Thomas Friedman, It’s TQ + CQ… Not PQ!

Our economic landscape  is really a CHANGEscape”. Survival and success are determined by one’s ability to adapt to change and navigate change… which necessitates problem solving… and innovating… both of which stem from “curiosity”.

 
Picture 25My master’s degree thesis was focused on the topic of “curiosity” and specifically developing education techniques to increase students’ CQ (Curiosity Quotient). I believe that the antidote to a broken education system is to empower students to self-learn and be life-long learners, which require building their CQ.  I found that CQ can be nurtured irrespective of  a student’s nature (i.e., IQ). And, specifically, there are (6) six teaching techniques (which can also be used in marketing) to pique curiosity and engagement.

Therefore, I read with zeal Tomas Friedman’s January 29, 2013 Op Ed piece in the New York Times, It’s P.Q and C.Q. as Much as I.Q.  He posits that PASSION + CURIOSITY are more powerful than INTELLIGENCE (PQ + CQ > IQ).

While I agree with Friedman’s belief that  “curiosity” is a critical survival trait in the new economy, I respectfully disagree with “passion” as the other critical quality. Instead, PQ ought to be replaced by TQ (Technology Quotient)… CQ + TQ is the killer combo.

what’s your TQ?

Technology enables “doing” and “making”.  Technology is a tool, just like a Neanderthal flint knife, that helps humans do things.  Technology is a tool to transfer knowledge and capability from one person to another. Specifically, it helps humans execute, build, make and “do”. Today, being able to produce – execute – is a rare and prized skill.  In another New York Times’ article, A Nation Losing Its Toolbox,  the nation’s shrinking manufacturing (making) presence was highlighted and the latest trend in DIY: partial-made, par-cooked, semi-homemade. (Think: Pillsbury cookie dough.) The article laments a trend in craftsmanship where it’s being over-simplified and dumbed-down to cater to “amateur masters” (e.g., vinyl flooring comes with the glue already on it), and our executional skills are actually suffering as a result.

Americans have historically and culturally defined themselves with “making”, “building” and “doing” so we’re hard-wired to try something new.  Technology, Pop Culture and the media give everyday people access to experts, and their tricks, tips and tools so they feel empowered to take on projects out of their depth. We can easily learn “how it’s made” and peek behind the curtain to see “how it’s done” online or on shows like Extreme Home Makeover, Project Runway and Iron Chef. Step-by-step instructions can be found on YouTube channels, websites, in countless magazines, infographics and even phone Apps. Accessing this “how” info gives us confidence “do” and “innovate”.

I am reminded of the PBS America Revealed episode focused on “Efficiency“, which showcases how Volkswagen’s highly automated factory is a model of efficiency-excellence, not because of the machines, but as a result of the humans. The PEOPLE who work at the factory are trained and motivated with games that push them to problem-solve and ask questions (i.e., to be curious) and improve the manufacturing process because “robots can’t think for themselves.”

give me a kid with CQ and TQ…

Thomas Friedman believes “it is more important to be passionate and curious than to be merely smart.” I fully agree, but I have found that passion tends to accompany curiosity. If one is curious, one is also engaged and motivated (i.e., energized and passionate). “Passion” is both an output of “curiosity” AND input. Friedman states, “Give me the kid with a passion to learn and a curiosity to discover and I will take him or her over the less passionate kid with a huge IQ every day of the week.”  Rather:  “give me a kid with curiosity AND technological literacy, and that kid will have the skills to succeed in the CHANGEscape.”

Many (most) of the changes taking place in the CHANGEscape are technologically driven (think: Moore’s Law and Metcalfe’s Law).  Being able to adapt to change, and changing technologies, requires technological literacy… and technological aptitude… in other words, “TQ”.  Sure, “passion” is great, but what good is passion without  technology skills?   What use is passion without the skills to bring things to fruition.  As the saying goes, “Ideas are like fingers, everybody’s got some.” I think we have too many “ideas people” and not enough “doers”, and this is especially true amongst the Millennial Generation. Thus, education (and business) must focus on improving the CQ and TQ of students, teachers, (managers and workers).  The “passion” will percolate up from this.

Mr. Friedman underscored the need for ubiquitous broadband (Internet access) in his article, Obama’s 1-2 Punch.  He wrote, “As for investment, I’d love to see the president launch us on an aspirational journey. My choice would be to connect every home and business in America to the Internet at one gigabit per second, or about 200 times faster than our current national household average, in five years. In an age when mining big data will be a huge industry, when online lifelong learning will be a vital necessity, and when we can’t stimulate our way to prosperity but have to invent our way there, no project would be more relevant.”  I couldn’t agree more, but Internet access is useless unless Americans know how to use it.  Improving the TQ of our citizens has to happen in tandem to establishing the technology infrastructure.

