The marketing world, which nowadays holds more prophets than the western religions, has spoken about meaning for many years now. People, it is said, are looking for meaning when they buy things or participate in cultural events. Even when they go to work as Tamara J. Erickson writes in Harvard Business Review blog post Meaning is the new money
As the old assumption that managers can “oversee” the quality of people’s work and pay more to motivate more falls away, the role of leadership shifts from adopting and enforcing best practices to crafting unique experiences that reinforce the organization’s values…. By strengthening meaning and increasing engagement, firms can connect with and motivate employees whenever and wherever they work.
The thing is that you can look at meaning at different depth levels. The depth, in turn, can be examplified with how many times you ask the (oh, so subvertive) question why. From a shallow perspective meaning is answering a single step of why, such as why choose brand X or employer Y? The answer might be that it is strongly associated with a physical (not very likely) or emotional (most likely) need or desire. This is where most intellectual work that I´ve seen dwells. By mastering the art of triggering such needs and desires brands and employers have a lot to gain.
What might not be so obvious, though, is that by opening up for questions about meaning, some people might start to questions the things that cannot be questioned to keep the wheels turning. It´s just like with Christmas traditions. A recent survey by the Swedish Church shows that people have started to question celebrating Christmas. Not questioning the religious content, mind you, that was over 50 years ago in Sweden, but getting all stressed out by cooking, preparing, buying presents and meeting annoying relatives at all. And, that is bad news for business. What business people, that adapt these new crazy ideas about meaningful brands and workplaces, have to look out for is that they eventually get marginalized in people´s pursuit to fulfill their needs and desires.
The funny thing is that when you ask yourself about the meaning of something, you often find that you can´t really remember what you where looking for in the first place. The more the marketing industry opens up for discussions about meaning, the likelier it is that people both within and outside the corporations will peek into that confusing void of realizing that you no longer remember why the heck you run around doing and buying all that stuff for. Off course, there already is a large market in self-help and spiritual litterature, courses and other consumer goods directed to that large and, because of this trend, growing market, but when people even get tired of consuming Christmas, they might grow tired of consuming remedies for too much consumption society also – and then what?
Either we´ll have to remember what we where looking for in the first place and start directing our efforts at creating that directly ourselves or we´ll have to do it all over again, but this time buying books, courses and consumer goods aimed at giving solace about the fact that not even an all-inclusive Yoga-vacation in India while our sourdough bread got taken care of at a sourdough hotel made us more… whatever it was now that we spent our hard earned money to chase after.
As, ususal, it will not be a choice based on the folk-loristic, but strong-lived, idea of free will. It will be based on the dominant pictures in our heads, put there by the communications we choose to pay attention to. And, which is much more spooky, the world economy. As long as the wheels keep turning the way we´re used to, I bet my money on that next years Christmas gift will be a golden ticket away from traditional Christmas – the mountains of plastic toys will be replaced by an almost-real experience of community and peace at a resort somehere. An extra 4-8 % up in Christmas consumer spending, as always…
Merry Meaningful Christmas!