Do-gooding has become an irritating background noise that is empty and impotent. What the world needs, and may be getting, is some less wishy-washy kick-ass direction from the driven and self-seeking, reckons Valerie Jacobs in an article in Viewpoint Magazine.
BITCHES, BARBARIANS AND NARCISSISTS: WELCOME!
Are you tired of being good? It certainly seems as if the Good Movement—or the golden age of cause marketing, eco-urbanism and sustainability—is reaching saturation point. As the movement goes mainstream and is fully digested on a mass scale, it becomes a challenge to decipher the good from the ‘good’. In a world of organic supermarkets, chief sustainability officers, environmentally conscious music festivals and yet another corporate-sponsored ‘save the earth’ video, we have reached a point where this collective, egalitarian ‘good-washing’ has rendered the movement meaningless. Ideas that were once disruptive have been democratized to the point at which they are no longer disrupting. They are ideas that are no longer worth spreading. As the do-gooders and good-washers continue to create ambient, almost mundane noise, it is easier to hear the tune of a louder boom with an inherently different origin. The ‘good guys’ are, in fact, making it easier for the opportunistic and anarchist to rise above the egalitarian mediocrity and drive social progress. Those willing to take the opposite route to ‘good-washing’, those who are comfortable in chaos—the hackers, the conquerors and the narcissists—are now the provocateurs and disruptors.
Early reports are emerging that point out the benefits of being a social malcontent and the growing acceptability of self-involvement in adapting to uncertainty and chaos. Long considered a personality disorder, narcissism was recently threatened with demotion to syndrome status for the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders due out in 2013. In her book The Introvert Advantage: How to Thrive in an Extrovert World, Dr. Marti Olsen Laney describes the ability of the analytical, introverted minority to thrive thanks to a fundamental need to search inside themselves for solutions.
This posits a future where those who are relegated to the fringes of society for being too self-involved, rude, crude and otherwise socially undignified are actually the ones best equipped to make changes that eventually benefit the entirety of the social eco-system. Today we label these people as narcissists, bitches and barbarians—but will they be the norm tomorrow?
It’s not that charity, sustainability and world-changing ideas have become less important principles. The problem is that the Good Movement has made us wary and confused about its authenticity and ‘good intentions’, and a backlash is looming. Larry Dobrow recently wrote an enlightened critique in MediaPost on Brita’s Music Sustains mini-documentary, part of the Brita FilterForGood music project. Using familiar good-washing rhetoric about making a difference and the egalitarian nature of music, the video attempts to conceal its promotional intent. Dobrow writes: ‘I can’t speak to the sincerity of motive, but isn’t it a happy coincidence that their chosen conversation effort just happens to land them smack in the middle of a prized demographic?’
Similarly, TED (Techonology Entertainment Design) and its many ideas-driven conferences have become sounding boards for those ideas which were, at one point, disruptive. With over 500 million collective Internet views, TED Talks are now a staple within Facebook feeds and email chains leaving many to ask, ‘Wait, haven’t I heard this before?’ As Benjamin Wallace recently wrote in New York Magazine, “Ted Talks, curated clips of 18-minute lectures that are gathered on ted.com, have become today’s Cliffs Notes to sounding smart.’
Technology has helped to democratize the ideas movement by lowering the barrier for entry and making it easier for anyone to become and ideas expert. By re-tweeting, posting and sharing other people’s creative ideas, much of what is circulated on the web is recycled content which has lost its potency along the way. Today, we are so globally homogenous in how we dress, think, share and broadcast that we border on stagnation. The ideas that got us here are now mundane. They have lost their point of view and ability to move us forward. The time is nigh, indeed, for the bitches, barbarians and narcissists. While this may seem tantamount to heresy, there’s psychological backing for why the time is right for new, me-focused disrupters. Historically, change is made through a select few with the courage to think and act outside the status quo. According to Spiral Dynamics, a psychological theory of human development and cultural consciousness, human beings evolve when forced by their life conditions to a greater, more complex mindset in which they collectively interpret the world. When the problems at one stage can’t be resolved using the current mindset, we evolve to the next.