CQ + TQ  >  CQ + PQ

So, combining “curiosity” with “technology” actually seems to be the key qualities needed to cope in the CHANGEscape, not passion.  As a manager of people and educator I look for CQ and TQ, and focus my energies on strengthening these skill sets both in myself and the people around me. Of course IQ still matters, but CQ and TQ matter more.

Picture 18Click here to read how “E-Shaped” people are replacing “T-Shaped” people, and how CQ + TQ directly play into this.

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CES 2013 trends: “the era of mobility”

This year is one step closer to last year's NOKIA concept phone called Humanized (flexible, transparent and gesture controled)

This year is one step closer to last year’s NOKIA concept phone called Humanized (flexible, transparent and gesture controlled)

With the trend of “no phone” restaurants it’s now common to see stacks of smartphones on the table: the phones are actually mating!

With the trend of “no phone” restaurants it’s now common to see stacks of smartphones on the table: the phones are actually mating!

Like a sci-fi film, smartphones are mating, multiplying, imbedding and ingratiating.

At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the bellwether of all things tech, smartphone innovations dominated. No wonder:  In 2013, 56% of all cell phones in the US will be smartphone, according to eMarketer, with 2012 smartphone demand up +24%. Morgan Stanley predicts that 2013 will be the year that global Internet connections via smartphones surpass connections via computers.

grafico-mobile-user-vs-desktop-internet-userTons of new brands and models are flooding the market with cool phones. They’re all smart. They all run on Android and quad-core processors (super fast). They all have 13-megapixel cameras and HD displays. They all have Bluetooth and/or WiFi. And, they’re all open ecosystems that encourage Apps. The standard bar has just been raised (sky rocketed, in fact), and iPhone better watch out! Spoiler alert: Apple shares will drop in 2013.

smarter phones have higher IQs and EQs

Samsung’s prototype phone is made with super-thin plastic technology, called Youm, which can be bent and folded like paper! Isn’t it ironic how the digital world strives to emulate the analog world?

Samsung’s prototype phone is made with super-thin plastic technology, called Youm, which can be bent and folded like paper! Isn’t it ironic how the digital world strives to emulate the analog world?

The design of smartphones is evolving quickly. They’re not only getting more intelligent (higher IQs), they’re also gaining in Emotional Quotient (higher EQs). There’s been a big industry shift from “specs to UX”, meaning less attention to “features” since phones operate on similar platforms, and more attention paid to User Experience (UX) and design. From paper thin phones that FOLD (see photo) to Huawei’s “magic touch” phone you can operate while wearing gloves to Samsung’s round-edge phone (see photo) to Sony’s waterproof phone to a plethora of phablets” (large tablet size phones, that appeal to aging eyes).

theverge8_1020_verge_super_wide-610x405

A trend in consumer electronics is “round design”.

Phones are being redesigned with insights if you consider the past 3 years “beta test” years. For example, they’ve learned that the swipe/touch-screen isn’t ideal for every function; the new Sony Xperia has physical camera button that “clicks”, replacing the unreliable tablet “tap”, eliminating “did it take the picture?”  frustration.

smartphone as mobility-enabler

bullitt9imagesUnknown-1The biggest impact of smartphones on our culture is: mobility. Having the ability to access information, geo-locate and communicate anywhere has set us free. Rural communities have new opportunities. Small enterprise can thrive. People can travel and explore like never before.  Some of the biggest leaps in civilization have been predicated on mobility (i.e., the transportation of ideas and/or people).

Mobility started with the wheel, and now the wheel is being reinvented in the form of a smartphone.

Mobility started with the wheel, and now the wheel is being reinvented in the form of a smartphone.

Reflect on the impact of some of the cultural game-changers: the wheel, domesticated horses, boat design, carrier pigeons, the auto, the airplane, the radio wave and the Internet. Like the  smartphone, each of these inventions were culturally catalytic. Expect our society to undergo huge transformations in the next decade as smartphone penetration rises in the US and globally…

smartphone as remote control & joystick

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 1.26.45 PMThe smartphone is  actually a “remote for your life”: key, wallet, diary, camera, controller, etc. Some phones are now equipped with Infared Blasters (IR) that turn the phone into a universal remote control, replacing everything that operates on a clicker: TV, TiVo, air conditioner, ceiling fan, smart appliances, garage doors, etc.

images-3In addition, the smartphone becomes the master joystick in the game of life. Consider the games that are driven by the smartphone (see picture). Unknown-2Many “SoLoMo” (social + geoloco + mobile) games debuted at recent “Come Out & Play Festivals around the country in 2012. Augmented Reality apps turn the smartphone into a “looking glass”, adding layers to IRL (“in real life”; the mere fact that we even need this expression denotes a schism between real and unreal life). e75a_joystick_it_detailAnd now there’s an actually joystick device that attaches to the touch-screen surface of a smartphone, giving fingers a more tactile joystick-like experience to control anything from  a game, to a drone. It can also be used for real-time voting and measuring mood and opinion (think: CNN ‘s  +/- approval trail graphs that  run on the bottom of thr TV screen during the presidential debates).

