Solid Thoughts for Liquid Times
In these liquid times, we as individuals, and we as professionals, can become disoriented and the future of many lives and brands can appear shaky.
However, it is precisely in these times we have an opportunity to prepare for the future, to inspire ourselves and build a foundation for the leadership of tomorrow.
In his 2007 seminal book, Liquid Times:Living in an Age of Uncertainty, Zygmunt Bauman, world’s eminent social theorist, describes the passage from ‘solid’ to ‘liquid’ modernity. It has created a new and unprecedented setting for individual life pursuits, confronting individuals with unprecedented challenges. Social forms and institutions no longer have enough time to solidify and cannot serve as frames of reference for human actions and long-term life plans. Such fragmented lives require individuals to be flexible and adaptable – to be constantly ready and willing to change tactics at short notice.
The coronavirus crisis widened the ocean of uncertainty both for people and the brands they manage. And yes, we have to adapt in order to survive, and yet we have to have somewhere something solid in order to continue swimming: a raft or even a wooden board of some sort.
In a world where the fleeting is the dominant paradigm, we have to answer both personally and professionally the following questions: How can we create sense out of nonsense? How can we bring meaning while still continuing creating aspiration? Where can we find a solid grip for all of that?I believe, the solution for coping with epidemic uncertainty, both for individuals and aspirational brands, lies in actively engaging in three areas of human endeavour that have a unique time transcending quality: NATURING, CRAFTING AND ART THINKING. The next three sections explore separately each of these domains.
Naturing is the process of reintegration of nature and reintegration into nature. It is a recognition of impossibility of our existence as solitary dominating species. Naturing happens at any level of human activity, including in such disciplines as product design or marketing communication.
Naturing also means applying technology, art and science to understand other non-human beings… hence, we will see the development of immersive experiences by brands that would bring this understanding closer to the clients.
Naturing is also Biophilic design, where not only materials and forms bring us in touch with Nature, but equally we are encouraged to live with the principles of nature in close proximity.
Naturing is accepting that we are animals… This should result in the radical derationalization of marketing. Naturing is also recognizing that we have bodies… with all their beauties, fragilities, diversities of capabilities and limitations.
The consequences of NATURING for marketing are vast and we only start seeing them.
Craft is a complex metaphorical notion. And as with any multi-layered words, like the sun (see Jacques Derrida’s “White Mythology”), it ends up losing meaning. Some people associate it with the work of hands. Others think that it belongs to the past, or is only transforming rough materials or is exclusively in the realm of luxury brands. Thirds, namely some unscrupulous producers of so-called craft beers and spirits, abuse it (cf. Tito’s). Yet, craft is the question of a fundamental attitude towards work. It is the work that made humans what we are. The best attitudinal definition of craft was given by British sociologist Richard Sennett: “Craftsmanship may suggest a way of life that waned with the advent of industrial society – but this is misleading. Craftsmanship names an enduring, basic human impulse – the desire to do a job well for its own sake”
And as any basic impulse or higher principle, craft as attitude is eternal. It was true for the caveman, for the medieval guild member and for Steve Jobs. It is, thus, true for any marketer of today or tomorrow.
It is precisely adhering to this profoundly human principle in our work bonds us with the generations of homo sapiens of the past, and the generations to come. Another great historical protagonist of craft, John Ruskin, said: “Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort.” Brands, especially in after Covid context, have to apply craft-based principles to the marketing process & raise the standards of brand management work.
Felt across the humanities and the sciences alike, uncertainty seems to rule the ways in which we understand or no longer understand our being in the world today.
Rather than look at things in a pessimistic, post-apocalyptic, gloomy way we could benefit from the times of uncertainty, and instead of fear, treat it with enthusiasm and curiosity. The great inspiration is coming from the word of art. The arts have always played to the unknown. Art is grounded on imagination, and only through imagination we will be able to envision other narratives for our past and new ways into the future.
I believe that in a world that needs a fundamental reboot of our value system, there are considerable opportunities to develop brands that can contribute to the construction of the new order of meanings.
Tectonic shifts are reshaping societies worldwide, internally and externally – no country or region is spared. The once stable core of society – family, government, religion – is disintegrating, leaving room for scepticism, nihilism, disenchantment, and extreme ideologies.
Just as an earthquake can create a new mountain, there is a positive side to the situation. In the context of societal flux and entropy, there is also a clear opportunity for something new to emerge. Brands can step into the void. They have an opportunity (and even a responsibility) to help create a new order that reaffirms people’s sense of connection to the unfamiliar world emerging around them: to (re)humanize it. Brands have to become Cultural Agents and their marketing has to be based on Art Thinking.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vadim Grigoryan was born in Baku and began his career as a rocket scientist with an honors degree in robotics and systems engineering. In 2000 he received an MBA from the INSEAD business school in Fontainebleau, where he led an award-winning strategic project for Italian retail clothing company Diesel SpA. That prompted a shift in professional direction, and he then attended the High Leadership Development Program at Harvard Business School.
Grigoryan’s extensive background and accomplishments in brand management and creative direction encompass a 15-year tenure with Pernod Ricard in Europe, including serving as the company’s International Director of Creativity and Luxury. He was responsible for the return to the art world of Absolut Vodka, arranging collaborations with the prestigious dOcumenta’13 and the Venice Biennale as well as Art Basel, where one of his projects was deemed a highlight of the exhibit by the New York Times
Grigoryan currently resides in Paris and consults on art direction and creative strategy for such brands and institutions as AZULIK, Group Coty, the Evian Resort, Mugler, Hugo Boss, and Art Basel. He also lectures regularly on brand management and luxury at ESSEC, La Sorbonne, and INSEAD, where he continues to write and publish industry case studies. He also runs Creavi, a small artistic research initiative that blends food and transcendental topics such as time, history, and immortality.