Is the term ‘participation economy’ just a way in which brand strategists and marketers engage with a generation consumed by their world of abundance or a frame from which to design a new future? Whilst I tiptoe around my near non-existent knowledge of economics, I consider the many contexts we see this play out in. With the millennial generation before us and a generation at their heels that will consist of multiple sub-generations not constricted by a label, we see a product of a rapidly changing world. The adage that we’re a self-entitled bunch can be argued both ways, but whether you’re 22 or 52, today’s environmental context or ‘millennial mindset’¹ now permeates brand marketing and our economy to it’s core. The ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ (attention and attraction) notions of consumption are long gone in the revision mirror and ‘Share’ (participation)² is firmly in our sights. Not longer do we sit at a distance, we demand to be a part of the journey. Brand value has been re-defined as not only functional and emotional qualities over price but our ability to participate with it intimately.³
Co-creation of products, services and even the marketing campaigns themselves drives engagement, connection and a deeper alignment of one’s personal values to brands. No longer do we reverently idolise a celebrity or lust after a product, without engaging in and co-creating the narrative. We’re active participants in our consumption that goes beyond exchange of goods and services to unlock our appetite for purpose and meaning. When brands permeate our hearts and minds, we truly sing their song. A tribal dance that has it’s community dancing to a collective beat that we collaboratively composed.
But how to we move beyond an economy that simply measures an exchange of resources for cash? Here in lies the difficulty of turning the tide. How do we measure participation over consumption to transform society? How do we redefine our individual selves not as consumers but as collaborators and generators for a ‘We Culture’? These are abstract concepts we must now explore to create a society that is not about just human-centred behaviour but that of humanity-centred behaviour connected to the natural world we inhabit. Whilst we can point to a number of positive markers across the globe, we’re a long way off this being a ‘participation economy’.
What excites me more is participation as a vehicle for change and the glowing positivity it brings for individuals to contribute to the way we interact. People not only feel excited to have a voice but empowered to contribute to create action. This is not confined to a middle class in skinny jeans, we’re seeing innovation through participation coming from all over the globe in areas that poverty, hunger and corruption are the every day norm.
We see this frame unlock new visions across many industries and government initiatives. Educators see students as individual nodes in a network of knowledge generation, directing course content, sharing views, and contributing to conversations that promote empathy, innovation and collaborative thinking. A view that is changing the way schools and education systems re-define themselves as knowledge hubs. Business, institutions and indeed Government at varying degrees of earnest head towards a quadruple bottom line, changes in the way enterprises define their missions, a burgeoning social enterprise culture and Governments who see value in collaboration, transparency and effective use of public resources. We see open systems and innovative cultures in business that enable engineers, computer programmers, scientists and designers alike to access shared resources and the ability to contribute to problems of dwindling natural resources, food shortages, poverty, water, manufacturing and urban regeneration which they were once prevented from exploring together.
Gibson speaks of a ‘future (that) is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed’.⁴ If participation is democratised opportunity then the ‘millennial mindset’, a pragmatic life hacking ability, enabled by exponential growth of technology and a passion to create value for humanity must truly be the new frame to design an intentional tomorrow.
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