smartphone as engine (“iPhone Inside” replaces “Intel Inside”)

Screen Shot 2013-01-13 at 2.17.48 PMpulse-sidebar-equationCES also featured a number of new products that are driven by a smartphone. In other words, the smartphone becomes the brain of the consumer electronic device. For example, Will.i.am launched his camera exoskeleton, called “fofo.sosho V.4”, which houses an iPhone (see photo). This replaces the limitations of the “phone camera” with a “camera driven by a powerful phone”. Another invention is the Felt speaker: a powerful, small speaker system that snaps onto the phone, replacing docking phones in speakers – now speakers attach to the phone. A big opportunity for inventors is to capitalize on the trend of smartphones functioning as processors to drive the function of devices. It’s possible that “Intel Inside” might be replaced by “iPhone Inside”.

smartphone’s negative impact on culture

And so we burst into the “Era of Mobility” with the smartphone at is core. While the smartphone might seem like a positive piece of technology, consider the impact is has on human behavior and culture. Ponder what it will be like to live in a world where there is:

  • Less Courage – a smartphone is a safety net and life line that reduces risk and thus the need for courage. Explorers who scaled mountains or crossed seas without the ability to call for help had real courage. With a smartphone in hand we don’t even need “social courage” because we have a distraction in our hand.
  • Less Commitment – the innumerable choices at our fingertips presents the paradox of choice and dissatisfaction with the choices we make; we avoid committing when we have the option to find something better. Smartphones enable us to find, search and compare options.
  • Less Chance – the smartphone is a control device and remote for life; it tells us the fastest route to take from point A to point B and what’s the highest rated restaurant. But, sometimes we need to meander, get sidetracked and try things out to expand out horizons.
  • Less Truth – Fact is not truth. Information is not knowledge. Confronted with an overwhelming amount of data that we tend to treat as truth, we lose the ability to discern data, truth gets lost and “authentic” turns into “authenticishness

Welcome to the “can you hear me now” nation.

trend forecast 2013: a “roaring” year ahead

UnknownThis year will roll in like a lamb and out like a lion.  It will be a year of major social, economic and technological leaps. Don’t be pounced on, rather stay one step ahead of the change.

Here, let’s review some of the key themes, trends and expectations of 2013 by way of retail… Yes, RETAIL. For several years now I’ve found that the  holiday windows of the  Bergdorf Goodman department store in New York City can be used as metaphors for key themes and predictors in the coming year. They tend to point out important trends in America. So, here’s your window into 2013 via the windows of Bergdorf Goodman…

overall theme: the folly of men

imagesThe overall theme for the décor of the window display this season, entitled “BG Follies”, was the entertainment of the “Roaring 1920s”. The French called the period “années folles” (“Crazy Years”). This is fitting because I foresee that the next year will be “roaring”  (i.e., active, rumbling,  noisy, crashing, resounding) on many levels.  Further, this year’s holiday windows showcased lavish scenes from, opulent revues of Ziegfield Follies and Follies Berger, which is also poignant.  The “follie” (or “folly”) perfectly characterizes culture, fashion and consumer behavior in America right now: foolish, silly, imprudent and irrational.  Before I parse each window for symbolism and meaning, here’s some background context…

happy scary New Year

Unknown-1We begin a new year with the US drowning in a tsunami of debt and signs of the unraveling of social safety nets. The county has a declining birthrate, dismal economic growth (2012 GDP average ≈2% ), retail sales rose only 0.1% in December attributed to stagnating disposable personal income (+1.2%) and alarming unemployment (≈8%). The US dropped 3 places in 2012 to rank #10 in the world in terms of innovation. It’s estimated that >60% of the nation is on some mood-enhancing drugs, a panacea to an epidemic of depression and mental illness.

History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men - BOC

History shows again and again how nature points out the folly of men – BOC

Simmering social unrest (due to plutocracy and a vast ideological divide) is exacerbated by a broken education system (US dropped 14th place amongst OECD and G20 countries in 2012 in terms of educated citizens). This is set against the backdrop of looming European crises and Wall Street hedging that China is going to crash, taking the US down with it, and models predicting a stock market correction in 2013. Meanwhile, the nation has dire energy issues (oil dependency, fracking) and the ecosystem is broken: melting ice caps, droughts, superstorms, megafloods, and 99% of all species that once lived are now extinct (13% of birds, 25% of mammals and 41% of amphibians are currently on the “Red List”). This is not pessimism. This is startling reality.

