The post covid consumer
“To understand another human being you must gain some insight into the conditions which make him/her who they are.”
The pandemic is different than the financial driven recessions. In those people simply came out of it clearly in one of 2 groups (the haves and the have nots) and this crisis while the institutions may come under responsibility, or structural, scrutiny this will have more of an attitudinal or ‘out of any human control’ halo effect. That said. It would be a mistake to assume an even dispersion of impact (there will be haves and have-nots as well as winners & losers).
** note: This is a political/societal issue, not a brand issue. Brands/businesses should focus on their specific segments within people impacted.
The Narrative Collapse:
In this case all we learned was the fragility of life – in totality. This creates an overarching impact (a structural aspect to 100% of people) that we are now living within which could be described as a Narrative Collapse. We have conceptually lost the plot.
“During narrative collapse, everyone temporarily abandons attempts to reach narrative consensus even within their smallest default groups, such as family. It’s not that we don’t trust narrative sources when we lose the plot. That’s a simpler problem for normal times. It’s that the narrative sources are temporarily at a loss and don’t know what to say.”
The larger global narrative all the way down to the individual narrative has collapsed. Not unlike shaking an etch a sketch, the narratives have been derailed and a new narrative has yet to take shape. This deconstructs a variety of myths – we have it better than we think, systems protect us, personal responsibility, self reliance is the key to success – and doesn’t really offer us a cohesive narrative to take its place yet. As society, globally, faces the collapse of the narrative during the Covid phase the pieces of the narrative to come, the post Covid phase, are assembling. This will most likely not appear as some totally original narrative but rather an adaptation of what was before – a morphing of practices, systems, attitudes, beliefs & old with new.
The new narrative will carry the same theme – ‘meaningful progress is that which brings us closer to future relevance/success’, yet, will be framed in a different context and environment in which to progress. People will subconsciously, and sometimes consciously, recognize the relationship between antifragility/fragile systems & life and the importance of an overarching narrative (even with dissonant aspects) are inextricably linked.
It would also appear that a narrative collapse creates a sense of ‘flattening’ in which the haves mean less than the have nots if but for a period of time.
** note: power dynamics will certainly shape the what remains of the old and what is created anew in the post-Covid era
When the larger narrative collapses the traditional ‘have-nots’, the people who we see as working-class people, like the FedEx guy, the server in the restaurant, the check-in person at the hotel and even the person who cleans the rooms, will actually know more than anyone else on what the real ongoing narrative is. It will be these people who will see the patterns that remain within the collapse as well as the pieces/parts which will help craft the future narrative.
** the fragile dissonant narrative
The patterns of an aligned narrative are complex, not linear. In an infinite loop of accepted truths, accepted fragility, accepted imperfections balanced by needs, desires, aspirations in which different individuals create a coherence without consistency between segments. In its imbalance there is a fragile balance. In fact, it is within the dissonance in which can be found the ongoing progress necessary to improve upon the narrative. The larger narrative has to have enough common elements among the larger public in order to permit individuals to live their own narratives within the larger narrative.
Environmental Contextual shift- Sociological dynamics post-Covid:
The effect of the pandemic on individual attitudes and behavior will arise in a complex mix of self, interdependence, control and impact.
A pandemic doesn’t necessarily destroy the underlying construct of how life is conducted (economically, infrastructure, essential services, etc) but it does shift the contextual view of how life is lived within that construct. In other words, people will view the environment in which their lives, successes, progress and future resides within. The pandemic has amplified interconnectedness, need for social (proximity to people), importance of communication, sheer randomness/uncertainty of life (even if you work hard and do what’s right) and, from a 30000 foot view – made people reflect upon what they can, and cannot control.
While, pragmatically, many people will come out of this with less money – individuals who had nothing will most likely have even less, young people who have struggled to gain traction will have been set back even more, retirements will look farther away and governments (who spent lavishly to fortify a business world that most likely, in hindsight, will show didn’t need it) will have no money to invest in future initiatives (climate change, infrastructure, arts, etc).
** note: contrary to perception the working class people may actually come out of this phase relatively unchanged financially because they don’t have 401ks & they have remained working.
Simplistically, even if someone comes out of the Covid phase unscathed personally they will recognize that it is partially because of a simple luck of the draw. It will not undermine the belief if you work hard and focus on doing the right things that you increase the likelihood of success but it will increase the belief that Life is, at best, a gambler’s game.
