something’s might as well be a “does my insurance cover that” pit.

And if I hadn’t realized yet that I was at a concert for old people trying to be young people it became an acute reality when Offspring finished their set – and 75% of the sweaty, mildly intoxicated concert-goers (who decided not to stick around for the last band because It was “getting too late”) filed out with me to the street.

It was 9:45.

I patted myself on the back for knowing I would be in bed before midnight and perfectly lucid for my morning conference call.

I may have accepted my lot in life as a full-fledged grown up and that my moshing days may be behind me but I will remain grateful that at least my generation had music that rocks!! And that we are “hardcore” enough to bring our toddlers to punk shows.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Participant Observation, pop culture, sociology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A “Download” on Post-2000 Tech-Driven Consumer Culture-isms

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Last night my wife and I took a chance on a new local restaurant and music venue.  It was a slow night and we stayed until they were ready to close up, having conversations with the chef and bartender.  In an effort to let us know they were in no rush to kick us out, the bartender said “see, I even left your table candle turned on”.  The candle was one of those waxy electronic candles with an on and off switch that glows like it has a flame, but in deed poses no threat to the flammable table cloths.

Not the newest “technology” of course, but it still struck me in that moment that you would never have heard someone talking about “turning off” a candle even ten years ago.  You blew it out.  Because that’s how you extinguish a flame.  Archaic, I know.

It got my consumer anthropologist brain spinning on all of our modern-day terminology that has been driven by technology and become part of our vernacular in referring to things or situations that are distinctly non-technological

For example:

  • We use the term “bandwidth”  – a computing term referring to bit rates and data transfer capacity – to refer to our available time / brain power when referring to our capacity to take on new tasks at work – e.g. “I don’t have the bandwidth for another project right now”.
  • We use the term “hacking”  – also a computer-focused term related to “creatively overcoming and circumventing limitations of programming systems” to refer to multiple types of boundary-busting – e.g. “life hacking”, “hackathons” for building entrepreneurial concepts,  etc.
  • We use the term “download” – referring to transfer of digital data – to signify sharing information – e.g. “lets have a meeting to download the findings from our latest research study”.
  • We use the term “ping” – a tech term referring to determining if an internet IP address is accessible by sending a small data packet and waiting for reply, as slang for getting someone’s attention, e. g. “ping me when you have a minute so we can talk about that pressing issue”
  • And my personal favorite – “multitasking” – used to refer to a computer’s ability to simultaneously execute more than one task, and now a very human term for the ability to do several things at one time – and often listed in job descriptions,. E.g. “must be able to multi-task and handle several projects at once”.

You can find more such “consumer-isms”  here:  http://www.netlingo.com/top50/common-expressions.php 

It’s fun to think about how culture changes when the structural environment changes and how that gets integrated into our everyday communication.

Any other good ones from the WordPress Peeps?

In the meantime, this  Narcissistic Anthropologist needs to “Sign off”  so I can get some work done before I’m “cached out”.

Categories: Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Jargon, Linguistics, Technology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

From Meme to Marketing: The Power of Viral Meaning-Creation

 

memes-what-you-think-it-memes-princess-bride

This morning whilst enjoying my leftover steak dinner turned steak omelet (waste not want not) I was also going through the Sunday paper coupons (as is a typical suburban Sunday morning activity – so I have observed).

Whilst perusing the pages of discounts for new, necessary hair care products and butter substitutes I came across this full page ad / coupon combo that made my consumer anthropologist nerve center tingle:

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This is just one of a long list of once random internet memes that have been adapted and adopted by brads for their marketing draw.  This is a practice aptly labeled “memejacking”.    It has been going on since internet memes started becoming “a thing”, as detailed in this 2012 article on the top 10 internet memes masquerading as marketing .  But what struck me was how this meme had moved from the “internets” to a Sunday paper coupon.  Proving memes are now no longer relegated to the hipster “inside joke” set but now have as much mass appeal as vanilla ice cream.  But don’t let the idea lead you to believe memes have lost their luster.   Quite the contrary.  Memes are all about transmission of meaning and the internet has become the ideal mode for spreading them.