I’m reading too many analyses from people much smarter than me that predict seismic, catalytic events (economic, social, environmental) in the latter part of 2013. Unfortunately folks, the long-term outlook for the year doesn’t look so great.

 some FUNdamentals are off

images-1And yet, despite all this, Americans just wanna have FUN:

  • one-fith of Americans believe that making it in society is to play the lottery (National Journal)
  • 52% agree “I know how to have fun” (US Monitor).
  • 53% say “I enjoy and celebrate life despite its many challenges and obstacles” (US Monitor).
  • 72% feel “it’s important to try things I’ve never done, even if not a successful outcome” (Yankelovich).
  • The US Luxury Market is expected to report 5-7% growth in 2012 (Bain)

Many Americans think they’ve dodged a bullet and have come out of the past decade OK (not great, but OK). They think they’ve “course corrected” and traded-up/down/off.  To wit, 56% say “they have reprioritized their lives” (Monitor). Americans feel they’re now on track; 84% say “they will keep doing cost cutting strategies they’ve adopted” (Yankelovich). But, I wonder is it good enough?

images-2I’d wager money that one of the ruling emotions of 2013 is “guilt”.  Paradoxically, Americans deep down seem to know their behavior is frivolous and wanton because they recognize the signs, for example:

  • 65% feel we are at a turning point in history: “land of opportunity” becoming the “land of disappointment.” (US Monitor)
  • 57% think “America is on the decline as a civilization (Fox News)
  • 31% say “the challenges facing the country are so serious that America might not be able to overcome them (Allstate/National Journal)
  • Only 42% say the “country is heading in the right direction (ABC News/Washington Post)
  • 65% believe another 9/11-style attack is likely in the next decade. (Rasmussen)
  • Only 36% believe “they will become rich in my lifetime” (Yankelovich)
  • Only 40% agree “I will be happier if less well off in the future” (Monitor)

Meanwhile, superficial marketers and trend reports herald “fun” and “play” and the “pursuit of happiness” to be the theme d’annee in 2013. Indeed, isn’t it folly when fashion and lifestyle trends are focused on indulgence and evoking decadence, when in reality there is a need for asceticism and humility?

 2013: a party like it’s 1929?

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 7.25.35 AMSo, perhaps a little madness right now is simply keeping the nation sane temporatily.  Americans, weary of the stressors of the past decade, are today “partying like it’s 1929” [with a nod to Prince’s 1999]. Consumer behavior now is much like that in the Roaring 20s, which was then a backlash to austerity of the WWI years.  I feel as if the energy and discontinuity of an entire decade (the 1920s) will be compressed into one year: 2013.

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 7.26.25 AMScreen Shot 2013-01-02 at 7.27.14 AMAn affinity for the gaiety of the 20s is especially noticeable amongst nostalgic Millennials, driving trends in fringed frocks, zoot suits, bobbed hairdos and pointed half-moon manicures.  The popularity of Boardwalk Empire and burlesque shows can be traced to “20s idolization”, as well as a renewed interest in Art Deco décor, artwork and jewelry.  Even the wildly popular Hunger Games movie took cinematic cues from the 1920s. A spectacular Hollywood screen version of The Great Gatsby – the ultimate celebration of the Roaring 20s – is hitting theatres in 2013.

Ironic Parallels Between 2013 and 1929

It’s no wonder that 2013 resembles 1929, because there are several parallels between the two eras, for example:

Relaxed Prohibitions: Then, there was the repeal of prohibition (drinking was legalized). Today, marijuana has just been legalized in some states, with growing support for national legalization; 58% of Americans support national legalization of marijuana (Public Policy Poling).
New Technology & Networks:  Then, the automobile was the new invention that connected and dispersed people, and the social emphasis was on road networks. Today, the smartphone is connecting people and giving people the freedom to disperse, with the emphasis on information traffic and social networks.
Rise of Anarchists: Then, a movement of anarchists surfaced and formed the socialist and fascist movements directed at destabilizing governments. Today, the anarchists have re-emerged but now direct their wrath at institutions and businesses rather than government (think: Occupy Wall Street and the guy who conspired to blow up the Federal Reserve).
Shifting Gender Roles  & New Sexual Freedom: Then, Flapper women shorn their hair, shortened their skirts and bared their limbs to outwardly celebrate their sexuality and signal independence. Today’s “Flappers” are homosexuals; America has made great leaps in tolerance. 91% of homosexuals report that their communities have become more accepting of their sexual orientation in recent years (USE Today/Gallup).
Celebrated Exploration: Then, the great expeditions were Lindberg and Earhart’s crossing of oceans by airplane, affording new perspectives on the world from aerial views. Today, our exploration triumph is crossing time and space to land the Curiosity vehicle on Mars, while we navigate aerial views of earth and sky on Google Earth.
Paradigm-Shifting Communications: Then, communications can be characterized as the “age of audio”, with society embracing telephones, radio, phonographs and talkie movies. Today, can be called the “age of video” with society focused on screens (3-screens: phone, laptop, TV) ,video-calls (Face Time, Skype) and YouTube.
Reinvented Metropolises: Then, cities were being re-imagined and re-engineered as futuristic spaces run by machinery; the modern kitchen was invented in the 20s. Today, cities are undergoing step-changes with the introduction of intuitive technologies, robotics and smart homes and appliances.
Fixation on Criminals: Then, there was public fascination and mass media attention given to crime sprees and violence by gangers like Bugsy Malone and the G-Men. Today, society and the media are captivated by violence by individuals (Aurora, The Mall Killings, Newtown).
Mass Appeal Celebrities: Then, new urban sports stadiums and entertainment outlets (radio and movies) created personalities (celebrities) for the first time with mass appeal. Today, the masses create celebrities and athletic heroes, voting through entertainment on The Voice, DWTS, American Idol and the X Factor.

