They create and define the culture we live in, what we choose to value and how we measure ourselves up in society: art, design and branding. What if we are overlooking their potential to influence social behaviour enough to not just make business richer, but to solve some of the world’s most critical problems too?
We live in times when multiple manufacturers offer up answers to the demands of the market, and customers are left to choose which version they like best, based on their own value system, between aesthetics, social status, price point and functionality, and sometimes ethics.
But most of the time, the creative mind that helps to communicate the offering is brought onto the business as a commoditised service provider, paid for his time and experience, and not deeply involved in the outcome and success of the business itself, let alone in shaping the actual offering itself. Most of the time, this is explained by the idea that the core outcome of a business is not shaped by how the business is presented or even what it aspires to offer, but by how the business is run. Obviously, this is the opinion of those who run businesses.
Ultimately, each and every business is a product of human desire, and the supply and demand of fulfilling those desires — and communicating an understanding of that desire in the customer is possibly the most important factor in the success of a business.
People are overwhelmed by choice in a free market. In spite of having fought for freedom of speech and democracy of choice, people are most reassured and comforted when they don’t have to work too hard to make decisions about which brand to choose, when none of them really speak to them emotionally.
The brand that often wins is the one that has a clear point of view, allowing people to identify with it, and accept its vision as their own. And often, this is not a conscious decision — it is a decision that is made by the way the brand and business are presented — in other words, when a brand answers the customer’s needs without the customer having to explain his deepest desires.
It’s not so different than seeing someone at a really crowded party who dresses just like you, and smiles at you in mutual wordless understanding — and knowing immediately that this is the person you want to talk to in that mess of noise and attention-demanding people at any gathering.
The problem is, in a world that is increasingly obsessed by numbers, black and white choices that are supposed to help us make rational decisions, businesses — and people who run businesses — forget the most crucial factor in each and every business: people.
People are not rational, they make choices based on feelings that they may or may not be able to articulate. How they feel about something is influenced by their history, their context, their experiences, their fantasies, their fears, what others will think of them, what their mother would say, or maybe just because they used to have a red baseball cap growing up.
On top of that, most people don’t even know what their deepest darkest desires really are, because they have spent a lifetime overriding and suppressing those desires with practical rational choices that have left them feeling soggy and unenthusiastic about life in general.
In addition to this, people are dynamic. Growth and evolution is inevitable. You can’t provide people with one thing and expect them to continue wanting it, because everyone wants to move forward.
It’s the nature of Nature: infinite and constant change. If you can’t see where the river is heading, you’ll be out at sea before you know it. Being able to see where the current is heading is not a talent, it’s a skill we each should learn by studying history, philosophy, human psychology and even spirituality: because this is where the repetitive, cyclical nature of human desires can truly be found.
Sure, you can create and run a business that simply supplies what the market demands, checking off every box on the customer’s very practical list of demands: cheap, reliable, beautiful and convenient.
But the businesses that make a difference in the world begin with a deeper human desire: aspiration for the future, an understanding of the customer’s ideal world, looking at the bigger picture of what people really really care about.
Steve Jobs understood this, and that’s why Apple was able to create a demand for something that didn’t even exist, entirely through brand messaging that said, “We understand that you want the moon, and we are going to give it to you if you stick with us,” and design that said, “We understand that you are overwhelmed by information, and we are going to remove everything except what you actually want, so easy that it appeals to the child in you.” And the world went wild for the iPod, the iPad, the Apple Watch: these products were not in demand before they were supplied. They were designed to answer the deepest human desires of a future that is more promising than the present.
Elon Musk understands this, too, and that’s why in a world where petroleum dictates much of the world’s economy, he created a brand of electric cars that is highly covetable in spite of being more expensive than many gas-guzzling options. Could he have had the same impact on the motoring world had he not also been the man that wants to move people to Mars? When you buy a Tesla, you aren’t just buying an electric car, you are buying a future you want to believe in, and you want everyone to know that’s what YOU believe in.
Even Mark Zuckerberg understands that one of the deepest human desires is to connect to other human beings in a way that allows us to not just be part of each other’s lives, but actually peek into them, to see how we size up and if we are ourselves on the right track.
Social proof is the most basic human currency, and social media has tapped into it and turned it into actual currency — because, let’s be honest, what else is success on the stock market a sign of but having the approval and faith of millions of people?
Making a business profitable may look like a numbers game, but business itself is an emotional game, based on what we value as humans; and to truly connect to what people want, we shouldn’t be shaping our businesses on what people demand, because mostly, people have been taught to shut down and disconnect from their own desires, and are unreliable sources of what they really want.
But it’s not important to know what an individual wants, because humanity repeats itself, and our desires have simply not changed much over history.
We want infinite security, we want unconditional social acceptance, we want the promise of a better future, and a better self in that future. And that is, ultimately, the complete list of human desires.
Until the time when literally every person on the earth becomes completely mindful and self aware of their own emotions, and is able to master their own reactions to those emotions, businesses can only operate on a hit-or-miss basis by making decisions on pure numbers.
A deeper understanding of human desire is required, which can only occur by being in touch with our own deeper desire, which goes well beyond numeric security.
By supplying what the customer will demand tomorrow, a business doesn’t just ensure its own future, it actually shapes the future of all, by steering the ship of human aspiration along the current rather than against it. And by expressing a deeper understanding of that future demand, through its brand, a business ensures that the customer will actually be able to choose what he wants deep down, without being distracted or detracted by the overwhelming amount of choice out there, and being pressured into a decision based on rational fulfilment rather than emotional fulfilment.
We live in an age where we have more wealth and comfort than ever before, and the people who have crossed over from uncertain futures to secure futures are choosing to pursue the search for passion and purpose because one thing is clear: material fulfilment just doesn’t cut it beyond being fed and clothed and sheltered every day.
So why do we go on supplying material fulfilment? Because the people who run businesses believe that success in business comes down to business sense rather than aesthetic and emotional sense.
Long-term success in business isn’t just about communicating what you are selling in the right way — it’s about actually shaping what you are selling in a way that answers the long-term aspirations of your customers. But the people who run businesses have commoditised and marginalised the very people who can help them shape their offerings in a future-proof way: artists, designers, creatives, people who have a way of tapping into deep human desire, and actually creating a vision of a future that doesn’t yet exist, but everyone wants to be part of.
So here's a radical idea:
What if we, as artists, designers, people who have focused our lives and careers of tuning into human desire and expressing it authentically, were to actually take the helm of the ship, and create the demand for something we know most people want, given the freedom and capacity to make that choice?
And what if we brought the people who run businesses on board to actually just build the engine of our ship once we had clearly steered its direction and sold tickets to customers? What if we creatives stop allowing ourselves to be treated like craftsmen and engineers and start becoming the captains of securing the future that we all aspire to as human beings? The one where we aren’t all scrambling to secure enough food and shelter like squirrels preparing for winter, but instead start to actually create a certain paradise where we are truly the masters and keepers of the universe, the top of the food chain, ensuring more than survival but the actual thriving of us all? Where we work together to ensure each and every member of our society is taken care of, so he or she can make their deep, meaningful contribution back into the world, and we all can work, dance, laugh, live and love without fear of each other?
Is this a utopia? Or is it the only way forward?
Artists of the world, let’s rise up to show them there’s a better way. If we don’t use our ability to paint the perfect future for those who can’t yet see it, and change our direction, we’ll all end up where we are heading: back where we started.
Are you with me?
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