Ultimately it will make people reassess control – what they can, and cannot, control. This will most likely bifurcate along lines of “extreme self-interest” (a zero-sum game mentality) and “high recognition of interdependence” (mutual dependency). While this attitude currently exists, the pandemic will most likely shift the proportional mix, I.e., more segments (each of which will assume their own identity) will view the importance of interdependence on their individual interest as more important than sole self-interest. This most likely will translate into “coherent communities can control things better than just me doing what I can.”
** note: this increases the importance of self to community dialogue alignment.
We will most likely find that ‘control’ will have to be through individual action connected to a likeminded community because we will find the money to take control difficult to find.
Setting aside the questioning of effectiveness of capitalism and globalization, government has mortgaged addressing future issues by spending money to address the current issue. In other words, there is no money. This has always been a subconscious default to absolve one of aspects of personal responsibility. Post Covid attitudes will partially be shaped by there is no place to hide from the responsibilities that impact our future (big & small).
** note: this will vary among the haves and the have nots and those who worked while others didn’t work
Money has always been as aspect of our individual sense of control. If I have enough money I can ‘control’ my own destiny (needs & happiness). If government has enough money, they should be able to ‘do’ certain things to insure a better future. This may not all be actually true but it framed attitudes. With no governmental safety net incremental monies and individuals more protective of their own money, individuals will seek to do things that don’t cost (directly). Maybe said another way, money outlays will consider making a statement at the same time (e.g., if I buy a car, I will most likely think a bit more about what it says about me and what statement it makes). The lack of money actually increases the larger sense of self and interdependence.
It sounds trite to say “we live in a global world now” and “we’re in this together”, but the pandemic will buttress up understanding of that and, more importantly, attitudinally imprint the fact ‘everything is connected with everything’.
The evolution of human ethics and personal responsibility can be seen as the expansion of a sense of identification with an ever-widening scope: individual, between two individuals, community/organization, between two nations, global. As the narrative holds, even within wax & waning, our concerns include the needs and interests of a larger group. We recognize the survival and wellbeing, of people and the narrative, is linked to our own.
This generates a sense of interdependence where all progress is not a burden but rather an expansion of who and what you are. We are not responsible for coronavirus but we can be responsible in the way we act moving forward. This all leads to ‘individual meaning’ as part of mutually assured development. we neared an edge (no one actually thought it would lead to extinction) where we saw a world situation beyond our capacity to affect the arc and the outcome. We lost any semblance of control of our own fate. Yet. At the exact same time in doing so we also near the edge of any breakthrough – an idea of how we, as individuals, can affect outcome. There is actually an individual/self empowerment found within the recognition of interdependence.
Self-isolation, the behavior that is now required of us, is reminding everyone how much they actually like being with other people. While in social environments we tended to focus on the dissonant, and dysfunctional, aspects of it and now extricated from that environment we have the ability to view that dysfunctionality as functional dissonance with positive impact on our well being. We have a deeper sense of the co-relationship between self-choices and greater consequences. We have a deeper sense that humans are not meant to be alone (there is a general craving for ‘social’). Even introverts, while not becoming extroverted, seek the random social interaction of the proximity of other human beings.
Maybe more importantly is people will seek to self identify some ‘meaning’ or a relevance realization (the cognitive machinery of a person in dynamic relationship with its environment). As the larger narrative collapses individuals struggle to understand how they fit (they lose context) and therefore start seeking better understating of their own narrative (meaning and realization of relevance). This will most likely arise in terms of tying themselves to visceral choices to frame their own personal choice (a search for ‘relevance realization’ which will most likely be embodied through personal statements – purchases which reflect personal relevance) tied to some smaller behavioral choices. People will seek to find their ‘fit’ within the larger narrative as it is reestablished. Psychologically the individual will be faced with an uncomfortable paradox – a period in time when without a larger narrative they will seek to identify their own narrative to find traction toward controlling their own fate/destiny during a period of time in which they have recognized much of what Life contains is out of their control.
** note: relevance realization is purposeful decision-making, choice making, to embrace statements reflective of ‘meaningfulness’ to a larger world
This will split between have and have nots. I don’t believe the haves will veer too far from a pursuit of “things”, but the have nots (those who lost things in this crisis) will veer toward a pursuit of impact.
While we cannot control the future we can create, and co-create, the conditions of the future we want. This demands an artful balance of self-interest and public good (self interest cannot be separated in the long run from the interests of the world). Someone once called this ‘mutually assured development.’
People, finally freed from the grip of a global pandemic, will never forget the difficult period that made them see the precariousness of the human condition. We have learned there is no place to hide from responsibility to our own fate.
