Demand for ever-greater choice is one of the trends that I believe will affect nearly every business in the next 11 years.
Then: "boxified" lives
Think about how much freedom we have to live our lives as we want. It wasn’t always this way. Until only a couple of generations ago (and still today in some parts of the world), if you were born into a certain social class even in countries as advanced as Britain, France or Italy, there were not many uncertainties associated with such questions as:
- the amount of education you would get (or not get)
- the church you would belong to
- the political party you would support
- the part of town where you would live
- the class of person you would marry
- the kind of work you could aspire to.
The clothes you would wear and even the newspaper you would read were all part of the group identity you adhered to.
Stuart Miller, in a fascinating book I first read several years ago and continue to recommend, called this “boxification”: the complete compartmentalization of society into groups with little fluidity between them and little mobility or flexibility inside them. “People identif[ied] with the box they were born into,” he writes. Your whole life was predetermined by the norms of the social group you belonged to.
You entered this world not so much as an individual with limitless options, but as a member of an identity group with many rules to follow. This is where you belonged; this is how you behaved. Changing – changing anything – was rare, difficult, and frowned on.
Now: no limits
The opposite of boxification is individualism. This is the direction the whole world has been moving in for several years. Unlike 50 years ago, if you are not happy with the “box” you were born into – or the attributes you were born with, or picked up along the way – you’re completely free to change them.
Today, you can physically change nearly everything about yourself, from the way you dress to the shape of your derriere. You can not only choose the color of your hair. You can also “fix” your nose, straighten your teeth, Botox your wrinkles, boost your bust (or the opposite), nip here, tuck there, pierce and tattoo your body to your heart's content…
And that’s just how you look – changes on the outside.
When it comes to the inside – the more profound aspects of who we are, what we believe and how we want to live – we are allowed choices today that would boggle the minds of a time-traveler from the year 1950. Let alone 1850.
Without causing much of a stir, you can choose to:
- embark on a career in practically any field you want – and choose a new one if you feel like it’s time for a change.
- take up a new religion - that'll show your parents! Don’t like the ones on offer? Then make one up!.
- abandon the traditional stand people in your “box” always took on politics.
- attend not only the school you want to go to, but possibly also invent the content of your education.
You can choose to have children… or not to. If you decide to have kids, you can choose the sex of your child. You can choose a weird name for the tyke – it’s allowed! Coming soon: choose your baby’s skin tone, the color of his eyes and hair, and who knows? Maybe even his IQ, musical talent, and ability to run a 3:50 mile.
Or you can choose not to have that baby after all. (It’s telling that the pro-abortion movement calls itself “pro-choice”. Choice is good, right? Who could possibly be against choice?)
You can even choose your own sex!
Of course, you can always choose to dump your spouse, drop out of mainstream life and join a commune, where you can home-school your kids. Then, when they’re old enough, you can help them choose from among more than 18,000 universities to attend (and that is only in the top five countries: India, the USA, Argentina, Spain and Mexico), having chosen of course to customize a degree program in, say, Pacific Islander Studies or Comparative Mythology.
You will have to deal with this
With the choice of schools, we segue into consumer choice, offered on everything from the large and expensive (eighteen thousand universities?) to the small and insignificant. Or… is any choice “insignificant”? If having a wide choice of products and services is necessary to match my individual needs, then all choices, even the smallest, are significant, because they empower me!
Think of the number of permutations possible to you when buying a car: make, model, color, engine size, wheel type, and then 25 or 30 additional options and accessories, from navigation systems and stereos to leather seats, sport mirrors and floor mats. What are the chances that two cars produced by the same company in one year would in fact be identical?
Already in the misty dawns of time – the 1970’s – Burger King understood the psychology at work here and successfully differentiated itself from McDonalds on this point alone. It is not just nice to be able to have things our own way. You should insist on it, they said. More and more, that is what consumers have been doing, and will keep doing.
Looking forward to the next 11 years, the individuality of your customers will be paramount. If you can’t build to order, they will look elsewhere.
This will apply to a number of businesses that do not yet have to deal with this type of demand today (or not so much), for example airlines, secondary education or financial services. Eleven years from now, one size will not fit all!
© 2011 Wade & Co. SA
Here is a list of flavors of potato chips I recently culled from various online sources. You can’t get all these flavors everywhere; some manufacturers gear their brands to specific national or regional tastes. But the choice! The choice!
- American cheeseburger
- barbecued ham
- biltong (beef jerky)
- black pepper
- bolognese (Italian herbs & tomato)
- Branston pickle
- buffalo mozzarella tomato & basil
- Caesar salad
- caramelized onion & sweet balsamic vinegar
- cheese & hot chili
- cheese & onion
- chicken & thyme
- chicken with Italian herbs
- 'chile y limón'
- crawfish boiling seasonings
- Creole tomato (flavored with Tabasco pepper sauce)
- dill pickle
- döner kebab
- English roast beef & Yorkshire pud
- fish & chips
- fries & gravy
- fruit chutney
- ham & mustard
- honey soy chicken
- hot sweet chili
- lamb & mint
- lime and pepper
- mango chili
- mature cheddar with Adams Broadside Beer
- meat pie & ketchup
- Mediterranean herbs
- Mexican herbs
- nori & salt
- Oriental spices
- pepper & cream
- peri peri (Mozambican/Portuguese hot sauce flavor)
- pickled onion
- plain (salted)
- prawn cocktail
- pudina (mint)
- ranch dressing
- red chili powder
- roast chicken
- roast pork & creamy mustard sauce
- salsa with mesquite
- salt & pepper
- salt & vinegar
- sausage & ketchup
- scallop with butter
- sea salt & cracked black pepper
- smoky bacon
- sour cream & bacon
- sour cream & béarnaise
- sour cream & chives
- sour cream & onion
- soy sauce & butter
- spices & lime
- steak & onion
- Stilton & cranberry
- stuffed vine leaves
- sweet chilli sauce & sour cream
- Thai sweet chili
- turkey & bacon
- Worcestershire sauce