As people move through life, they search for signposts along the way. They search for those rare pieces of intelligence that give them a gut-level feeling of confidence about what to do next. Today’s women are particularly adept at reading these signposts, which range from magazine articles, to movies, to conversations with a people they trust. They trust their instincts and aren’t afraid to make critical decisions.Women today are bold and confident, unapologetic for who they are and the things they like, and vast in their ability to influence nearly every aspect of modern life.
In spite of the heavy load that most women shoulder, and the torrid pace of living, the bad years are now past, and a resurgence of hope seems to be building. With guarded smiles reacting to each new piece of positive news, they listen intently for the rhythm of hope that beats continuously in their lives.
Women create our culture. They give birth to each new generation and heavily influence nearly every major decision being made today. Its critically important that we pay close attention to the drivers that are influencing the emerging new thinking class of bright articulate women wanting to make a difference in today’s world.
- The Emerging New Value Set – Unlike the past generation of baby boom women with their idealistic dreams, the torch has been passed to a younger generation who views the world quite differently. While they still dream of finding the perfect relationship, nearly three-quarters think marriage should be for life, they are quick to take action when change is needed. Upwards of 75% of all divorces are initiated by women. They know the safety nets if things go wrong.Buoyed by strong female role models like Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, and Uma Thurman in movies like Erin Brockovich, Cold Mountain, and Kill Bill has spawned a generation of powerful ambitious women, noble in their purpose, driven to succeed. They need to feel real, genuine and authentic, while at the same time, a new class of elegance is returning to the workplace with classier styles and appearance signaling the end of the survival years. This new woman is a member of 3-5 book clubs, is more fiscally conservative, enjoys going to martini bars, and is looking for their next date on Match.com.
- Virtual Families – The new reality is that more people today are part of second marriages than first marriages. With a growing number of people living in transitional relationships, multiple divorces, and children from multiple parent combinations, the social fabric has evolved into a culture of mixed parenting, confusing lines of authority, distributed and often shifting responsibilities resulting in an often-confused sense of ethics and morality. By default, mothers are working more and more as arbiter of the truth, sorting through competing value sets to make the final call.People are buying houses sized for “peak demand” times when all of their virtual family members are home. With the relentless pace of work, family, and school, kids often find themselves in a constant state of movement, shifting from parent one, to parent two, to grand parents, to friends, to sitters. This lack of permanence manifests itself in a number of ways with kids carrying the “need to move on” attitude with them throughout the rest of their lives, but also has prepared them for living in the virtual world stemming from their virtual childhood.
- Our Gender-Confused Nation – Traditional distinctions between men and women are becoming blurred. While some are blaming the “gender-bender” effect of natural and synthetic hormones being found in increasing levels in our water supplies, men today are far less likely to exude the rugged demeanor of John Wayne. Men are becoming more feminized as they take an active role in parenting, become more fashion-oriented and develop beauty regimes, including opting for plastic surgery.Women continue to make inroads into many traditionally “male” areas of employment and are earning more. There are also more women entering tertiary education, and are marrying later or staying single. Women’s drinking habits have radically changed too. In England, their consumption of alcohol had increased by almost 27% between 1998 and 2003.
- Women Viewed through the Cyberporn Lens – Nothing triggers the inner Jekyll and Hyde personalities in men like pornography, and the Internet’s cyberporn culture is stoking the testosterone fires. Its become the “crack cocaine” of sexual addiction. Men become lost in this artificial world that feeds them with delusional fantasies that women serve no greater purpose than to feed their every desire. New forms of sexual compulsiveness are creating chaos with 15% developing dysfunctional sexual behaviors that will eventually cause a train wreck in their lives.The mystery of female sexuality has long disappeared and the innocence of first love has been replaced with a drive to satisfy Neanderthal-like urges, with little sensitivity expressed for the female partner. This distorted view of women’s desire is causing a degradation of partner relationships and the disassociation of sex with intimacy. Training classes for coping with the emerging cyberporn males will be needed to help women develop techniques for uncloaking the true deviants and separating them from their lives.
- Quiet Demand for the Gritty Truth – Nobody likes a phony and in the process of uncovering phony aspects of society, women are quietly peeling away the onion layers to uncover all the gritty truth about the world. Shows like MTV Road Rules and Survivor are good at revealing the raw side of human nature, giving people realistic views of how the world works.The blogger world is also giving rise to people who are genuine and authentic, speaking from the heart rather than in the sanitized conversational tones of media past. The marketing world has picked up on this trend with companies like Apple Computers and Levi using real customers to strip away the gloss and connect with their customers on a personal level.
- The Social Obligation to “Live the Life” and “Do Your Part” – The Baby Boom generation believed in the big dreams, grandiose and idealistic, shoot for the stars and become one in the process. Today’s generation believes in living the life, often volunteering and making donations to “things that matter”. In short, women are very invested in “doing their part”.Women are very concerned about the world around us and are taking it upon themselves to make some changes. A full 30% of the people working on Habitat for Humanities projects are women. They comprise 60% of the hybrid car market, tend to stay away from luxury brands like Gucci and Rolex, are more likely to “turn off the lights”, and in most families women are responsible for philanthropic giving.
- Transition from a Product-Based Economy to an Experience Based Economy – Research among luxury consumers (top 25% of U.S. households with incomes $75,000 and above) has shown that experiential luxuries provide the ultimate luxury satisfaction, more so than home luxuries or personal luxuries like clothes, cars or jewelry. People no longer want to be known by the things that they own, but by who they are and the things that they have experienced.The experience economy is comprised of three types of products: freedom products, experience products, and memory products. Freedom is our most prized possession. Every device that gives us control also gives us freedom. Experience products allow us to “touch and feel” the world through our mind. And memory products are those things that we spend a fortune on each year trying to create good memories.
- The Age of Cross-Functional Foods – With attempts being made to address complex lifestyle needs, food product designers are looking to add a second and sometimes third dimension to the products being developed. Not only do the foods have to be tasty and nutritious, but also entertaining and healthy, or anti-aging and educational, or just fun.A multitasking gazing snack that keep the brain functional, while at the same time feeding some natural craving, packaged in way that fits in a car’s cupholder and alternately dispensed from a vending machine, branded to give some experiential feeling of being part of the “in” crowd is the type of complex product development efforts happening inside our food labs today. And with women being the primary purchasers of food products, everything from food fashions to styling is being closely scrutinized.
- 24-7 is Back – People love to complain about their busy lives, yet most are going even further by multiplexing – something akin to putting the brain in constant channel surfing mode – living with simultaneous streams of consciousness through dual and often triple activities. Watching television while responding to an email and cooking dinner is all too common. But it’s still not enough. Everything has to be available 24/7.The past four years saw shortening store hours, reduced availability, and darkened streets at midnight. People sleep on average 2 hours less per night than 100 years ago (8.9 hrs vs. today’s 6.9 hrs), and working with a new drive and positive energy both women and men are determined once again to live unrestrained lives. And they are demanding support from the business community to help feed this lifestyle.
- Get the Geek Out – The Internet was primarily developed by 20 and 30 something nerd-guys who had a tough time relating to women. Perhaps it was less about their inability to relate to women and more about their inability to relate to first time users. Irregardless, early Internet users had to know how to speak geek. The closer they were to having a programmer mindset, the closer they became to functional proficiency on the Net.However, the lingering charm of being able to talk the language of nerds is now gone, and women are demanding a simpler interface. They need to “get it” on the first try or they will move on, and companies that have mastered the female interface are now finding that they are being rewarded with increased sales by both men and women.
By Thomas Frey, Executive Director of the DaVinci Institute