For example, in the Industrial Age we saw an explosion in population, wealth, employment, innovation and manufacturing, which led to the rise of the modern city. But this environment also created problems, including widespread environment concerns, horrible working conditions, disease and sanitation disasters. IN order to address those problems created by industry, we could not apply the same shrewd thinking used to create it. Instead, we needed to move beyond it and evolve to something greater. We needed a more holistic, egalitarian mindset. Enter Romanticism, the socialist movement, the rise of organized labor, Arts and Crafts and the preservation of national parks…
First developed as a theory by renowned psychologist Dr. Clare Graves in 1970, Spiral Dynamics was articulated as a model to interpret consciousness and human behavior by Christopher Cowan and Don Edward Beck in their book Spiral Dynamics: Mastering Values, Leadership and Change, published in 1996. Within the Cowan and Beck Spiral Dynamics model, individuals and cultures evolve in waves, or levels of consciousness that alternate between ‘I” (expressive) and ‘We’ (sacrificing) behaviors.
As we evolve from on e level to the next, we take with us all the learning values and skills of the previous ones, but now understand those skills and new life conditions with greater complexity. Applying the Industrial Age example to the nine developmental mimetic levels of the Spiral Dynamics system, we see the ‘I’ expression of the Industrial Age, where the needs of the individual outweigh the needs of the collective society, followed by the ‘We’ sacrificing and collective contemplation of the Romantics. Spiral Dynamics provides important context for today’s good-washing problem in that it highlights our next evolutionary step away from egalitarian idealism to self-centric ambition. As Albert Einstein famously said, ‘We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.’ In the Good Movement, many of us embraced the big-picture, empathic creative spirit articulated by Daniel Pink in his best-selling book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future, but through an idealistic lens.
Beyond gaining widespread notoriety as the latest business buzzword, creativity is rarely acted upon. In face, we often react against creativity because it comes with an element of unpredictability and chaos. By its very nature it is disruptive. The more creative the concept, the less likely it is to fit within our current worldview, the values we teach out children and our company policies and processes.
Bitches, narcissists and barbarians represent everything that the cause-marketing do-gooders do not: they’re at odds with the larger group and boldly think they have the answer. They believe in their vision and ambitiously want to see it happen. They are self-reflective and self-reflexive. Most importantly, they hate process and embrace chaos. Their inherent qualities read like a recipe for change. By embracing their barbaric, narcissistic side, these social outcasts are more likely to disregard criticism, resist doubt and take a chance. They are the next change-makers.
For example, in some sense hacker organization Anonymous is the ultimate barbarian. As frightening as this group (or anti-group) is, it could actually spark real change. It scares us because it doesn’t operate within the rules. It doesn’t have a clear agenda and anyone can participate or organize a collective hack. It is anti-society, anti-organization, anti-process and anti-corporate. Like WikiLeaks, it broadly seeks to expose the truth and is, therefore, relegated to the fringe and referred to as a bunch of terrorists. The real power of Anonymous and WikiLeaks lies in their ability to embrace anarchy in order to innovate, to create new ways of working and to challenge others to rethink the status quo.
I’m not suggesting that we should all become barbaric bitches. But I do think the bitches are important to watch and learn from. As the Good Movement reaches maturation, those that are embracing their inner bitch are more likely to be the ones creating the ripples of change already apparent on the outskirts of society. Looking at the Spiral Dynamics model, this evolution to a more ‘I’ expression from the ‘We’ sacrificing mindset of the Good Movement is required for our evolution. These change-makers aren’t really narcissistic or barbaric, but symbolic of a new world-view on the horizon. While we label this behavior with negative undertones today, in time we will know these disruptive change-makers as the breakthrough entrepreneurs and innovators in a new generation of culture and business.
This article originally appeared under the title, “Bitches, Barbarians and Narcissists,” in Viewpoint No. 30: Money, Spring/Summer 2012, pp. 76–77. This is just one of Jacobs’ and Goodpaster’s contributions to Viewpoint Magazine, others include: “Generation Why,” “Through a Screen Darkly,“ and “Preparing for Human 2.0.”
LPK Vice President and Group Director of Trends Valerie Jacobs isn’t just a forecaster of design, she’s a seasoned storm chaser. Her trend work is grounded in a strategic approach that incorporates research, analysis and translation of data into actionable strategies for consumer brands with the nerve to keep up. Follow Val on Twitter at @futureglimmer or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.