Technology has emerged as the single most profound cultural driver in the world today.
This emphasis on “culture” is meaningful, too. Where it once was an entertainment medium emerging into a productivity ecosystem, technology now surrounds us. We’re immersed in it, both actively and passively.
This cultural shift has significant implications for brands struggling to define their own “digital strategies” and to understand how to communicate effectively to a rapidly changing marketplace. This tectonic shift led us to field the Killing Giants Mindset 2020 Global Survey, a 13,000+ interview study in 12 countries representing 68% of the world’s GDP, exploring the future of the brand/consumer relationship, the future of the digital footprint, and the future of work.
While we can all agree that the rate and pace of change has been a blur to even the careful observer over the past few years – MySpace launched just over a decade ago, to put things in perspective – the beginnings of these cultural shifts were spotted years before. John Naisbitt’s central thesis in Megatrends 2000 (William Morrow & Company, Inc.: New York, 1990) that, “The great unifying theme at the conclusion of the 20th century is the triumph of the individual,” is undeniable in hindsight. But even he couldn’t have foreseen the unintended consequences that would render his other, more utopian predictions invalid.
The democratization of technology, with massive computing power pushed down into the hands (and even pockets!) of a global citizenry, both in terms of availability and cost, together with mobility and wireless communication, have delivered on his promise that, “new technologies have changed the importance of scale and location and extended the power of individuals.” Indeed, technology is empowering the individual, for better or for worse.
What he couldn’t have seen, though, is that his predicted fall of tyranny would be naively optimistic. The rise of the super-empowered individual was only possible because of the birth of the very technological platforms that enabled them. We never thought to question the motives of the “men behind the curtains.”
Now, instead of We the People in one corner facing off against the jackbooted dictator on the opposite side of the ring, we’ve entered instead – in typical 2016 style, I might add – the Octagon. We have more corners now because tyranny has evolved into many forms, from state-level bad actors and super-empowered individuals with criminal intentions to the very technology platform providers themselves who quietly collect our data and conversations for their own private ends. Nor should we exclude our own public servants – the “Watchmen” – whose activities were blown wide open by the likes of Edward Snowden, who no doubt occupies an adjacent corner somewhere between good and evil in this complex arena.
We couldn’t escape tyranny. It just changed shape.
Is this a concern to you? If we believe recent research from Edelman’s Trust Barometer, your answer would depend on where you fall in the global income spectrum. The “global elites” are quite optimistic. The rest are not. And, as a result, trust has plummeted across the globe – trust in institutions, governments, “big business,” technological innovation, the media (worst of all), academia, and “experts” of all types. And yet, these members of the disenfranchised and distrusting global 99% are fully invested for all their waking hours in this very self-same technology, each broadcasting his or her own opinions, outrage, or just pictures of their lunch to their private network of like-minded friends and acquaintances.
This leads us to another observation that slipped in unnoticed. With the fall of the barriers to self-expression and self-publication, the noise level has risen to an unimaginable cacophony. We’re all empowered, sure, but we’re also standing on a sea of soapboxes and the din is unimaginable.
The Rise of Info-Immersives
Technology, as Naisbitt so correctly surmised, has empowered the individual. It has also transcended its narrowly defined constraints. Technology has become culture – enveloping our work, life, and play.
We no longer interact with technology in a single point, AOL-like, something to be actively turned on, used, and then turned off. Nor are we truly still in a “digital” age, where our interaction with technology can be easily defined as a single plane of information from which we can simply turn away and get on with our day. Our relationship with technology is immersive, both passive and active, both conscious and unconscious, and both with our consent and increasingly without it.
We’ve transcended the easy label of “digital.” We’re now “Info-Immersives.”
The Killing Giants Mindset 2020 Global Survey
We set out to study this emerging cultural shift with the Killing Giants Mindset 2020 Global Survey, interviewing over 13,000 connected global citizens on a range of subjects, exploring attitudes towards the brands that clamor for our attention to the tensions that govern how we communicate with each other via devices and media to the immediate present and future of how we approach work.
Most importantly, we studied all three of these areas together, allowing us to look horizontally across each silo to understand how attitudes in one area impact those in others. Understanding how a subpopulation feels about innovation or change initiatives is one thing – but understanding the differences in communication preferences and hot buttons between the early adopters and the Luddites of your initiative spells the difference between success and failure.
Further, a big sample size like this allows us to look deeply into subpopulations within the global framework – for example, we spoke with over 5,000 Millennials across the world, as well as over 6,000 “knowledge workers,” defined as senior or middle managers in positions of spending and headcount authority. If you want to know what female Millennials in Mexico think about “sharing” online, we have the (statistically valid) data.
[You can download our summary findings from the KGM2020 Global Survey here, at DennyLeinbergerStrategy.com]
How to effectively deal with this new landscape is the primary concern of every brand, every CEO, and every political candidate in the world today. All will quickly note that, “Having a great digital strategy,” is their top priority, with the almost comic aside of, “… by the way, what’s a digital strategy?” quickly following. It’s more complex than moving our print media dollars to online and declaring “Mission Accomplished.” If culture and brain function itself have changed, we need a far larger and more holistic approach.
What did we find? Let’s briefly discuss some of the key findings and their implications here.
The Re-Imagined Brand/Consumer Relationship
The first of the key insights uncovered in the analysis of the Killing Giants Mindset 2020 Global Survey revolved around how we, as consumers, view the brands we interact with.