For the most part people, even within tighter budgets, will seek to address issues that can no longer be ignored (including environmental/social issues). Thousands of people will eye everyday life with a newfound respect and seek, sometimes creatively, to create some resilience to their lives (just in case planning) as well as seek, sometimes creatively, to embrace some futuristic-like aspects.
Where do we go from here – rebuilding the narrative:
Its not a negative view of reality nor positive, but rather a grasp of a pragmatic view in which personal statements become more important. That each personal statement embodies an identity aspect (in viewing a larger societal/global issue).
** note part 1: this can translate into positioning brands as a personal statement. A reflection of self identification. People are creatures who seek meaning and in the aftermath of a crisis in which many people reflected upon their meaning they will most likely see that meaning does not come by chasing anything but rather dedicating themselves, or a part of their identity, to something larger than just their narrow concerns.
Once through the Covid phase the larger global narrative will most likely take shape in quite a similar fashion to what the narrative was before. The frame and framing may look similar, but it will now take on a stronger sense of fragility – people will accept the narrative in a looser way. Within that ‘looseness’ the individual will build stronger personal narratives WITHIN the larger narrative. With a dimension of acceptance that there are some things out of one’s control people will seek to make stronger personal statements on what they feel like what they CAN control – their identity tied to beliefs. If we had appeared to shift away from brands as personal statements events have moved people closer back to wearing, buying and investing in things that stand for what they believe in.
There will be a higher level of dissonance as individuals struggle to find a reestablished narrative. We should not confuse this with ‘change’ or ‘things will never go back to the way they are’ it is simply the mechanics of creating a new narrative within a new attitudinal context.
It is difficult to judge the meaning of events in our lives until we come to understand the outcome, or consequences. The answer awaits the unfolding of future historical events and human responses. Whether we judge this event, or phase in time, as fortunate or unfortunate is a function of how the human race, people, responds to the pressure of the moment and challenge that this threat exerted upon our life, lives and narrative construct. Peace, calm or dissonant, resides in the restructuring of a narrative in which we can all fall into a rhythm again.
“Whatever befalls the Earth, befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth. Continue to contaminate the bed you sleep in and you will one day suffocate in it.”
Chief Seattle, Nez Perce – 1850’s to President Pierce
From an individual perspective I just don’t see large-scale change, i.e., ‘things will never be the same’ shifts. The current Covid crisis amplified beliefs in the fragility of systems and attitudinal dissonance (all the things I wasn’t happy with). Any ‘change’ in individual behavior will most likely be tied to attitudes/beliefs and not due to ‘large scale change.’
From a larger systemic “how we do business” perspective (including businesses), I just don’t see large scale, i.e., future of work will never be the same, shifts. It is more likely:
- Self isolation reminds business how much social interaction matters (the randomness of connectivity)
- Remote working highlights selective distant interactions yet limitations on a larger scale.
- Systemic failures will be seen as poor planning of existing systems rather than old ineffective systems (scenario planning may increase, supply chain/JIT inventory will be reassessed, agile aspects of an organization will be explored).
It is more likely people, as individuals, will not make radical changes, but rather morph attitudes and behavior to a revised context.
It is more likely any business changes will not be reflective of “learning that improves the way we do business” but rather “selective learnings that make our business less fragile/more resilient.
I’ve been arguing with futuristic pontificators and ‘this is going to change everything’ & ‘no normal’ people for weeks. I am not a futurist nor a predictor, but try this prediction. This pandemic will not completely change the ‘world order’ or even people attitude & behavior etch a sketch. Yes. it will have an underlying attitude effect mostly because it has made most people realize control is an illusion.
But. The narrative construct will remain intact.
On the ‘power deck’ (the captains & owners) the seating order may shift a bit. But. This was already happening because of populist/isolation leadership. The world ‘order’ was already shifting. power holds on with ragged claws.
On the engine deck some parts may be replaced, pieces updated, but the same engines will remain in place. Yes. Some new ships, with new engines, will seek to enter the market. But the old engines & ships will not go away.
On the passenger deck I think it’s a mistake to see systemic change, everyone still wants to go on a cruise of Life. But. We should seek to see *segments* change attitudes/behaviors & maybe some ‘lily pads’ of change (selective change). recognizing those lily pads is key.
And in the bilge (the people who have been screwed forever) they will laugh at the concerns of the passengers & captains as the musings of indulged people who fear losing what they have because if you have nothing you don’t fear losing things, you only fear losing hope.
I imagine what I am suggesting is that the narrative didn’t really collapse, we just have lost the plot. And that is not the same.