Jeff Bezos said: “People always ask me what’s going to change, but there’s a much more powerful question: what’s NOT going to change?”
Ben Page, chief executive of Ipsos MORI, gave a similarly themed speech: “We Need to Stop Talking About Change.”
He said: “We’re consistently looking for new needs and new ways of fulfilling those needs, but actually there are no new needs. Human beings still eat the same stuff, fall in love, marry, go to work, die, our fundamental needs don’t change that much.
“For most of us our behaviour defaults to NOT changing, to NOT trying something new, whether it’s politics, how we treat our pensions, what we do about our electricity and gas suppliers, or indeed the banks that we stay with.
“I’m still with the bank that I joined in the 1980s despite the fact that I could have saved thousands of pounds over that period by changing, because like everyone else I’m subjected to the ‘status quo bias’ that makes us stick with what we know.
“It’s a really powerful human emotion and we sometimes forget, when we’re spotting patterns and looking for new things, that often our perceptions are simply wrong.
“We can’t see the forest because we’re too busy looking at the trees.”
Page said there are endless online articles about how trust is in decline regarding everything: charities, politicians, news media, government.
But he then said, when we look at the data it’s barely changed since 1984.
Thirty-five per cent distrusted business leaders then, 16% distrusted government ministers, 15% distrusted all politicians, and those numbers were virtually unchanged 25 years later in 2011.
So what seems to be a new worry is really just an old worry.
Even though in 1999 only 13% of people were online and by 2019 it was up to 93%.
But “Frightened of tech progress” had only moved from 44% to 47%, “Overwhelmed by pace of life” had only gone from 49% to 52%, “Fulfilment in career” had gone from 31% to 32%, and “Rely on our own principles” had actually gone down from 84% to 82%.
Page said there were three main measurements in research:
1) Opinions: Ripples on the surface of public consciousness, shallow changeable views.
2) Attitudes: The current operating below the surface, deeper and stronger.
3) Values: The deep tides of public mood, slow to change but most powerful.
Constant focus on change is distracting us from what’s really going on.
He said: “When you’re thinking about the world, change is overrated. When you focus on VALUES, you will really understand people. Then we can avoid our obsession with the new and stop looking for newness in everything.”
About 60 years earlier Bill Bernbach, the man who invented intelligent advertising, said something similar.
“It took millions of years for man’s instincts to develop, it will take millions more for them to even vary. It is fashionable to talk about changing man. A communicator must be concerned with unchanging man, with his obsessive drive to survive, to be admired, to succeed, to love, to take care of his own.”
Of course we should be interested in current fashion – advertising needs to be part of the contemporary world.
But we need to be aware that it is just a fashion, it will change and another fashion will take its place.
Fashion, like change, is fleeting – it doesn’t last.
Which is why, as Page says, we need to study the deeper values, not just the current trend.
Trendspotting – obsessing over change – is formulaic thinking and, as Bernbach said: “Principles endure, formulas do not.”
Dave Trott is the author of The Power of Ignorance, Creative Blindness and How to Cure It, Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three