Seeking Control in an Out-of-Control World shines a bright light on our desire to seize back some semblance of control over our lives, our need for self-sufficiency, and our distrust of the institutions and innovative technological solutions claiming to have our best interests at heart.
Raw describes how we want our communications – unfiltered, unprocessed, and delivered fresh to our mobile devices with no interpretation or talking head analysis. Why rely on intermediaries who add dubious value when we can get our information straight from the source?
Heroic Credibility is what we expect from our brands, leaders, and CEO’s. We want bold stands heroically defended. We want a provocative vision and unwavering determination. We hate wimps. Anyone willing to stake their claim to a bold point of view is worth listening to.
Why do these three big ideas matter? Because taken together, they provide a blueprint for a 21st century leader, whether in business or in politics.
We want a sense of control back in our lives because we mistakenly put our trust in untrustworthy institutions and are now paying the price for it. We want hope and we haven’t had much recently, from global instability to paltry GDP growth rates. We want a bold, provocative vision that we can latch onto and are willing to fight for it. Why is boldness so important? Because we’re desensitized. We’re surrounded by noise from all directions and on all devices. Nothing but bold breaks through anymore. And we only accept it if it’s raw, true, and unfiltered, because we don’t trust the edited video, the carefully redacted statement, or the talking head analysis anymore. We just want the feed. We’re smart enough to make up our own minds.
Any brand, CEO, or leader that can deliver on that promise has our attention and potentially our loyalty. This has significant implications for agencies, brands, political campaigns, and everyone else fighting for increasingly limited attention in a noisy world.
The Future of the Digital Footprint in a Post-Snowden, Hackable World
These first three big ideas are the necessary escape velocity needed to address these second three. The Future of the Digital Footprint describes how we view concepts like sharing versus privacy, the tension surrounding our relationship with our devices and platforms, and the positives and negatives of online outrage.
Device Dependency describes our love/hate relationship with immersive information, from the anxiety we feel if we unplug to the desire to unplug regardless to the tension we feel between the need for online connection and the loneliness it produces. It’s complicated, being always on.
The Pursuit of Nextness is a necessary byproduct of device dependency and an always-on lifestyle. “I Snap therefore I am,” as a Millennial 2016 Descartes would have said. Nextness speaks to both the craving for psychological novelty as well as the requisite invidious envy we feel when we’re seconds late to post first what your friends just saw.
The Upside (and Downside) of Mob Rule is the story of “the worst person in the world (this week),” and the specter this power holds over us both for good and for evil. What happens when the mob turns against me? And how can I marshal their sometimes fickle support if I’m treated unfairly by forces greater than me?
These three ideas form a backdrop – a new normal – to our lives. How we actively deal with this new environment and the implications they hold for our brands and ourselves is of critical importance, because the one thing we can’t be in this always-on world is passive and reactive.
The Future of Work
We’re surrounded by always-on immersive information and technology and it certainly doesn’t turn off when we clock in to work, whether it’s at “HQ,” Starbucks, in a co-working professional layer, or right here at the home office. As a matter of fact, it gets more complex. Because the interruptions aren’t just virtual here. They’re often physical, almost always higher stakes, and usually much more distracting.
Culture and Anti-Culture at Work describes the inflection point we’ve arrived at in corporate evolution, where what’s possible has out-run what’s comfortable. We’re reluctant to fully embrace what technology can deliver because our culture can’t accept it – but we readily admit that what we need most is an outsider’s mind to help us solve our most pressing problems. “We have met the enemy and it is us,” indeed.
Productivity in an Age of Distraction examines the “work we do alone” versus the “work we do together” and helps explain what we need to ensure we can get the most out of our teams and ourselves in a work environment where we’re distracted at least every 3 minutes.
Operating in Space synthesizes all of this into a brief analysis of how to manage – and be managed – in a new work environment where we’re not all sitting together in the same place, or even the same time zone, all day every day. Bringing together elements of “culture/anti-culture” and “productivity/age of distraction,” we look into the key skills sets needed for the future, both for corporations as well as individuals.
There are commonalities running through all 9 of these ideas that connect life at work with life at home and at play that are important to note. Culture and Anti-Culture at Work could easily be explained as an acknowledgement that we need both Heroic Credibility and Rawness to break through our same-think corporate cultures. We need people to challenge our static not-invented-here mentality. Productivity in an Age of Distraction can be understood as a desire for how we’re Seeking Control in an Out-of-Control World – one where the noise level is deafening and the distractions are too numerous to get quality work done. Operating in Space involves all three, with a strong undercurrent of trust.
New Natural Laws of Work, Life, and Play
The 9 big ideas presented in the Killing Giants Mindset 2020 Global Survey are as close to a unifying theory of life in an Age of Info-Immersion as we can come up with. Over time, this is a set of questions that will benefit from ongoing tracking and analysis.
Calling these big ideas and insights “new rules” isn’t intellectually honest, in our opinion, because there’s an infinite number of “rules” and implications we can generate from understanding these concepts. But they are describing forces that can and should inform how we communicate, collaborate, and seek to engage with connected consumers.
Does that make them “the new natural laws of work, life, and play”?
Go download the summary of the Killing Giants Mindset 2020 Global Survey here, at DennyLeinbergerStrategy.com.