What can we learn from the past? Well, 1929 was the last year of hey-day before the Great Depression. It was a happy “blip” on the radar before a protracted “dip”. No one in 1929 predicted the stock market crash or WWII.  Will America be surprised again?

windows as metaphor & allegory for 2013

This year there were five distinctive window treatments at Bergdorf Goodman’s, loaded with symbolism about major themes/trends in America. Each window was titled an “Act”. An “Act” implies play-acting  (i.e., pretending, insincerity), reinforcing the point raised above about Americans feigning that everything is OK, when it isn’t.

Window 1 – ACT I: “By Request” (Unity)

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 7.47.42 AMThe window was an aerial perspective on an all-girl orchestra, which was popular in the 20s. This symbolizes the rising numbers and power (influence and spending) of women in America. The window, with its unusual perspective, is a metaphor for American culture that has come to expect “zoom in” and “zoom out”, and unusual angles (think: the trend in Go Pro cameras).  But, most importantly this window features a group. A band. A community.  While so much attention is paid to online communities, 49% of Americans say they “don’t feel as close to the people in their local community as they used to” (Yankelovich); digital relationships are overpowering analog relationships. And, perhaps unity online an off line is being dismantled by another trend – self-expression – as 55% of Americans agree that it “is OK to speak my mind, even if others are offended”(Yankelovich). The paradox is that Americans crave “friends” and behave in unfriendly manner.  Anticipate the dynamic of attracting and repelling people will be studied and discussed in 2013.

Window 2 – ACTII: “Naughty and Nice” (Dreams)

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 7.48.03 AMThe window depicted a mannequin dressed as a burlesque fan dancer who peeked over her shoulder, while set against a fantastical white-on-white feather dreamscape. This window symbolizes dreams – or parodies the lack of dreams and/or dashed dreams. For today in America, 67% agree “If I had a chance to start over in my life, I would do things much differently” (US Monitor). Sadly, 50% feel “my dreams are out of reach” (Yankelovich).  America is experiencing a “dream deficit”. Having dreams and realizing dreams is the foundation of the country, and will be a focal point of discussion in 2013 (along with the related topics of “entrepreneurship”).

Window 3 – ACT III: “A Cast of Thousands” (Inequity)

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 7.48.20 AMThis window featured wo dozen showgirl mannequins ranging in height from 1ft to 6ft which stood poised for their curtain call. This window is a nod to our society consumed with social media and crowd sourcing, with its cast of thousands (and arguably performers and voices). But, most importantly, the disparity in the sizes of the mannequins represents the great social and economic divide in America. Presently, 70% feel that “economic well-being is unfairly distributed” (Yankelovich). Further, 78% agree “there is one set of rules for the rich, another for everyone else” (Monitor).  Equality and democracy are tenants of America under threat and will be a theme of 2013.

Window 4 – ACT IV: “Daredevil” (Skill)

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 7.47.14 AMThis window presented a glamorous dog trainer who directed a circus of 30 stylized dogs interacting with kluge-like mechanisms. On one hand this is a window about “control”, as Americans are seeking increasingly more control over their “have it my way” worlds.  On the other hand, this display symbolizes “skill”, or lack there of. Only 39% of Americans believe they “could easily find a job if they lost their current job” (Yankelovich). While 69% feel “it’s important to be honest with yourself about strengths and weaknesses” (Yankelovich), 57% believe “it’s important to recognize when to let go and cut losses” (Yankelovich).  As the world becomes more competitive, Americans will focus more on personal skill assessment and development, and the “generalist” vs. ”specialist” human resource debate will thrive in 2013.

Window 5 – ACT V: “Finale” (Engagement)

Screen Shot 2013-01-02 at 7.48.43 AMThis window depicted two showgirls standing in front of a colossal distracting hypnotic rotating vortex which looked like a kaleidoscope made of blinding mirrors. Viewers had no choice but to look away or become absorbed. The window symbolizes the challenges of “attention” and “engagement” a key leitmotif of the smartphone era. Today, 50% of Americans say they “own a smartphone”, and 58% of this group say they check it every hour (Nielsen). 30% say they’ve used their phone “during a meal with others”, 39% “while in the bathroom”, and 9% “while in a religious service” (Harris Interactive). The smartphone is a great engagement tool, but there’s a risk of over-engagement in today’s society. Conversations in 2013 will swirl around connectivity and disconnectivity and the presence of mind while being connected.

