If the pendulum of the West continues as it has for 3,000 years, our current “We” generation will zenith in 2023.
Frankly, I’m looking forward to getting past that zenith and heading back the other way. The early part of a “Me” generation is a beautiful thing. But then again, so is the early part of a “We.”
It’s as we approach a zenith that everything goes out of control.
If you want to understand today’s crazy American politics, you need only to look at the pendulum.
A generation – for the purposes of today’s discussion – is not a group of birth cohorts, but life cohorts, everyone who is alive at a particular moment. We’re not talking about Millennials, Gen-Xers and Baby Boomers. We’re talking about the personality-shaping values that enchanted each of these groups during their adolescence. Those same ideas and values then altered the worldview of their mothers and fathers, the birth cohorts that preceded them.
I was 5 years old in 1963, the year the most recent “Me” generation began its upswing toward the zenith of 1983, when Ronald Reagan stood at the Berlin Wall and shouted, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” The president at the zenith of the previous “Me” (1903) was Teddy “San Juan Hill” Roosevelt and during the “Me” prior to him (1823) it was James Monroe, the president who notified European powers that America would no longer tolerate colonial expansion in our hemisphere. The Monroe Doctrine effectively said to all the powers of Europe, “Step back or we’ll kick your ass.”
A “Me” Generation is about individuality and self-expression, marching to the beat of a different drummer. It’s when one-of-a-kind is king, so do your own thing. A “Me” is the time of heroes.
“Me” the individual, possessing unlimited potential,
1. …demands freedom of expression.
2. …applauds personal liberty.
3. …believes one man is wiser than a million men,
“A camel is a racehorse designed by a committee.”
4. …wants to create a better life.
5. …is about big dreams.
6. …desires to be Number One. “I came, I saw, I conquered.”
7. …admires confidence and is attracted to decisive persons.
8. …leadership is, “Look at me. Admire me. Emulate me if you can.”
9. …strengthens a society’s sense of identity as it elevates attractive heroes.
10. …produces individuality and differentiation, one-of-a-kind heroes.
Both “We” and “Me” are built on beautiful ideas, but we always take a good thing too far and then crave what we left behind. So we turn and face the opposite direction and do it all over again.
And we’ve been doing it for 3,000 years.
I was 45 at the beginning of the upswing of our current “We” generation (2003.)
The driving force behind a “We” is “working together for the common good.”
“We,” the group, the team, the tribe:
1. …demands conformity for the common good.
2. …applauds personal responsibility.
3. …believes a million men are wiser than one man,
“Two heads are better than one.”
4. …wants to create a better world.
5. …is about small actions.
6. …desires to be a team member. “I came, I saw, I concurred.”
7. …admires humility and is attracted to thoughtful persons.
8. …leadership is, “Here’s the problem. Let’s work together to solve it.”
9. …strengthens a society’s sense of purpose as it considers all its problems.
10. produces efficiency, compliance, mass-production and consolidation, “best practices” and peer groups.
As I said, the first half of a “We” upswing is a beautiful thing (2003 – 2013.) But we always take a good thing too far. What begins as an inclusive “we,” ends as an exclusive “we.”
Inclusive: “We are all in this together.”
Exclusive: “We, unlike you, are good and wise and right and true.”
During the 10 years approaching the zenith (2013-2023,) a “We” is shaped by the group that controls the definition of “the common good.” This is why every “We” ends in a witch-hunt. The president at the zenith of our previous “We” (1943) was FDR, who pulled the nation together following the Great Depression. At the zenith before him (1863,) it was Abraham Lincoln, who held the nation together during the Civil War.
But you should remember that FDR was also the president that put 127,000 Japanese-Americans into prison camps during World War II. And 62 percent of those were American citizens. Not our proudest moment. During this same “We” zenith Senator Joseph McCarthy ruined other American lives by pointing his finger and falsely shouting, “Communist! He’s a Communist!” and the infamous blacklists began. Adolph Hitler was defining “the common good” in Germany. Likewise, Joseph Stalin’s idea of “the common good” in Russia included pogroms and purges that murdered millions of his own people. Everyone was on a witch-hunt.
Throughout the 3,000-year history of western civilization, any time we have burned people at the stake or guillotined them, we’ve been at, or near, the zenith of a “We.”
Our next zenith occurs in less than 7 years (2023.) The political climate is starting to make a little more sense, isn’t it?
But the pendulum isn’t really about politics. It’s about values and core beliefs, the kinds of things that make ads produce results or not.
Advertising copy that works during a “Me” will falter and fail during a “We.”
I began teaching advertising professionals about the “We” generation in 2004. That first session was in Stockholm, Sweden and it was attended by most of the advertising agencies of Europe. Then it was off to Melbourne and Sydney and Townsville, Australia. Then Canada. Then the United States.
When I was asked to put all that information into a book, I said, “Now’s not the right time. What’s ahead of us isn’t pretty.” But finally I relented and Pendulum was released.
I was talking with Michael Drew, my co-author the other day. He said, “It’s time for a Pendulum update focused on Advertising and Marketing.” The idea struck me like a thunderbolt.
I said, “And we need to recruit Ryan Deiss to be the lead author.”
Ryan is a Cognoscenti of Wizard Academy and a close friend. He and I meet regularly with Eric Rhoads to talk about art and trade insights about the future.
The book is going to happen and it’s going to be awesome.
In the meantime, I’m planning a special preview event on campus, a 2-day update on The Changing Face of Marketing. Ryan Deiss and Michael Drew and I will be there. I’m even hoping to recruit Eric Rhoads and Jeffrey and Bryan Eisenberg.
If you want to receive early notification the moment this event is scheduled, just email vice-chancellor Whittington with the subject line, “Tell Me First, Okay?”
It’s going to be a future-altering 2 days and 3 nights.
Now aren’t you glad you kept reading this exceptionally long memo all the way to the end?
It’s good to finish what you start.
Roy H. Williams
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And Rotbart gets to the bottom of that whole ghost thing, too.