The Coming of the Empathetic Economy

The Coming of the Empathetic Economy


When Dion Chang refers to the dawn of the female century, he’s talking about a different way of doing things that counters the aggressive, bullish behaviour which gave rise to the recent global meltdown. A number of signifiers are pointing the way to a new world order fuelled by the rise of civil society, the green movement, the evolution of social networks and a decline in conspicuous consumption.

The Consumer Voice

“The consumer has more power today than ever before,” he says. “Across the world we are seeing the rise of civil society and the people’s voice. It’s very much a female energy typified by the rise of social media. Consumers have found freedom online where they can shop comparatively and customise just about anything they want. Interestingly, we are witnessing a disjoint between the online experience and the offline reality. It may be more impactful, for example, to Tweet about bad service from SAA than it is to contact the airline’s call centre.”

Another case in point is Facebook’s focus groups, which have message boards where vocal supporters and dissatisfied customers alike can post messages. Everywhere, consumers are forming their own clusters, whether through Facebook or other networks. It’s a phenomenon that Seth Godin referred to in his book Tribes: We need you to lead us, in which he focuses on the need for people to take charge of their lives, to bring about change and to take the opportunity to become leaders in their own tribes.

Going It Alone

With many of the retrenched being too old to start their careers over or too young to retire, entrepreneurship is set to take off. “Again, it’s about the reassessment of value systems,” Chang says. “A guy who’s been in corporate law will suddenly decide that actually, he wants to be a yoga instructor.”

The shift in value systems, Chang notes, also results from the fact that people are fed up with banks and big business, which have been blamed for precipitating the global financial crisis.

Business in Africa

Turning to our own continent, Dutch entrepreneur Rutger-Jan van Spaandonk’s contribution to The State We’re In homes in on the realities of doing business in Africa. To harness the potential of the continent, he maintains, businesses have to see Africa as a consumer market, an incubator for new ideas and an exporter of things like agriculture and talent. “True entrepreneurs are seeing opportunities,” says Chang. “It’s not easy to do business on this continent, but if it were, it would be less attractive to early movers.”

The New News

Media industry expert Irwin Manoim muses on the oft predicted death of print media and the rise of news. “Thanks to prolific bloggers, people are increasingly able to choose their news,” says Chang. Information that is deemed to be important enough is rapidly shared with others in their interest group.

The Rise of PR

One of the most insightful chapters in the book looks at the rise of PR as the new advertising. “People want experiences, not adverts,” says Chang. “They want to be entertained, not interrupted. Rather than being told or shown, they want to be involved.”

Some of the most successful promotional campaigns are viral and they work because they are so engaging and fun that people send them on to everyone they know.

“The point is that advertisers need to take note of how consumers are living today – they are involved, connected and in search of meaningful experiences. Reinforcing a brand message with big, expensive ads is just not good enough anymore.” It’s a sentiment corroborated by the vast number of brands on the market and the alacrity with which consumers unapologetically move from one to the next. “Talkability” says Chang, is what meaningful advertising is about today.

Talent Management

Talent management specialist Italia Boninelli, in her contribution on the war for talent, points out that one of the dominant trends in SA is in fact the war for experience.

“The lack of institutional memory is a big problem in the South African business world,” says Chang. “Young managers in the workplace grew up in the boom and have never experienced a recession. Management development programmes have tended to focus on technical and managerial skills rather than business acumen and leadership. The number one reason people leave their jobs is because of their relationship with their boss. With that in mind, it’s worthwhile developing the people who are tasked with leading others.”

A sought-after trend analyst and consultant, Dion Chang is an innovator and creative thinker who sources new ideas and gauges their effects on society. He has 15 years’ experience in the magazine and fashion industry. In addition to running his trends analysis company, he is also a freelance journalist.

Monique Verduyn
Monique Verduyn is a freelance writer. She has more than 12 years’ experience in writing for the corporate, SME, IT and entertainment sectors, and has interviewed many of South Africa’s most prominent business leaders and thinkers. Find her on Google+.