Invisible Culture

How to spot change and predict the future

Changes in culture always begin with emotions. They may seem highly personal, but when you notice collective shifts in how people feel, you're catching a glimpse of the future.

Emotions are the canaries in the coal mine. When we see changes in how people emotionally connect with the world around them, it often signifies a deeper transformation in society's values and priorities.

The brands that act on these changes while they're still unseen to the rest of the world - invisible culture as we call it - are the ones that typically win huge rewards. 

Invisible culture will tell you where people are willing to be pulled. It will reveal what direction they’re inclined to move in if given the right opportunity, and that opens up a channel of viable brand and business possibilities that didn't exist before.  

The challenge, however, is that invisible culture hides from plain sight. It hides from trend reports and expert commentary because in order to see it, you must embrace the anomalies. It takes experience, but the more you lean into the discomfort of contradictions, the more you will develop a sixth sense for spotting it.

That being said, I've learned over the years that there are some hotspots along the landscape that tend to house invisible culture more than others. They provide dependable signals in categories full of noise, especially in places where there are many stakeholders or competing narratives:

  1. Where categories intersect

  2. Strong tie communities

  3. Dissenting voices

In all of these places, you will find that emotions, behaviors, and beliefs are all interconnected, and they often evolve together. They weave a thread of order between the logic of the past and the chaos of the future. 

That is where profound opportunities lie for every brand.

Every brand and innovation that mattered came from an understanding of these changes, and any brand of any stage and any size should be built on them.

Invisible culture is always there, always bubbling at the distant edges, and is the most fruitful source of innovation and breakthrough brand strategy.

You just have to know how to find it.

Give It Meaning

Here's what we've been consuming.

What Adults Forget About Friendship (The Atlantic): “Many adults do away with the unhurried hangouts and imaginative play that make youthful friendships so vibrant. Though friendships naturally evolve as we grow up, they don’t need to lose that vitality. Continuing to embrace a childlike approach to friendship into adulthood can make for connections that are essentially ageless.”

America Has Reached Peak Therapy. Why Is Our Mental Health Getting Worse? (Time): “Even as more people flock to therapy, U.S. mental health is getting worse by multiple metrics… Some experts, however, believe the issue goes deeper than inadequate access, down to the very foundations of modern psychiatry. As they see it, the issue isn’t only that demand is outpacing supply; it’s that the supply was never very good to begin with, leaning on therapies and medications that only skim the surface of a vast ocean of need."

What It Means To Be A Cool, Old Guy (Managing Marketing with Darren Woolley): "It’s interesting because it goes beyond just ageism, doesn’t it? It’s the whole issue that we’ve become more and more aware that the shorthand stereotypes or a shortcut to classify people have become less and less relevant as we understand how human beings don’t neatly fit into pigeonholes as much as perhaps, we once believed."

Balancing Exploration and Exploitation (Roger Martin on Medium)"Less intuitive and critically important to the issue of strategy is March’s conclusion that exploration is more important if your goal is to win, and exploitation is more important if your goal is to avoid losing. That is, if you want to finish first against the relevant competitive set, that will only happen if you dedicate a healthy level of resources to exploration." 

Power Laws Have More Power Than You Think (Every): "In an apparent contradiction, the internet both fragments and concentrates attention. The reason for the former is intuitive: more stuff, less attention per unit of stuff. The reason for the latter is not. It happens because networks are subject to powerful positive feedback loops. On a network, people’s choices are influenced by others’ decisions, amplifying 'hits.'"

Good Old Days

Creative inspirations for the other side of your brain.

Much of strategy is a negotiation, getting people to trust and take risk. We tell stories, create narratives, help engender "tribes". In many ways, we are in the business of belief. 

But few people stop to think about what belief really is, or how it works.

According to neuroscientist Kathleen Taylor, "Beliefs are mental objects in the sense that they are embedded in the brain. If you challenge them by contradiction, or just by cutting them off from the stimuli that make you think about them, then they are going to weaken slightly. If that is combined with very strong reinforcement of new beliefs, then you're going to get a shift in emphasis from one to the other."

The most useful definition that I follow is this: belief is a hole that needs to be filled. You can fill that hole to the brim or replace the contents of that hole with one thing for another, but you cannot leave it empty.

Belief is a constant. It may look and sound like different things, but it is always there.


Jasmine Bina
Founder & CEO
Concept Bureau, Inc.