World changes and it will continue to do so. Still many businesses stumble in understanding the shifts and keep on applying the same old strategies, techniques and solutions even if there are new ways to thrive.
One big cultural shift has been the transition in how we define the lines between producers and consumers as well as between experts and amateurs. Boundaries have blurred and grassroots expertise and everyday knowledge are seen as valuable as opinions and “truths” of the established authorities. This has meant a shift from still prevailing top-down Mad Men mentality to bottom-up approach where a continuous and reciprocal conversation with our better half – consumers, users or even better, people – helps us to design valuable products and services or develop successful strategies.
Starting from the bottom means starting from people – not from flashy ideas or witty words but people and their changing needs, values, meanings and attitudes in a cultural context. Understanding the fine interplay of these components should be the twinkling starting point and the enduring common thread running all the way to the open-ended end of any design, innovation or communication process. So before coming up with ready-made answers and solutions we need to start by defining the challenges and asking the right questions.
Approaches that concentrate on one-to-one relationships between people and products/services/brands can only draw a flat, two-dimensional picture of reality. But as world is proven not be flat we need more dimensions and subtle tones to shape a better matching picture that will lead to better matching solutions. For a 3-D picture we need to take a closer look also at the social context since people, brands, products and services don’t exist in vacuum but in social environments composed of cultural values and meanings, social networks as well as everyday interactions and practices.
This means that we have to start studying and listening to people with new concepts and methods – not just as users or consumers but as autonomous actors with multidimensional identities – to understand the diversity of socially formed motivations and needs behind their everyday actions and the context these actions are encapsulated. This might not be easy, but no rocket science either and will help us to create new things, improve old and really add value to people.
Looking to the future
As shift is happening – now more and faster than maybe ever before – it is also important to anticipate the change to ensure the products or services add value also in the future. In future oriented projects we have to include a framework of trends that helps us to understand the change of the cultural context; the new values and attitudes that change the ways people behave and even the needs they have.
Bringing in the 4th dimension of time to the equation is sometimes the only way to escape from the crowded marketplace and thrive in the brave new world. This foresight helps us to look confidently to the future and ensures a more solid relationship between people, brands, products and services in the long run.
So in a nutshell, I believe in the bigger picture and deeper insights and that these can be reached by linking together the micro level of everyday actions and meanings to the macro level of cultural and social trends. And the way to do this is to understand how people shape the world with their definitions and actions – including those brands, products and services in it.