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The future's bright... (with Hannah Mackenzie)

So far we’ve heard a lot about what will change in the future, and what needs to change in the future…but I want to talk about something that I’d like to stay the same – amidst all this change!

I want to start with a factor that’s internal and intrinsic to our industry and it’s future.

That factor is us!

Because we are stunningly privileged to work in a sector where the primary capital is human capital – just people, just us lot really.

We don’t have factories or a supply chain – our raw materials and our product is very simply our people and their ideas. We sell ourselves, our ideas, the concept that we will continue to have good ideas in the future.

That is a ridiculously empowering truth – we are the work, so the future, well, it is entirely what we make of it.

But there’s a bit of a problem with that…

And when I say “that” – I mean us…there’s a bit of a problem with us!

Because it seems to me we are incredibly prone to spending a lot of time worrying about shiny new external changes, we really do seem to love spending an inordinate amount of time pontificating about the next, new, shiny, zeitgeisty, thingamajig that will apparently define us all.

Whether it’s big data, hashtag strategies, content (right now it’s content!) – there’s ALWAYS something that’s changed and is shiny and new and different.

And the reason that concerns me, is that I worry that when we are constantly focused on what’s new and different and changing - we may forget to interrogate the really interesting things that are fundamentally unchanging.

And what are these unchanging things I speak of? Yet again – the answer is people, humans (you could call them consumers/audience….but I just prefer people).

Because the thing that we do (and that I love about planning) and that I believe is fundamentally important – is that people focused bit - the figuring out what makes people tick.

And that’s a very unchanging thing.

There’s a lovely bill Bernbach quote you’ll all be familiar with:

“It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop. It will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk aboutchanging man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”

And he was right. Factually - our bodies and brains genuinely haven’t evolved since about 10,000 years ago when we were pottering about the African plains. And they aren’t about to change now.

The context may change – but our fundamental drives, motivations, instincts haven’t.

Let’s have an example and take something that’s changed – let’s say communication technology. The ability to talk to and interact with anyone in our contacts or social network – no matter what time of day, no matter how far away they are or what they’re doing.

That’s a fairly massive technological revolution (last 10/15 years).

But there’s a lovely argument from one of my favorite anthropologists, Kate Fox, that actually this ‘communcation revolution’ is just the modern day equivalent of the garden fence.

Because what are our unchanging humans doing with it…gossiping.

And when I say gossip I don’t mean it in a trivial sense.

From a sociological/anthropological POV Gossip is the human equivalent of 'social grooming' among primates, which has been shown to stimulate production of endorphins, relieving stress and boosting the immune system.

Two-thirds of all human conversation is gossip, because this 'vocal grooming' is essential to our social, psychological and physical well-being.

The space-age technology of mobile phones & social networks has allowed us to return to the more natural and humane communication patterns of pre-industrial society, when we lived in small, stable communities, and enjoyed frequent 'grooming talk' with a tightly integrated social network.

Now, I’m sure there’s a lot more going on than just this “gossip factor”, but it’s one of my favourite examples of how even when the context changes in quite a seemingly radical way…people just get on with it and use it for something they have been doing all along.

So the needs it fulfills and the emotion surrounding it…the “what makes us tick” bit is an interesting human truth or insight or whatever you want to call it.

And that’s the bit of planning that I totally love (I’m just a total sucker for being massively nosy about other people!).

And amidst the change and the distractions which the future will no doubt throw at us – I hope we don’t forget those fundamentals that don’t change.

So the future is very simply – just what we make it. Whatever we choose to focus on.

And my hope is that rather than being too distracted by the changing, the new and the innovative…

We make sure we stay interested in people. Nosy about what interests them; curious about the world they live in, intrigued by why they do what they do.

Thank you!

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