additional conclusion, implications & predictions

  • Americans with lower self-esteem will have more interest in projecting status. Brace yourself for increased interest in status labels/brands and designer icons in 2013.
  • Americans will manifest their disappointment via criticism. Expect Americans to be more critical, demanding and discerning: “quality” and “craftsmanship” will be key themes in 2013. Also, social media will garner favor with the critic; expect more reviews and shared POVs.
  • Americans feeling (or opting to be) disconnected and anti-social will reject “community” and display more ego-centrism. Micro-targeting and hyper-personalization will likely flourish in 2013.
  • Future-cynical Americans will seek immediate gratification to make the most of the moment. In 2013 anticipate an emphasis on “experiences” and “thrill seeking.”
  • Americans with lack of faith in “the system” will adopt pragmatic behaviors. Expect a surge in 2013 in products that enable resourcefulness and self-sufficiency.
  • Americans connected to multiple screens (phone, tablet, computer, TV) 24/7 will be overwhelmed with data and options, and will seek ways to filter. Forestall curation services and filters in 2013.

dubious trend: “fair pricing” in America

An extremely important retail and technology trend is silently underway in America, which threatens to destabilize a lot of goodwill gained from technological leaps in the past two decades. It’s even challenging the foundation of America: equality and democracy.

The trend: retailers nationwide with loyalty card programs have amassed Big Data about their customers. They are using this data to target deals for profiled customers in such a way that the person standing next to you on the checkout line may be offered discounts that you don’t/won’t ever get, and vice versa.  Retailers, such as Kroger, Safeway, Amazon, Starbucks and others are analyzing each customer’s historical shopping behavior, and then cleverly varying prices in customized offers that are meant to increase purchases and profit (margin). This is essentially “regressive couponing”.

from transparent to opaque

These retailers are making assumptions about the shopper’s wealth and “household elasticity”. For every deal offered, there is a deal withheld. Retails are making as many decisions NOT to offer discounts because the shopper has a history of paying top-dollar for certain products. So, the machine is creating a form of “deal elitism”. What if I lost my job and am strapped for cash, but my historical shopping data will disallow me from getting better prices.? Hmmm, isn’t this a form of a sin of omission?

Sure, this kind of use of my personal data may “make me feel special and unique” and “thrilled that I’m getting advantages that others are not.” Afterall, that’s why I have Frequent Flier cards and a MoMa membership. And, what’s wrong with being rewarded for my loyalty, frequency and choices? As my friend Jurgen put it, “it allows me to create an ecosystem of brands and things I like.” But, the downside, I feel, outweighs the upside.

from democratized information to gated information

With the ubiquity of the Internet (and smartphones) we thrive on free and equal access to information 24/7/365. The democratization of information has possibly been the single BIGGEST catalyst for propelling civilization forward (obvious example: The Arab Spring). Equal access to information has leveled the playing field and made it possible for everyone to be enlightened and informed consumers and citizens. In addition, the open, free Internet has created “the commons, fostering a global culture of collaboration and sharing. Shared knowledge. Shared experiences. Shared creation. Shared problem solving.

But this technology is the antithesis of democratized information. This approach is all about “the uncommons.” And I don’t like it one gigabyte. Jurgen even suggested that it’s a form of “de-centralized power, whereby opaque and unaccountable corporations make decisions about what’s right and wrong for people.” We’ve made so many great strides in “out” and “open” in recent years: open-sourced, open-offices, open-minded, out-sourced, out-of-the-box, outward-bound, etc. This kind of “gated community” making and closed deal-offering seems like a step backward.

“fair” and “equal” are not the same

While reading comments and discourse around The New York Times article last week that highlighted this trend, I cannot help but be reminded of an argument often used in education: fair is not equal. When a student complains, “why didn’t I get what he/she got? It’s not fair!” teachers (like me) are trained to respond: “what’s fair isn’t everyone getting the same thing. To be fair, is to give to those who need. To be equal, is to give to everyone.”  This is analogous, except the retail corporation is the judge of who is needy and who is not. Yipes!

America is not a haggling culture, yet

In America we have a social contract with retailers that pricing is transparent and democratic in that everyone can access the price of goods and services. The price is the price, high or low. In American culture we don’t haggle for prices. Americans define themselves as being open and direct. Certainly, in haggling cultures, consumers expect that each consumer might get a different price, dependent on negotiation skills, relationship with vender, etc. But, Safeway is not a Souk in Dubai. And, I don’t want to negotiate (or price-doubt) each item in my grocery basket.

This trend doesn’t just impact the American retail landscape, but also the way our data footprints will be used for or against us.  Consumers, be wary. Personally, I’m cutting up certain retailer loyalty cards.  Retailers, please think very carefully about venturing down this slippery slope. It might leave the door open to competitors who come and provide goods and services to the coupon/pricing dispossessed.