This about.com article defining internet memes and explaining the origin of the term  does a great job of putting the evolution of internet memes in context. For example:

“The “meme” word was first introduced by evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, in 1976. “Meme” comes from the Greek word “mimema” (meaning “something imitated”, American Heritage Dictionary). Dawkins described memes as a being a form of cultural propagation, a way for people to transmit social memories and cultural ideas to each other. Not unlike the way that DNA and life will spread from location to location, a meme idea will also travel from mind to mind.”

That same article points to some other great examples of internet memes from our recent history, like the classic “rickrolling” phenomenon that began in 2007, featured in this UK news story from “around then”

And who among us with their short-term memory still intact can forget

i-can-has-cheezburger

which rapidly evolved to own its own funny-animal-pictures-with-anthropomorphic-phrasing focused media property, icanhascheezburger.com . I daresay our dearly beloved Grumpy Cat should be grateful to his trailblazing predecessors in ridiculousness.

So, why are these internet memes a marketer’s dream? Obvious to most who are internet savvy or not living under a rock with no electricity, but laid out nicely in a a recent article on memejacking: why it works so well and how to do it :

They’re already established. Based on the previously mentioned definition, memes are not memes unless they’re already a popular, spreading theme throughout society. By using something that’s already popular and attaching a branded message, you’re leveraging the success of something that’s already gone viral without starting from the beginning. It’s easy street at its best.
They draw traffic. One of the most frustrating aspects of any marketing campaign is trying to drive traffic to a specific website. Memes do it for you. Regardless of their form, when they’re attached to a link, visitors are likely to check out the message behind the meme. They also attract likes and followers, increasing social network presences across the board.
We live in a culture that likes to share. Social media users of today are accustomed to going online and sharing the information they find. Whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or another network, each one is designed to help users engage one another through sharing. If you’re meme attracts attention, it’s likely to be shared unlike any other marketing form.
They’re practically designed for social media. Along with being easy to share, social media networks tend to prioritize images and videos. Users want to see information that’s easy to process and sends a message without a lot of thought. This is a basic tenant of memes.
They couldn’t be easier to create. For any marketer, content creation is a regular activity that requires intense effort and thought. There’s no way around it: marketing campaigns are driven by targeted content. Because memes are simple to create and easy to share, they could become a staple of any successful marketing initiative.

An anthropological colleague of mine, Grant McCracken also wrote a more intensive “field guide” for marketers to help them understand how to leverage memes.  He did a couple of years ago it in the form of  a book entitled Culturematic , which I found to be a fun dive into the topic of the memetic experiment.  Indeed that very book inspired this very blog as it’s own experiment.  My goal was to write a blog a day for a year and see what comes of it.  Suffice to say, I am glad i did it and that this Narcissistic Anthropologist now has a successful outlet for her sociocultural musings.

Whatever your POV on internet memes or marketing, you must acknowledge one thing – that internet memes are a powerful example of the power of human creativity and the immeasurable value that our digital connection to one another can have to communicate new ideas on a global scale.  It also proves the value of humor in mobilizing the masses.    I don’t know that i have an appropriately anthropological answer for what that means for the future of marketing-kind or mankind, for that matter. But I do believe that we have an opportunity to think about how memes can help us shift our frame and change our game.   This phenomenon tells me that getting people’s attention isn’t so complicated and doesn’t need to be [fraught with fear or anger to call people to action.

A point to ponder as you continue about your day, and seek to find meaning in the messages that will cross your path.

For the marketers out there, I encourage you to seek meaning in the meme.  There is undoubtedly something appropriate for your brand out there – and it likely comes from the heart and mind of one of your most coveted influencers.  It goes to show that sometimes you don’t need to dig too deep into the magic of marketing science to find gold.  Sometimes the most innovative communication is right on your computer screen during a Facebook break.

meme-marketers

Categories: Advertising, Anthropology, Art and culture, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Culture, Culturematic, Marketing, pop culture, Technology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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