Are We Really In The Age Of Meaning?

In our white paper, The Age Of Meaning, we explore the challenges and opportunities this new era presents to business.

Referring to economist Umair Haque’s contention that we’ve left the “age of opulence” – a time of hyper-consumerism based on the mantra of “bigger, faster, cheaper, now” – we make the point that the age of meaning didn’t suddenly appear.

There was no “Breaking News” story, no Twitter trending topic, and no planned downtime for a total system upgrade.

It crept up on us, through current events that jarred our systems (such as the collapse of the financial system) and through new technology that drew us in new directions (such as social media and mobile devices) .

But here we find ourselves, in a time when people are more discerning about what they buy, whom they buy from and the companies for which they work.

If you’re not sure about whether we’re in the Age of Meaning, ask yourself 3 questions:

Do you still spend money the way you did a few years ago, or are you more considered, careful and better informed about your expenditures?

Unless you just burn through your money, you probably think twice about how you spend it. At the very least, you’re no doubt smarter when you do spend money thanks to what you can find out on the Internet (best prices, fastest deliveries, detailed reviews and comparisons, recommendations from friends/experts), how you can access this information (at home, at work, walking down Main Street or through the mall), and how that information increasingly comes to you (through social networks, joining discount clubs, subscribing to email services like Groupon and, as will be the case more and more in the future, checking your mobile device when it beeps to alert you to special deals when you’re near specific locations).

If you discover a business is engaging in dubious practices (e.g. polluting, hiring underage employees, bribing officials), do you think twice about buying their products or services?

Unless you’re among the rare human beings who don’t care what other people think, you probably will avoid businesses, products, services and brands with questionable, or unknown, reputations – preferring to opt for those with respectable credentials.

If you had a choice, would you rather work for a company that was clearly ethical, socially responsible and environmentally sound, or a company that didn’t really seem to care about these factors?

Unless you really don’t have a choice (and sadly, in today’s economic environment that can be true), you would probably take a prospective employer’s ethics and responsible behavior into consideration when choosing between two options. And you would probably end up feeling prouder, working harder and staying longer for a company you respected and admired.

To one degree or another, people are facing these decisions every day, and making considered choices they wouldn’t have even thought about in the age of opulence.

It happens every time they think about buying a product or service, every time they consider a new job, every time they make a business purchase decision, every time they make an investment…indeed, every time they do what a business needs them to do in order to thrive.

If your business is still reaching out to people as if they were living in the age of opulence, or if your business otherwise lacks a Purpose Beyond Profit, people are going to pass by your products or services. They will seek out those backed up by companies who align to their values, respect their current needs and aspire, like them, for a better world.