“the only horrible thing in the world is ennui, Dorian”

Ever since “boredom” became an unnecessary part of modern living, the trend has been to turn everything into a game resulting the trend coined: gamification.  In other cultures and eras, boredom (i.e., the antithesis of stimulation) was a critical part of self-actualization and achieving nirvana, and it was even sought out (think: monasteries, reflection gardens, chapels). Our culture prides itself on productivity and shuns laziness. So, spending time doing nothing and not being “engaged” or “stimulated” is akin to failure.

Today, the most mundane task or communication strives to be “entertaining” to capture and keep the attention of an ADHD nation. “Engagement” has become an overused business term. Most business schools now offer classes in CE (customer engagement). This is driving the gamification trend, and using games to engage is sly because…

Neuroscientists have found that our bodies give us a jolt of the chemical dopamine, which creates a “high”, when we play games. Especially when we win.  Dopamine is responsible for the good feelings we get from sex and chocolate. And, you may have heard of video game addicts in “gamer rehab”? As pleasure-seeking animals, we become addicted to feelings that are triggered from the chemistry of games.  You’ll look at your Sudoko in a whole new way now.

‘tainment culture

This pursuit of happiness has spawned “entertainment + anything” industries around portmanteaus, such as edu-tainment, promo-tainment, eater-tainment, retail-tainment, digi-tainment, brand-tainment, mobi-tainment, etc.    And now, with the 2012 Olympics, we have the birth of a new one: “spec- tainment.”

For many, it’s no longer satisfying to simply watch a sporting event or concert; the ante has been upped and there is now an expectation that there will be additional entertainment while spectating. The Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders are an analog form of this. In today’s digital world, the mobile phone is playing a key roll in gamifying life (and sporting events).

gamified Games

These Olympic Games are different from those held in the past 114 years, as we’ve experienced huge technological leaps in the past Olympiad. Namely, the ubiquity of smartphones, and the omni-presence of social networks. Pundits have called these Olympics the “social games” and the “mobile games”, but they’re also the first “gamified games.”

The IOC launched an official “Mobile Game App” presumably to entertain spectators during down time. It’s a simplistic child-like video game featuring different athletes  (avatars) playing a variety of games.  But, dozens of independent Olympic game Apps are on the market. For example, the Finger Olympics game App for iPhones can be downloaded from iTunes. Samsung has launched the Take Part 2012 App, which is a suite of games designed for it’s Galaxy phones, and even exploits Augmented Reality. Cool, but whatever happened to being in the moment?

While these Olympics were only partially gamified, the gamification trend will likely result in the 2014 Winter Olympics being much more gamified. Expect more “spec-tainment” in the future.

insights from the “mom olympics”

While some are calling The Games the “Mobile Olympics”, I’m inclined to call them the “Mom Olympics” due to all the focus on the athlete’s Moms.  The Games’ coverage is peppered with cutaways of cringing, praying, cheering Moms watching their children perform. Or, ads, like P&G’s “Thank You Mom” highlighting the Moms behind the athletes and appreciating them with the nod:  “The Hardest Job in the World is the Best Job in the World.

marketing to mom -> mucho bucks!

The “mommification” of The Games is not surprising because media companies who want to appeal to Mom viewers, like NBC, and marketing powerhouses who want to sell products to Mom, like P&G, understand that Moms in America are the business. Literally.Moms control +80% of all purchase decisions. Moms run this economy. Moms are the 3rd largest consumer segment in America. There are more Moms in America than all men in America over the age of 29 years! Nearly 30% of the total US population is a Mom.

Yet, for such a large and influential market segment, “75% of Moms feel that brands do not acknowledge or recognize their needs as mothers.” A separate study found that “66% of Moms feel misunderstood by healthcare marketers.”

moms in america = M.I.A

The acronym for “Moms in America” is M.I.A, which is apropos given that Moms are also “missing in action.”  Brands are missing the mark on the Mom target – they don’t get Mom, they don’t portray her accurately and they don’t speak to her the way she wants to be spoken with. Moms feel they are underserved, missing out on products and services designed especially for them… the real them. Modern Moms. Not stereotyped Moms.

To get my head around this critical market segment (and cultural force), I conducted a deep dive analysis of all the secondary research I could find on “Moms in America”. What was surprising was the dearth of research into Moms, given their numbers. And, conversely, the number of studies that assumed 85 million women can be lumped into ONE psychographic and behavioral group, completely ignoring nuanced differences between “Cool Moms” (click to watch the Ford ad left), “Sugar Moms”, “Power Moms”, “Digital Moms”, “Alpha Moms”, etc. The most research exists on Millennial Moms, highlighting the vast generational differences amongst Moms. Very little seems to be known about Gen X and Boomer Moms today, which control 47-times the spending of Millennial Moms!

marketing to mom brains 

A few of the most surprising findings of my Moms in America (M.I.A) study include:

  • Mom brains are literally hard wired differently than non-Moms from chemical changes of pregnancy, and their senses (especially smell) are heightened, making them the most ideal candidates for experiential marketing.
  • Mom brains respond to stories. That’s why brands that relay personal stories (e.g., Mom to Mom testimonials) are so powerful.
  • Moms are innately more curious: scouring the Internet and every information outlet, from friends to ads, for insights into products.
  • Moms are looking more to make the most of their family time, than to make more time; resigned to multi-tasking and being time-starved she wants products to enhance scarce family time and turn chores into memorable times.
  • Mom wants to be a magnet. She wants her kids and their friends to want to be around her and her friends to come to her. Possessing cool products and brands and knowledge help her magnetism.
  • To cope, Mom has a sense of humor. Funny Moms have a lot of marketing influence. And similarly, she identifies with imperfect Moms (but not bumbling).
  • Moms are naturally more competitive (personally and with their brood), and thus seek out tips, tools and tricks that give them an edge, which explains the appeal of media and brands that offer expert access.
  • Mom feels underappreciated. She’s a little resentful that she has to sacrifice and pull more than her weight… without getting any gold medals!

We live in a Mom-driven culture. Moms shape entire generations of citizens – thought, behavior, skills, values, and table manners. We need to learn more about Moms in America, who are truly M.I.A.

trending “CITIUS – ALTUS – FORIUS” culture

The Olympic Motto appeals to our time-starved, fuel-injected, fast-forwarded, in-putted, out-sourced, on-demand, off-hours, hi-def, hi-tech, up-linked, down-loaded, over-stimulated, under-the-radar and ready-to-wear nation.  FASTER – HIGHER – STRONGER perfectly mirrors American culture, which is all about being the fastest, the highest and the strongest. The “-est” and “-er” suffixes convey superlative (i.e, best, top, most… vocabulary of the competitive). According to Yankelovich, 66% of consumers today agree, “I work hard at coming out on top in every situation—from the least important to the most important.”

FASTER – HIGHER – STRONGER was created in 1894 by the founder of the IOC to encourage the athletes to give it their all. The Motto’s accompanying Creed is “the most important thing in life is not the triumph, but the fight; the essential things is not to have won, but to have fought well.” Together the Olympic Creed and Motto promote important life lessons such as playing fair, but in America “winning” is everything.

Perhaps the challenges of the last decade have made Americans even more competitive than they’ve been historically, but just about every product in the US seems to sell on the promise of PERFORMANCE. And, extreme performance at that. (Have you seen the trend parodying the overabundance of “extreme” sports called oxymoronically “extreme ironing”?)

awesomenomics

Especially today, Americans are seeking the fastest and/or strongest performing autos, dandruff shampoos, floor cleansers, sneakers, wrinkle creams, etc. Even our snack foods and chewing gum today have been ultra-ized to be longer-lasting and more intense. For example, Doritos’ advertising campaign is based on the idea of “snack strong” and boasting that the chips “tastes like awesome feels” – powerful.

A client from one of America’s iconic heritage brands recently asked me for examples of “nostalgic and high-performance” brands. He wanted to know which brands are parlaying both their heritage AND a “faster-higher-stronger” message. Such brands, it turns out, tend to have portfolios that feature UNnovative products AND INnovative products, such as Coke, Tide, Converse and Levis. Each of these brands offer a “classic” model as well as a “high-tech, advanced” model. Mercedes Benz is a brand that capitalizes on its history and heritage, while also delivering on high performance through state-of-the-art technologies.

ancient cultural ways have new relevance

Anyway, with every trend there is a counter-trend. The antidote to our “Olympian-styled culture” of lean-forward, high-octane, top-performance is: SLOWER – LOWER – SOFTER.  Disconnecting. Quieting. Pairing down sensorial experiences. Streamlining.  Focusing on nuances. This is where “make overs” are replaced by “make unders”.

There is a trend growing in America amongst the Jewish community that stems from Orthodox Jewish religious culture, but which might also be fueled by the secular (medical) world: practicing Shabbat.  Young urbanite Internet-addicted multi-taking smartphone-carrying Americans are rediscovering and emabracing Shabbat. Shabbat is the Jewish tradition of abstaining from using electricity, which precludes using machinery and electronics, on the Sabbath to rest and focus on relationships and family. Religiosity aside, regularly disconnecting like this is proven to have enormous health benefits. It makes sense especially in our high-performance culture.

The Olympics is mainly a device to harmoniously bring together athletes and spectators (citizens and cultures) from the five continents, symbolized by the five Olympic rings. We modern Americans think we have it all figured out, but there is still so much we can learn from history and cultures, repurposing ancient ways to address contemporary issues.  Isn’t that an example of how UNnovation and Innovation can work in tandem?

With all the buzz about these games being the “Social Games”, because of all the mobile Apps and social chatter around the athletes, matches, controversies, etc…  It occurs to me that a lot of “social” media is driven by competition: to be the first, the wittiest, the most creative, the most thoughtful, the most connected, the most liked, the most retweeted, etc. So, how about making these games the “NOcial games” (as in the NOT social games). Instead, take pause. Slow down.  Put the phone down. Disconnect. Focus. Simply watch the Olympics without any citius, altus, forius.