The Big Picture
This is a time of both great and subtle social change in New Zealand. We have increasing social and cultural diversity through migration. The values of the once-dominant baby boomer generation are being replaced by those of younger generations. And in the wider world, rampant technological disruption is now coupled with profound social and economic turmoil.
Two of the largest anglo-european societies in the world have recently demonstrated how quickly economic divisions and social anxieties can escalate and become political. The future of work in a global techno-culture is a highly divisive issue. Windshift’s post-recession research from 2008 to 2016 shows that we also have these socio-economic fault-lines in New Zealand, even if they haven’t ruptured recently.
Meanwhile, in the background lurk the geographical uncertainties of actual earthquakes and climate change. If the ‘big one’ doesn’t smash up your home, will rising sea levels do the job instead? How do New Zealanders’ values and perspectives change when threats cease to be theoretical?
What Impacts Will This Have?
That’s the big picture, but how is that reflected in everyday life? What do New Zealanders want for themselves now and in the future? And how does that differ from what they’ve said and done in the recent past? What do they expect of the companies and organisations that serve them? What impact will their underlying values have on the products and services they use, and the media they consume? And how do they feel about themselves and their country?
In other words, what can we learn about New Zealanders in 2017 that will help us to respond appropriately to future issues, and to empathise with and serve our customers? What matters most about their similarities and differences and how can we express ourselves in ways that resonate strongly with the people who live here?
I plan to find out! I’ve developed a shared study which, if I get enough subscribers, will take place in early 2017.
Why It’s So Useful To Understand New Zealanders’ Values
When we explore a person’s values and identity, we are discovering the semi-permanent perspectives they bring to the things they experience and the issues they face. Attitudes or beliefs about the specifics of life change all the time, but values endure and only change when it becomes useful or necessary to do so.
In this era of social media echo chambers and confirmation bias, people’s values are reinforced every day by the people they interact with. It’s so much easier to follow the group norms, especially when the group members are very similar. So that’s what people do.
In the techno-culture it’s more and more common to rely on behavioural insights, derived through data analysis and rigorous testing to identify what customers want. That’s great but it’s blind. It doesn’t help you to see the possibilities and the opportunities that a deep understanding of your customers’ values and mindsets can deliver. Nor does it reveal the pitfalls or problems that might occur if people get too much of what they want.
The Values That Matter
If we want to understand how life will evolve in New Zealand and what emerging values are likely to be reinforced by future life experiences, we need to focus on two key elements:
- Shared values
- Contested values
The underlying mythologies of New Zealand society rests on our shared values – especially the ones that tell us what to expect from life, how to be acceptable to others and how to be a good person. For example, we tend to value general friendliness and cohesiveness – which makes this a pretty nice place to live.
But shared values can also create group-think and a blindness to alternatives and emerging issues. Another example: our shared mythology about New Zealand as ‘a great place to bring up kids‘ often causes us to minimise instances of child poverty and homelessness.
If shared values give a country its character, contested values, especially those that polarise groups or reflect quite different experiences of life, are what gives it vitality and resilience. As Chris Brown and I wrote in the introduction to 8 Tribes: the hidden classes of New Zealand:
“What is remarkable about New Zealanders, and what creates the energy within
our society is not our sameness; it’s the differences between us all.”
Debate and different perspectives are a part of any complex society. For example, liberal voters in the USA are waking up to the fact that almost half of their fellow voters simply don’t see the world their way. Marketers and communicators in any company or organisation can find themselves talking way over the heads of their customers, or worse, talking ‘down’ to them.
It’s time to dig deeper and find out what’s happening here. My initial research proposal, to fund the work, will allow companies and organisations to review the way they operate and build a strong relationship with their own customers. Beyond that there will be plenty of opportunities for smaller firms and individuals to engage with the ideas this research uncovers.
 8 Tribes: the hidden classes of New Zealand by Jill Caldwell & Christopher Brown. Wicked Little Books 2007.
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