I remember the criticism that was predictably levied against Bill Gates back in the early and mid-1990s for being tight-fisted with his wealth. He owed it to the world to give back, carped legions.
I also remember writing an essay calling for patience with Gates. He was only 40 years old in 1995 when Fortune named him the world’s richest person. I predicted that as Gates moved deeper into middle age he would become the most famous and liberally generous philanthropist in history. Philanthropy is not the game of young, aggressive entrepreneurs, I noted.
Now, Gates along with buddy Warren Buffet have raised the philanthropy bar for the über rich: pledge at least half of your wealth to worthy causes while alive or upon death. See the article in the current Fortune.
The unprecedented generosity of Gates and Buffet, along with a growing number of insanely rich people, signals a major shift in human consciousness that I first spoke about in Firms of Endearment, a book of which I was co-author. I said we were on the cusp of a new era that I called the Age of Transcendence.
Life in the 20th century was defined by materialism. Consumption became virtually a civic duty. Business invented planned product obsolescence and disposable goods to increase consumption. The political and commercial focus was on the individual. Especially after the sacrifices of World War II, life increasingly became all about Me. Politicians and marketers played to the acquisitive ego: big is better, more is best. Don’t just keep up with the Joneses. Leave them in the dust.
Life in the 21st century already is shaping up to be vastly different from life in the 20th century though we are just one decade into it. But a shift in human consciousness is already apparent. The materialistic consciousness of the 20th century is yielding to an organic consciousness. Sustainability is replacing consumption as a primary civic duty. The singularity of Me is being replaced by the unitary We. Growing numbers of people define themselves by their experiences, not their possessions. We are indeed in the early years of an Age of Transcendence.
Consumers are also predictably projecting a stronger emphasis on quality. Why predictably? Twenty years ago I wrote my first book on older markets, Serving the Ageless market McGraw-Hill, 1990). In it I predicted that as the median age rose the influence of materialistic values would decline while the market for quality would expand. See this week’s Bloomberg Businessweek.
The change in human consciousness taking place that adds up to the emergence of the Age of Transcendence is unprecedented in both scale and speed of evolution. Yet, while researchers are beginning to correctly identify aspects of its emergence and a growing number of books are describing its properties, hardly anyone has noticed that what’s happening is not a cyclical event. It represents a new step forward in human evolution.
So, what books are examples of some observers getting pieces of this new picture? Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind and his most recently released Drive. Also, a wave of books flowing from behavioral economics is capturing elements of the new consciousness. Daniel Airley’s Predictably Irrational was one of the first. James Surowiecki’s Wisdom of Crowds and Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink fall into this category as well. So also is Joshua Lehrer’s How We Decide and Joseph Hallanan’s Why We Make Mistakes.
Anyone who job or business depends on understanding the mind of the market and who are unaware of the books I’ve mention as only a sampling of literature evidencing a seismic shift in human consciousness is a bit behind the times, as they say.