Spend any time with any leadership of any organization and a consistent dialogue will emerge. Each of them will say that they need to understand their customers better, they need to be quicker in responding to their needs and eventually they need to become predictive in managing that relationship. The scale and dynamism of the internet across an assortment of places has accelerated these needs and is driving our global society into a new way of functioning.
Whether we like it or not we are all a part of global system that is totally interconnected, interdependent and predicated on the commercial relationship between people and its providers. Present and future demand drive our global system as marketers try and create new needs, wants and demands for companies to fulfill. But the point isn’t to join the chorus of globalized capitalism bashers. The point is that we need to understand our collective role in this feedback loop that businesses look to in order to plan, develop, deploy and capitalize on our needs, wants and demands.
The truth of the matter is planning cycles and organizational responsiveness used to be, at its quickest, an annual exercise. Companies would gauge current and future demands in markets through research, testing, data monitoring and deploy products and services in response. They would then track, over periods of months and years, whether or not sales could justify stasis, retraction or expansion of that product or service. Companies would also look at leading indicators like historical product / service lifecycles, purchase indicators through research or marketing responsiveness to also see if we wanted what they were selling. This was how we responded to some of the commercial constituents of our global system. It was disconnected, local but, on aggregate, gave them a sense of our response.
But this isn’t just reserved for the commercial world. States, governments and power centers all had similar cycles. Elections, if you were lucky, would happen intermittently, where you had the opportunity to exert your choice. Sure there were other things you could do like participate in polls, attend municipal gatherings or even protest but those were merely proxies unless you were to overthrow a government. But to do that you would need time. You would need to identify shared values, connect with others, sign petitions, vocalize and get media support, rally the nation! Why do you think the civil rights movement took so long in the 60s?
Today, things are drastically different. Because technology now powers the expression of our inherent needs, wants, beliefs and ideals and we deliver our feedback much more quickly. Furthermore, when we connect that feedback we create a tremendous market force that begs for a response. It’s all data points, it’s totally computable and it comes in the purest form of expression – our attitudes and behaviors through technology. We, just by clicking, watching, scrolling, typing and surfing, are, in concert, generating market indicators that are begging to be serviced. In essence, we are driving our global system into a state of immediate reflexivity that will react to our inner most expressions through technology.
McLuhan was right with his assertion that all media (technology) are extensions of some human faculty – psychic or physical. What he didn’t predict was the pace and scale that technology would accelerate those desires and how quickly they would force our global system to respond. He also didn’t really understand the burden of that responsibility. Inherent to a totally reflexive world is the understanding that it is our actions, no matter how common, that drive systemic change. And while it may still feel really diffuse and relational, these are now becoming the dangers of common existence.
In the age of reflexivity, especially within the context of the global crisis’ we face, we need to begin to assume responsibility for our common actions. Our actions, whether we like it or not, manifest themselves through technology that now beg for the system to react. This means everything from what you read or watch to what you write or share. These actions demand great change. And when connected they force a reaction. Memes today are largely associated with inside jokes, pop culture and internet silliness. But if those memes are connected and sustained with meaning and collective values that demand positive change in our world then we just might have a fighting chance.
Image sourced from: http://zissou.com/work/reflexive/